Ancient Village Stuck in Restoration Process

Duong Lam village in Son Tay Town, some 60km to the west of the capital city of Hanoi, features outstanding cultural characteristics of the northern region of Vietnam and the Red River Delta. Duong Lam is proud to retain most of the basic characteristics of a “pure Vietnamese” village in the delta region. It is recognized as a national relic by the Ministry of Culture and Information. However, the fact that locals signed a petition to return the “national relic” title has once again raised special concern among the public.
This was a focus at a conference co-organised by the Hanoi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Scientific Union for Sustainable Tourism Development (STDe) on June 8 to seek measures to preserve the value of the village.
Many problems remain
Dr Pham Hung Cuong, Deputy Rector of the Hanoi Civil Engineering University, who has spent a lot of time and efforts studying the Duong Lam ancient village, where most of the buildings are made of laterite and mud, two materials that are abundant in the area, said that no area in the Red River Delta has historical and tourism values like those in Duong Lam. Despite efforts from authorized agencies, local authorities and experts and a series of conferences held over the past years, no effective solution has been found to better preserve the village.
Shortcomings and weaknesses in the management of the Duong Lam ancient village emerged in the past have not yet been solved. According to Mr Pham Hung Son, Chief of the Duong Lam Ancient Village Management Board, since 2008-2009, many problems have emerged. The population of the village keeps increasing every year while the area is still the same so people want to build multi-storey houses. Despite the directions of local authorities, local people have still built and repaired their houses, making the number of ancient houses in Duong Lam fall to around 100. If local authorities and authorized agencies have not timely measures to deal with the situation, the national relic will disappear.
Many people and experts suggested that the province should only preserve some ancient houses as part of a particular solution. Associate Prof., Dr Dang Van Bai, Deputy Director of the National Council for Cultural Heritage, said that it is easy to cancel the preservation of the Duong Lam ancient village, but the problem is that the rapid urbanization in Duong Lam is causing big pressure on accommodation. If local authorities issue a decree, allowing locals to build two-storey and three-story buildings, the Duong Lam ancient village would become an urban area and the goal to preserve historical and cultural values of the Duong Lam ancient village would fail and locals do not need to return the “national relic” title as scientists and cultural activists will quit their preservation job in Duong Lam and hand over it to a local management agency. Mr Bai noted that once a national relic loses its value, it is not likely to be restored, as preservation is not the same as a beauty contest, in which the organizing board will select the most beautiful woman each year.
Strong determination
During the conference, experts and analysts said that although preservation and protection of historical and cultural values of the Duong Lam ancient village is a hard task, they are determined to join hands with local authorities in the plan as no one ensures that petitions of its kind would stop in the coming months.
According to Dr Nguyen Thu Hanh, Chairwoman of the Scientific Union for Sustainable Tourism Development (STDe), one solution to encourage local people to protect the historical and cultural values of Duong Lam is helping them benefit from heritage. She suggested a merger with local agriculture tourism tours to enjoy in the fields and culinary events. This measure proves to be feasible as the majority of people in Duong Lam are farmers and live on agriculture. Some attractive tours such as rural lifestyle studying tours and tours to local relics as well as many products and souvenirs have been suggested.
Mr Dang Van Bai said that the preservation needs support from the community and local people as they are actual owners of the heritage. The preservation of ancient houses in Duong Lam somehow affect locals’ life, thus the work needs their agreement and support. If people are willing to join preservation activities, the work would be done more effectively, thus reducing repairing and construction costs. To preserve the Duong Lam ancient village successfully, it is necessary to solve all locals’ legitimate concerns.
Mr Pham Hung Son said that in the coming time, the board will cooperate with others agencies to launch many programmes to promote Duong Lam potential and tourism products to encourage travel firms and tourists to the village in an effort to help local people improve their living conditions. Preserving heritage can be a two-way benefit. The owners as well as society should both benefit from the protection orders.
Mr Pham Hung Cuong, Vice Rector of Hanoi Civil Engineering University
A planning consultancy for restoration and preservation in Duong Lam village remains a special concern among the public. This is a chance for local authorities to call for support from the community for the plan. Recently, 60 locals signed a petition to return the “national relic” title. Local authorities have received petitions from 1,900 others who want to get support from the government and organisations to preserve and protect ancient houses.
However, Duong Lam authorities are facing financial problems and are seeking financial sources to preserve and restore ancient houses as well as find new locations for people, who are willing to use their ancient houses for tourism and preservation purposes. The locality needs to create community-based tourist products that bring a profit to all local residents.
Ass Prof. Dr Dang Van Bai, Deputy Director of the National Council for Cultural Heritage
Preservation of cultural heritage site should go hand in hand with sustainable development and the development of the community as the ultimate goal of development is to improve the living conditions of people and better satisfy their needs.
The reality proves that the State should not do all or let the community do all. The State should call on support from the community and encourage them to involve in more preservation and restoration works. To this end, the State improves its management capacity and builds cultural programmes to raise awareness of people about cultural development in different periods.
We build a restoration and preservation plan for the Duong Lam ancient village, but we yet found solutions to deal with legitimate concerns among locals as well as help them benefit from heritage, thus causing indignation among them. These problems should be solved soon before it is too late.
Dr Nguyen Thu Hanh, Chairwoman of the Scientific Union for Sustainable Tourism Development (STDe)
As a purely agricultural village, where the culture and architecture has been preserved intact, Duong Lam can create a breakthrough in the development of its agriculture-based economy by developing rice straw-woven products aimed at tourists. Once they get benefits from the heritage, they would support the preservation and restoration plan.
With the brandname “the ancient Viet village”, Duong Lam would become an attractive tourism destination. Tourists can book tours to enjoy interesting tourism products in Duong Lam. They are tours to visit the local ancient houses which have been existing for hundreds of years, tours to visit Mong Phu Temple and several other ancient houses, tours to drive to Mia Pagoda and experience the 287 statues of all sizes, tours to visit Ngo Quyen and Phung Hung Temple.
Mr Pham Hung Son, Chief of the Duong Lam Ancient Village Management Board
The preservation and restoration plan in Duong Lam commune, which boasts rich historical and tourism values, is being stuck by many problems, including population density.
In the coming time, the Son Tay People’s Committee and the Duong Lam ancient village management board will work with ministries and agencies on a project to shift from agriculture-backed economy to service one. There will be specialized areas where people can cultivate rice and corn. Local authorities will also organize tourism training courses to help people and agencies improve their skills and launch propaganda programs to raise awareness of local people about the importance of tourism development to their life.

Thu Ha