The incense making craft of the Nung An people in Phia Thap has a long history. Although no one knows the founder of this traditional craft, incense making has been inherited from generation to generation, creating work that is well known for every villager.
Drying the incense.
Phia Thap incense is made entirely from natural materials in karst regions, including: Bamboo trees (“may muoi” in Tay language) for making sticks, bark of bombax ceiba tree, and sawdust and especially leaves of the wild tree named “bau hat” to make glue for bonding the materials together.
Making incense is not difficult but it must go through several stages. Bamboo tree is cut into pieces of about 40cm long, split into small bars in the size of a chopstick and then tidily polished. The “bau hat” leaves and barks of the bombax ceiba tree are well milled and mixed with sawdust. Apricot sticks are soaked in water that is mixed four times with powdered “bau hat” leaves to create a glue, then seasoned with flour mixture of “bau hat” leaves, bombax ceiba bark and sawdust to create incense sticks. After drying, the sticks are dyed red at its bottom half and dried again, before being tied into bundles to sell at fairs.
Making incense not only brings income to the Phia Thap villagers but also contributes to preserving a traditional craft of the Nung An people. It is a beauty imbued with national identity associated with the custom of the Vietnamese to worship via burning incense in the Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark.