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In a D6 Hẻm, Saigon's Last Remaining Broom-Making 'Village'

Nestled in a hẻm on Phạm Phú Thứ Street, District 6 is Saigon’s last remaining broom-making village.

Making your way into Hẻm 129, you’ll immediately notice that a whole stretch of the alley is completely coated in the golden yellow of grass stalks. These belong to a grass species called đót (Thysanolaena latifolia), commonly grown in dry regions of Vietnam and across Asia. The rustle of đót bundles, the clinking of hammers, and the zipping of strings conjure up a particular scene that even a long-term Saigoneer like myself has never witnessed.

The nimble hands of broom-makers.

According to local history, this “craft village” was formed half a century ago by Quảng Ngãi immigrants and has endured until now. Broom weavers ship in đót stalks from Quảng Ngãi and Gia Lai provinces, often sold by gatherers from ethnic minorities.

Back then, chổi đót was a popular household item thanks to its convenience and Saigon’s high demand. Hẻm workers share that once upon a time they received many bulk orders from overseas, including Singapore and the US.

Technological advancements gradually pushed the broom weavers into instability. Buying a plastic broom or even a vacuum cleaner is easy these days, and brands offer inviting warranty policies. Making brooms is no longer lucrative, especially when each only sells for VND20,000–50,000.

A worker processes đót stalks, which shed yellow dust everywhere in the hẻm.

To create a broom, there are many steps requiring significant effort. First, the maker must select a high-quality bundle of grass to strip into thinner strings and separate into small bundles. A few stalks in the bundle are purposely left longer to be the broom handle.

Skilled weavers take the task of stripping the stalks and bundling.

The feet of a weaver are often covered in plant debris.

Then, around 20 small bundles are tied together to become a big bundle, also called a rough broom bundle. From this point, the bundle will be reinforced with plastic ribbons to form a handle, hammered to create a flat shape for sweeping, and trimmed so the bristles have the same length.

Trần Thị Thu Hồng, owner of the alley’s largest workshop, shares: “Some people have looked into machines to automate the broom-making process, but the nature of this craft is hands-on. Only by holding the broom in your hands can you know if the bundle is tight or loose, even or uneven.”

Left: Trimming is usually reserved for male workers. Right: Small bundles are tied together using zinc wires.

The tightening process is a combination of technique and swiftness.

Because broom-making is such a labor-intensive craft, it’s tiring and can have negative health impacts for weavers. You only need to look at their hands and feet, filled with a criss-cross of scars, to know how long these artisans have been in the trade. One tells me: “The yellow dust sticks to your nails for a long time, even when I trim my nails, it’s still yellow when it grows back.” For those in charge of the wire-cutting step, scrapes and bruises are a daily occurrence.

Creating a tight, elegant, golden-yellow broom is an arduous and dusty process for makers.

Finished products ready to beautify people’s homes.

Many broom-makers tell me that, because of this extremely hard work and low pay, they would never want to pass the trade down to younger generations. Thus, it’s likely that these photos might be the last time we see this “broom village” in Saigon before it goes away with its generation of weavers.

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