Incense Making In The Orient
Entire villages tend to aggregate all their resources for the production of a certain product, and the division of labor is divided by skill. For instance, here are a few pictures of one village entirely dedicated to making incense. From morning till night, each cog in the wheel of this cottage industry busies itself with a repetative task. When all the work in compiled and integrated, the outcome in terms of product is almost overwhelming. Other crafts/creations include weaving of hats, baskets, mats, making of pottery, and similar multi-step and mass-labor industries.
In this short set of pictures (until I find the other's I took) are shown a few of the steps taken along the way to this communal, successful attempt to make incense. Most of this incense is shipped up the river to Cambodia.
Categories of Job specialties run the entire gambet, including (and I'm sure I've left a few out!):
finding the bamboo
cutting the bamboo into identical pieces
painting the bamboo
making the sawdust
mixing the glue and sawdust
rolling the incense stick
quality control inspection (occurring at multiple points!)
applying the various scents
Graphic Design© Webster's Fantasy 2001
Pentacle©Robin Wood 1997
Incense Article©John Rossie
All Used with permission
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The worker sits at a flat board with a stack of readied bamboo sticks, a glob of glue and saw dust, and a flat trowel. A fine layer of white, dry saw dust or other natural absorbant (flour?) is at hand to roll the finished incense stick in for easier handling until the glue has dried.
During a typical day, a single top-notched worker can produce 12,000 to 15,000 sticks per day. I wrote that number down when they told me! To the best of my knowledge, that is an accurate number. If anyone finds that I've mistranslated or hallucinated, please let me know. But that's the massive production scale that this village was working on.
The worker rolls the bamboo stick with an intuitively calculated amount of glue, which after a bit of practice, is amazingly uniform is quantity. Back in the "old days" when sandel wood was still readily available, it was saw dust from sandel wood that was mixed with the glue, and no further scent was needed. Now, any type of saw dust is used and artificial scent is sprayed on the finished product.
Through an intriguing technique of fanning the stack of completed incense, the bunches are spread out on the shoulder of the road for drying in the sun. These fanned stacks can be laid out and gathered without a single incense stick dropping out of the bunch.
After the prescribed number of hours drying time, the sticks are then re-gathered and once again checked for quality, re-counted and carefully bound up into identical bundles.
Once you've seen this done, entirely by hand, there is a special appreciation mixed in the with whiffs of odor when one lights incense.
There are specific colors representing specific scents. There are unique color combinations that represent the intended market. There's more to making incense than meets the eye.
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A Note On Incense Making In Cambodia
We previously titled this as "incense Making in Cambodia". This is incorrect and the following is an explanation from the author about my questions regarding where it is actually made.
What you see in the set of photos I've but together is specifically
Vietnamese, at least from the point of "where are these incense sticks manufactured?" I believe that the scent is also a product of Vietnam, however I also believe I heard that Cambodia and Laos have certain plants or other sources of fragrance that *may* be used in some other place than where they originate. But I'm also sure that, if one were to travel through Cambodia/Laos, that they'd find many, many villages involved in literally an identical communal project of making incense.
So, the making of the incense that you see was done
in Vietnam, but certain fragrances might have been imported fromother places and mixed into their product right there in the village.
What happens next is, the finished product is sold back to
Cambodia, because for some reason they have a better control on the distribution market... and/or people tend to or have learned to like incense "made in Cambodia" better than incense "made in Vietnam"....
but behind the scenes, it's made in Vietnam anyway, and just sent
back to Cambodia for distribution.
Also, the Cambodians themselves
use a tremendous amount of incense (although that's also true of the Vietnamese.) The regional/global market mix was something I never really figured out completely, either :- )
A Little About John Paul Rossie
I was in Thailand and Vietnam June 1996 through March 1998 (back and forth between State-side and there) working as a consultant for education and educational technology services.
The project started out as a contract with the Asian Development Bank to assess the use of satellite delivered educational programs throughout Thailand and I was able to find continuing projects through the Thai Department of
Education as well as on my own.
I'm a consultant for telecommunications with a bent towards education... there's a little more about that at
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