Tò He: The village of Xuan La in Phu Xuyen District. Ha Tay Province is well known for its skill in making delicate To he toys, which are figurines fashioned from coloured rice dough. These simple toys still give children immense joy during the Mid-Autumn season.
Tò He- Vietnam Folk games
Tò he makers do not teach the craft to women because the fathers fear their daughters will reveal precious trade secrets to their husbands" families.
According to an old man in Xuan La Village, the recipe for success in making tò he lies in the preparation of the dough. The craftsman first grinds rice into fine powder, then pours water into the powder and mixes it until he achieves a sticky lump. He places the lump in a pot of water, brings the water to a boil, and cooks the paste for an hour. When the lump rises to the water's surface, dips, and rises again, the craftsman removes it from the pot. Then he applies seven colours: white. black, green, yellow, violet, pink, and red. Miraculously. the different colours never stain one another when he assembles the parts of a to lie figurine.
Many generations of Vietnamese children have been overjoyed when their mothers return from market with a tò he. Children can even eat to he after playing with them. Each Xuan La craftsman embarking on the to he trade learns to humour customers, especially children. The lesson of humanity is the first one every Xuan La villager bears in mind. "If we love people, they will surely come to us," to he makers say.
Making Tò he doesn't bring much profit. The materials rice paste, bamboo-stick holders, colourings - are inexpensive and locally available. A craftsman only charges customers for his patience and care. A Tò he in a rural market costs between VND 500 and VND 1.000 (US$.03 -$.07). Makers who travel farther afield to the larger cities can sell a tò he for between VND 2.000 to VND 3.000 (US$.13 - $.20).
Customers can place their orders, watch the craftsman mould the toy. and be pleased with the results in minutes. A tò he can depict a person, a famous general, a folk-tale character, an animal, or a flower. The makers remember the characteristics of every subject. They are experts in using exactly the right amount of paste to form each separate part of each kind of toy. as if these skills were an inborn talent.
Mr. Dang Van To. who is eighty-two, is the oldest tò he maker in Xuan La. He talks proudly about his life and career. Mr. To's family has been making tò he for ten generations. He learned the trade when he was six and is nationally known. The Ministry of Culture and Information often asks him to demonstrate to he making at festivals. Mr. To's passion and skill have not lessened despite his age. He can make every kind of tò he. from kings and mandarins with elaborate imperial costumes to complicated dragons. He can finish an image of King Quang Trung. a national hero, in less than ten minutes.
Mr. To also likes to teach children about the underlying meaning of Id he. He explains that the lifeline of the tò he trade is people's joy. not money. For example, as Mr. To creates a tò he rat. he explains that rats have pointed noses and long tails, that they destroy farmers' crops, and that the children should help get rid of rats. The children are fascinated to listen to Mr. To as they watch the tò he emerge in his hands.
Today, plastic and electronic toys flood city and countryside markets. Although tò he cannot compete. Xuan La villagers still struggle to maintain their traditional trade. At present, about 300 villagers make tò he. Chu Van Nghe. a war veteran who is sixty-seven, still pursues the craft. His four-year-old granddaughter has asked him to teach her to make tò he. Nowadays, many women assist their husbands and families in preserving the village trade. Everyday. Xuan La villagers travel to different corners of the countryside - from hamlets to markets to parks - selling tòhe to children and to he lovers.
Xuan La villagers take pride that, nowadays, id he makers can be found nationwide and even abroad in China. Laos. Cambodia, and Thailand. This proves that the craft has not entirely disappeared. Although a tò he is small, it embodies a lot of the sentiment, honour, and industry that began with Xuan La villagers long, long ago.