Ong Hao Village is awash with colors and the smells of paint and paper mâché as villagers make masks and drums for children.
Also known as Hao, the village is located about 30 km from downtown Hanoi in Lieu Xa Commune, Yen My District, Hung Yen Province. For generations, villagers here have been making paper masks and drums for the Mid Autumn Festival, also known as the Full Moon Festival or Children’s Tet.
The festival is usually an occasion for family reunions and a children’s night out. The festival falls on the Full Moon night of lunar August, said to see the biggest moon of the year. This year, it falls on September 13.
Today, there are around 10 households that still practice the craft in Ong Hao Village. Among them, only the families of Vu Huy Dong and his daughter, Thoan, are still making both masks and drums. The rest only make drums.
Dong makes holes for eyes on a paper mâché mask. He has been doing this for 30 years. Dong said every sixth and seventh lunar month of the year, his family becomes very busy making toys for the Mid Autumn Festival. “The products find their way to many places in Vietnam.”
Dong is also a guide for local and foreign tourists coming to the village, curious about the craft of making Moon Festival toys.
White paperboard is first wrapped on a cement mould using a glue made with cassava starch. Today, visitors who want to paint their own masks can buy them for VND10,000 – 15,000 ($0.43 -0.65) each.
After the glue is dry, the painting begins. Masks of lion, monkey and other animal faces are favored by children.
All the toys in Ong Hao Village are handmade.
A woman paints a bunch of masks of the mythical lion. After the paint dries, these are ready to be sold.
Dong said around 20 different kinds of masks are made in the village. Many represent popular characters in Vietnamese folklore.
A mask has a retail cost of VND20,000 ($0.87), while a drum costs between VND12,000 to 200,000 ($0.52 – 8.67), depending on the size.
Some of the handmade drums at Ong Hao village.
Dong’s family makes over 10,000 masks and 8,000 drums on average every year. “We don’t earn much, but we want to keep this trade alive,” he said.