By Ren Ta
Dó paper is Vietnamese traditional hand-made paper that first presented itself to Vietnam in the 3rd century; however, its origins began in the 13th century. It is a resilient, chemical-free paper, that is so durable, it could last up to 800 years. This type of paper was commonly used in Vietnamese folk art, with such artists like the legendary painter Dong Ho as a user of this paper. Since the rapid industrialization and urbanization that has been continually occurring in Vietnam, the craft of traditional paper making has halted. The lack of desire for this process of papermaking has created a project to inform the community about the art of this paper. The Zo project has really brought back the cultural dynamics of papermaking and informed many on the ethnical ties that this paper has to the Vietnamese culture.
Dó paper is made from the bark of the Rhamnoneuron balansae tree, which the Vietnamese call the Dó tree found in the Northern parts of Vietnam. Behind the paper itself, there is a process of over 100 steps to get it to be the paper that it is. However, the modern day process has made it attainable within ten steps. Since this process is made of all raw material, those materials have to be collected, harvested, and steamed. After that, the bark of the Dó tree is boiled with a 12% lime solution and continuously mixed. From there, the bark is then beaten by an oak stick so that the fibers could be loosened. Onwards, the pulp from the beating, water, and "mo" are throughly stirred into a mixture, in which the mixture would be shaken back and forth evenly on a bamboo screen (liềm seo). The water from the pulp would then be drained and repeated for a desired thickness. Finally, the water should be all pressed out, sheets should be stripped apart, and left to dry out in the sun. The paper could also be colored by fresh plants as well.
Now-a-days, the Dó paper is at risk of extinction. Modern day urbanization and the shortage of Dó sets back the already so rare production of Dó paper. On top of that, Dó paper is only seasonally produced because it is only good to harvest in between August and October when the bark strips itself away from the tree. What once used to employ a whole village of people is now the labor of only two important families that are willing to keep the tradition of heritage alive, Mr. Pham Van Tam and Mrs. Nguyen Thi Huong being one of those families have more than 20 varieties of Dó paper in their store. They reside in the Bac Ninh province, famously known as Phong Khe village. This village is now being taken over for industrial paper production, resulting in the lessening of Dó paper.
Dong Ho painting called "Rat Wedding" His traditional folk paintings usually include every-day activities and farmers religious routines painted on Dó paper.
Dó paper being flattened out by shaking back and forth on the bamboo screen.