Sedge mat weaving – traditional livelihood Ca Mau

Ca Mau is the southernmost land of Vietnam where visitors can not only experience the purely spectacular nature of the green cape with many unique homestays and countless tasty cuisines; but also have a chance to explore the traditional trade villages such as shrimp farming, bee honey collecting, mangrove chopstick making and handmade mat weaving.

 “Chiếu Cà Mau nhuộm màu tươi thắm

Công anh cực lắm mưa nắng dãi dầu

Chiếu này anh chẳng bán đâu

Tìm em không gặp anh gối đầu mỗi đêm”

That is the lyrics from the song “Tình anh bán chiếu” (The love of a mat seller) composed by Mr. Vien Chau, sweetly performed by the artist Mr. Ut Tra On. This song has been deeply loved by Vietnam Southerners by characterizing Ca Mau handmade mats as a reputable product nationwide. In Ca Mau province, mat weaving is passed through generations from the ancestors to the youth continuously working together to develop and expand the brand of this unique trade village until now.

The job mat weaving is said to require many working qualities such as suppleness, conscientiousness and compatible cooperation between the weavers together spontaneously. The job has been long established and managed to survive in some places like Tan Thanh (Ca Mau city), Tan Duyet (Dam Doi district), Tan Loc (Thoi Binh), etc and has been widely purchased.

Unlike in other places where modern machine has replaced human in the majority of the production process, the mat making in Ca Mau has remained traditional manual features. In order to create a beautiful mat, the workers have to work hard through different steps such as chopping, sliding, drying and dying “lát” (sedge); then “chấp trân” matching the threads to the frame and weaving.

In scientific terms, Sedge is called cyperaceae, belonging to a family of monocotyledonous graminoid flowering plants, mainly lives along rivers where there are tides, deposited by alluvia. Thus, the plant is well suited to the soil in Ca Mau. When sedge plants are 0.6m to 1.8m high, they are ready to be cut and sliced into long thin strings. The central part of the stems is removed to make the strings fine and strong enough. The strings are then dried, which normally takes about 3-4 days under good sunshine conditions. The next step is to evenly dye the strings colored before re-drying the color so that the color is maintained for longer time.

Sedge mat weaving 1

Sedge plants for weaving mats in Ca Mau

Chấp trân (assembling) is also a meticulous process, with the use of hessian threads being torn and combined into durable strings. These strings are hung into the looms to produce stable frame for the mats.

After stabilizing the hessian strings into the frame, the weaving process is started. There are two skillful weavers involving in this stage, namely “thợ dập” and “thợ lẫy”.  Thợ lẫy is who based on the available samples, intricately puts the colored sedge strings together to create different patterns of flowers, letters, images. The skills of thợ lẫy in this step significantly decide the beauty of the finished mats. The same important role is of thợ dập, who pushes the frames down to stabilize the sedge strings frequently, after every time thợ lẫy finishes his job. Thợ dập has to be strong and clever enough to compatibly co-work with thợ lẫy and this cooperation is the most vital stage in weaving mats.

To create a perfect finish, the mats are smoothed by trimming the excess hessian and sedge strings before delivering to the buyers. Presently in the majority of the fun parties are flourish sedge mats spread over creating the venue for the family members to gather, drink tea and enjoy cakes. And this is typically a tradition of Vietnamese in the Mekong Delta region.

Sedge mat weaving 2

Many Ca Mau people still love sedge mats

In our modern society where people tend to be tempted by expensive smooth mattresses, Ca Mau sedge mats remain their importance. Sedge mat weaving job manages to grow, gain more reputation and build a unique trade village to draw tourists’ attention for understanding the culture and tradition of the land and people in Ca Mau province.

Having the opportunity to experience the sedge mat villages in Ca Mau, seeing the vast, green sedge fields, watching the colored sedge strings shining in the sunlight, observing the beautiful picture of weavers working hard in front of the frame and purchasing some pairs of mats for friends and relatives, tourists can fully enjoy one of the most interesting moments in Ca Mau sedge mat trade villages.

Photo and article by: Dương Kim Chuyển

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