How many hotels can say they have a traditional place of worship touching their grounds? Right next door to La Siesta Resort & Spa, and with a private direct route from the hotel gardens, is what looks like an old temple. Seemingly inconspicuous, lying in wait behind a high wall, it is very easy to pass by, oblivious to its existence. Renovated in 1952, the building wears the yellow ochre colors of Hoi An, topped with old traditional roof tiles, mottled in dark green and brown moss. A humble hidden gem, undiscovered by the tourist industry.
This is the Communal House of Thanh Ha Ward.
Centuries ago rice cultivation was the main source of livelihood for the ancient Viet people. In between the harvests, farmers would make useful household items and handicrafts to support their daily lives and supplement their income. Over time, thousands of handicraft activities developed into successful and sophisticated guilds. Techniques were kept closely guarded secrets within each family; skilled artisans handed down their knowledge from generation to generation.
Over the years, handicraft industries have gone through huge periods of change. Sadly, many have declined or died out as villagers opt for other sources of income, while the younger generations may simply lose interest in the family trade. Luckily others continue to thrive, preserving century-old skills and knowledge, solidifying that industry’s importance to the village and community.
Such communities did, and still do, worship the ancestors and masters of their handicraft. At annual festivals, the villagers pay homage to their founders and craft masters. They do so at a specific place of worship within that village or community.
In the simplest of terms, there are traditionally three main types of building associated with worship in Vietnam. Even though they share similarities both inside and out, these structures have different purposes.
A Chùa is a Pagoda where people pray to Buddha. It is regarded as the more feminine out of the three as most worshippers are women. A Đền refers to a temple where people honor a spirit or guardian, or a real person such as a local hero or master craftsman of the village. And finally a Đình is a communal house. This is similar to a temple in terms of worship and dedication to village founders. However, the Đình was, and is, also the center of village activity and entertainment. It is regarded as the more masculine out of the three places of worship. In the past the village men and elders would gather to discuss village business, legal and administration matters. And even now the communal house retains its status as a meeting place, and the starting point for annual village festivals.
Rice production remained a staple industry but around the rice farming areas villages sprung up founded on a particular handicraft skill. Different regions and communities became famous for certain crafts. For example: Van Phuc silk village in Ha Tay, Hanoi; Cat Dang lacquer village in Nam Dinh; Mot Thoang weaving village just outside Saigon and so forth. And Quang Nam province has its own share of special craft villages; nowadays it is estimated 60 or so handicraft villages still remain in the province.
Legend of the Thanh Ha potters
One of these is the 500 year-old Thanh Ha pottery village in Thanh Ha Ward. Dating back to the 15th century, it is said residents originating from Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Nam Dinh and Hai Duong provinces brought their pottery trade to the Thanh Ha area. Legend goes onto explain that some village folk from Nghe An and Thanh Hoa were sailing in the area when they hit a big storm. They anchored their boats at the junction of a river and a road. It seemed a favorable location to them so they decided to stay and establish their craft in this area. With a plentiful supply of quality clay, being close to the water and having good trade links, the Thanh Ha pottery trade was born. Soon ceramic production made all of the Thanh Ha ward area famous.
Rice and worship
In Thanh Ha pottery village itself the villagers hold a number of bright, big and colorful annual festivals. Starting out from the village communal house they worship the ancestors of their pottery profession, praying for good luck with their profession.
Meanwhile, further up the road along Hung Vuong Street heading towards Hoi An ancient town, the Thanh Ha Community Communal House also holds its own festivities. However, unlike its village neighbor 2km away, the festivals of this communal house are much lower key, more private and quietly modest. But equally poignant.
Thanh Ha Community Communal House celebrates two annual festivals. The first is on the 16th day of the second lunar month to pray for Spring. The second is on the 16th day of the eight lunar month to honor the Autumn. Although worshippers also pay their respects to the eight founding fathers of the pottery trade, to which the communal house is dedicated, the reason for their worship differs to that of the neighboring Thanh Ha pottery villagers. These festivals are held to celebrate the two annual rice harvests for the region, Spring and Autumn. As such the farming community pay their respects and pray for the best possible weather conditions for their community.
It is really only the past 15 years or so that tourism has started to replace traditional agricultural life and rice farming of the Hoi An area. However, despite decades of changes, structures such as Thanh Ha Community Communal House, with its crumbling peaceful courtyard, Banyan tree (a soul of the land) and other symbols of worship ensure this connection between farming and worship are kept alive.
Thanh Ha Community Communal House
Dedicate to the 8 founding fathers of the Thanh Ha pottery trade
132 Huong Vuong Street
2km from Thanh Ha pottery village, 1km from Hoi An ancient town center
La Siesta Resort & Spa plans a number of unique activities in association with the communal house