Tran Tan Vinh
Ethnic Co Tu Communities House Treasure Troves Of Wood Sculptures
Communal houses (guol) represent the cultural identity of the Co Tu ethnic minority community. Round figurines, reliefs, paintings and decorative patterns contribute to the value of a traditional communal house. Guol houses form part of the heritage of a hamlet and display the versatility of local wood carvers.
In a guol house, the architectural plans are inexorably linked to the aesthetic works. The roof and two gables are usually adorned with simple figurines such as roosters, tring birds or a cluster of various figurines, including human statuettes, buffalo heads or mating tring birds. These architectural and graphic patterns add a harmonious and pleasing beauty to the guol. The guol’s four balconies and balustrades – particularly the wooden panel on the façade – are ideal places for Co Tu painters to let their imaginations run wild, painting their own human world, the natural world and scenes of social life. The resulting works of art are quite diverse. This panel frequently features continual bas-reliefs of rich and varying themes that portray festivities, food production, hunts, a forest-based life, rivers and natural specialties that nurture human communities.
Small pillars, beams and lintels are decorated with eye-catching reliefs such as dragons, snakes, lizards, chameleons, turtles, rabbits and fish. Particularly, the grand pillar is always the focus of graphic decorations that ring true to people’s hearts. Their supporting functions aside, the grand pillar and beams serve as canvases for a wide range of sculptures, paintings, reliefs and decorative patterns.
Co Tu people also create round figurines such as chieftains drinking liquor, dancing girls, boys playing gongs and horns in festivals, tring birds, peacocks and lizards, etc. These figurines are scattered around the guol. They can be arranged in the main hall, on beams, lintels or on both sides of a door.
In recent years, Co Tu craftsmen have started to create reliefs that are detached from a traditional construction. Through folk sculpture contests hosted in communes, craftsmen vie to produce new reliefs with different themes such as hunting, rice pounding, pipe liquor feasts, ta din liquor operations, Tan tung da da dances at festivals, buffalo slaying rites in sacrifices and even new themes, including soldiers and militants, resistance against raiders or the fight of liberation against enemies, etc. These sculptures are displayed in their guol house.
Graphic arts on a guol house form a treasure in a hamlet and shape the unique cultural identity of the Co Tu. Co Tu wood sculptors are relatively common and highly talented. Many classic wooden sculptures can be found in Co Tu communities, including the relief “Fetching Ta dinh liquor” or the statue “Maiden thrashing rice”. Some fine statues by the artisan Colau Blao may be found at Que Peak in Tay Giang District, Quang Nam, including “Double pounding rice”. Another amazing piece is the relief “Drinking pipe liquor” by the carver Ker Tic. In terms of its theme, colors and texture, this beautiful relief resembles a lacquer painting. The art of wood sculpting remains alive and well in native communities. This unique folk art genre should be admired and promoted in our contemporary life.