Tiny town at the heart of colonial invasion

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VietNamNet Bridge – An Don fishing village is sandwiched between rapid urbanisation and a need for restoration. The village emerged 500 years ago close to the Han River with several families of fishermen. The fishing village gradually grew from 12 cottages in 1957 to more than 700 buildings and houses to accommodate nearly 4,000. Villagers are trying to preserve vestiges of an old citadel built in 1813 during the Nguyen Dynasty. Hoai Nam reports.





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Colonial inroads: The Han River estuary. — VNS Photo Cong Thanh

Dang Van Dieu, 83, from An Hai Bac Ward, Da Nang City, in central Viet Nam, retired from fishing as the region went through a rapid face-lift.

Dieu, the fifth generation of fishermen living in An Don, on the Han River bank, said the village was built 500 years ago with only a few cottages, but was now home to nearly 4,000 living in 15ha of space with almost no proper infrastructure.

The village, home to the last community of fishermen in downtown Da Nang, has no public transport and few other services, including fire stations and ambulances.

The village, which is now surrounded by four crowded streets – Tran Hung Dao, Ngo Quyen, An Don and Nguyen The Loc – can be found within a short walk of the Han Bridge, but strangers can get easily lost in the narrow alleys and forked paths.

“The village is maybe the last community left behind the rapid urbanisation of Da Nang over the past two decades. From 12 cottages in the in 1957, more than 700 buildings and houses have since been erected,” Dieu said.

“Residents from other localities have flocked there in recent years and their new homes have gradually left the area in chaos.”

Dieu said the city had planned to convert the village into an urban area in early 2000, but a lack of funds ended plans. He said village traffic was only for motorbikes, bicycle riders and pedestrians.

The old fisherman recalled that once most villagers earned their living from inshore fishing. He said he was the main breadwinner for his family of six children until 1990, when he stopped fishing as stocks declined.

“We used paddle-driven boats to fish in coastal area from Da Nang to Lang Co in Hue from evening until early next morning. Fish went on sale at the Han and Con markets around 3am,” he said.

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Gods of the sea: A skeleton of a whale is preserved at the Temple of the Whale in An Don Village. — VNS Photo Cong Thanh

“The trade improved with engine-driven boats for offshore fishing in the 1960s. I did better for my children, but none of them followed in my footsteps,” he said.

“Fishing requires plenty of skill and patience as well as iron muscles in fighting against rough seas. It’s not a job for everyone. My children started their own careers with more profitable businesses.”

Vo Van Thanh, 82, said the scenery of the fishing village had disappeared as quickly as old Da Nang had disappeared.

“The Han River was narrowed down as land was reserved for road development and buildings. We followed the river to the estuary for fishing trips. The village is a few hundreds metres from the river bank where our boat dock is now on Tran Hung Dao Street,” Thanh said.

“The village was easily seen from the river bank, but it now is overshadowed by high-rise buildings and hotels.”

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Out of the past: Old sand-stone bricks and coins found in an excavation in An Hai Citadel in An Don Village. — VNS Photo Cong Thanh

The old village is now only recognised by a temple honouring the village founder in Tran Hung Dao Street, 500m from the Han swing bridge. The temple was built in 1785, when the village appeared on the river bank.

Nguyen Van Muon, 68, who is head of the village festival committee, said the temple was a small building before the first restoration in 1971.

“We host the annual village festival on the twelfth day of the June lunar month to mark the death of the village’s founder,” Muon said.

“We still preserve old sand stones and coins found in excavations from an old An Hai Citadel in the east of the village,” he said. “A fresh-water well, which was dug 200 years ago, is still preserved.”

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Crowded village: A bird’s eye snap of An Don Village in Da Nang City’s An Hai Bac living quarter. — VNS Photo My Dung

Le Van Bieu, 85, said he was told by his father that an old citadel was built in the village as one of two citadels guarding Da Nang from 1813.

It was built at the same time as Dien Hai Citadel on the other side of the Han River. The two military outposts were erected in the 12th year of King Gia Long’s reign (1813), near the mouth of the Han River, according to documents in the city’s museum.

The two citadels were built to control access to Da Nang port and acted as an important defence position.

According to the city’s heritage centre, An Hai Citadel was build from compacted soil in 1813 before being restructured in brick in 1830.

An Hai Citadel, smaller than Dien Hai Citadel, was stationed by a group of 500 soldiers under commander General Nguyen Van Thanh. The citadel was destroyed in 1860 after the French withdrew.

Old fisherman Dieu said two cannons found during excavations, were on display with an 11-cannon collection at Dien Hai Citadel – now Da Nang’s Museum in Tran Phu Street.

Muon, 68, the festival organiser, said a flag pole was built in the village to send signals to guards at the main Dien Hai Citadel on the other bank of the Han recognising the original country of ship coming to Da Nang port.

The flag-pole now is still preserved in the village centre, in line with the tomb of a whale.

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Remnant: A corner of modern An Don fishing village. — VNS Photo My Dung

Nguyen Van My, a photographer, in Son Tra District, has suggested that restoring the old fishing village would make it a tourism hub.

“I was born in a fishing village in Tho Quang Ward in Da Nang, so it’s sad if they all disappear under rapid urbanisation. A restoration plan is also needed to recover old vestiges,” My said.

“We should restore the old scenery of a fishing village to introduce visitors to the old community,” he said.

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Room for one: A narrow path in An Don Village. — VNS Photo Cong Thanh

“We can decorate the area brightly as an art centre, home-stay and live museum. Local residents could earn from tourism services, while a piece of the old village would be preserved forever.”

My himself decorated his own basement café into a fishing village museum in Son Tra District.

He said former An Don Village would be an attractive site in Da Nang where old fishing villages had vanished.

“We could live well in apartments with good facilities in modern life, but we would lose our ancestor’s treasure forever.”

A collection of 11 cannons unearthed at Dien Hai Citadel and An Hai Citadel from 1979-2008 is officially recognised as a national treasure.

The iron guns, on display at the Da Nang Museum on the old location of the Dien Hai Citadel, were cast during in the 19th century.

The cannon collection is one of 30 cannons set up at the citadel to protect Da Nang against French-Spanish coalition forces in 1858-1860.

The citadel is connected to the famous general Nguyen Tri Phuong (1800-1873) under the Nguyen Dynasty who commanded army and people in fighting against the French-Spanish forces.

VNS

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