In the community of the Chu Ru in Don Duong district, in Lam Dong central highland province, women always take the initiative in initiating a relationship. If she likes a man, she will give him a ring. Once the man accepts it, he agrees to be her husband.
The object that passes for the token and pledge of love in their culture is a silver ring, long a symbol of the faithfulness between a husband and his wife.
For the Chu Ru, a pair of silver rings is not simply a jewel or a betrothal gift, it is also an important token symbolizing the honor of the two families. For this reason, the craftsmanship of making silver rings commands great respect in the community.
Unfortunately, it is in danger of becoming lost because the traditional skill is strictly kept within the family and not taught to anyone from outside. At present artisan Ya Tuat living in Ma Danh Hamlet in Don Duong is the only artisan left who holds the secrets of the craft.
“A pair of silver rings is an integral part of every marriage in our community. If the husband or wife abandons the other, he or she must compensate their partner,” says Ma Wel – Ya Tuat’s wife.
For example, if the couple has five children, he or she has to give their abandoned spouse six buffalos (five buffalos for 5 children, and 1 for the spouse).”
There are different steps in the process of making a pair of rings, from getting the beeswax, carving out a mould, melting the silver, to polishing the rings. The most difficult step is to make the mould. The ring makers combine both the skillfulness of his hands with the secrets passed on in the family to produce unique pairs of rings that never replicate each other, because each pair comes from a mold that self-destructs in the firing process.
Most importantly, it is a labor of love and passion, not tainted by any monetary motive. Thus, the finished products possess a special quality that reflects both the individuality of the artisan and the cultural value of the Chu Ru community. Each ring costs around VND60,000 to VND80,000 to make, VND5,000 of which goes to the artisan to pay for his time and labor.
First, pineapple leaves are woven into a funnel and placed under the mold, which is soaked into a liquid mixture of buffalo dung and earth. Next, it is dried under the sun for one day and a half or two days. Then the artisan uses charcoal to burn it until the wax inside melts and mingles with the mixture, turning it into a new mould. As the final step, the artisan pours the melting silver into the mould and obtains a blackened pair of rings. After that, he uses forest soapberry to polish the rings.
In their culture, the rings are made on the order of the girls and are most valuable when they are studded with a grain of the Kơnia tree, which plays an important cultural role in the Chu Ru community.
“The gemstone of the silvering for the groom is made of seeds of the Ko-Nia tree, which is believed to symbolize faithfulness, according to the Chu Ru’s custom,” said Dang Trong Ho, a local researcher on ethnic minorities.
The specially made rings help Chu Ru couples to remain committed to their marriage throughout their life.
The charcoal used to melt silver is taken from forest tree Ka Siu. The artisan must take a bath the day before he makes the rings. His work only takes place from 4:00 to 8:00 in morning, since according to Chu Ru ethnic people, it is the best time to produce a perfect pair of rings.
Worried that the craft of making silver rings in the Chu Ru ethnic community would be soon lost, teachers from Da Lat Pedagogy College have provided funding for family members of artisan Ya Tuat to attend his workshop and learn the skills from him.
According to local residents, the craftsmanship has for hundreds of years been preserved within only one family, and Ya Tuat and his wife Ma Wel are the last keepers of the family’s traditional craft.
Ya Tuat is now passing his trade to two his children and some of his brothers with the aim of preserving the special skill and traditional culture of the Chu Ru people.