The season is the most busy time for workers, who view their work as ‘spiritual’
In Vietnam’s “incense village”, dozens are hard at work dying, drying and whittling down bamboo bark to make the fragrant sticks ahead of the busy lunar new year holiday. It is the most frantic time of year for workers in the cottage industry in Quang Phu Cau village on the outskirts of Hanoi, where families have been making incense for more than a century. “It is a traditional and spiritual job making these sticks,” Dang Thi Hoa said, sitting amid bundles of bright pink incense sticks drying under the afternoon sun.
Sales tick up every year ahead of and during the lunar new year holiday in February, when throngs of people crowd into temples to light incense during worship, or burn the sticks on the ancestral altar at home. Ms. Hoa’s family started making the sticks more than 100 years ago and her mother still pitches in along with her teenage daughter who helps out after school. Selling her sticks to central Vietnam, Ms. Hoa can earn up to $430 a month leading up to Tet, a tidy sum in the country where the average monthly income is $195. Some women hack bamboo planks down to be fed into a whittling machine; others dip the thin strips into buckets of pink dye, leaving hundreds of brightly coloured bushels fanned out like bouquets on the streets to air out. Women donning cloth face masks coat the dried sticks with aromatic incense paste before re-drying them and shipping them off for packaging.