Sitting next to a temple in Longcyuan Borough (龍泉) in Greater Taichung’s Dajia District (大甲), a group of middle-aged women twist strands of triangle rushes together to form a variety of items — once a booming craft that is quickly disappearing.
Thriving on the wetlands along the Daan River that flows through Miaoli County and Taichung, rushes have been at the center of a unique weaving culture in the district.
According to local farmers, the fragrant plant is harvested three times a year. Each harvest produces rushes with different uses and prices.
Rushes reaped in the third and the fourth months of the lunar calendar are called “spring grasses,” which are dried in the sun until they develop a golden color.
Rushes gathered in the first harvest season are subject to color fading, and their relatively low price makes them particularly well-received among practitioners of the time-honored weaving craft.
The triangular plants picked during the second harvesting season, in the seventh and eighth months of the lunar calendar, are ideal for the manufacture of hats and mats because the fibers are shorter and more resilient. The price, on the other hand, tends to be higher.
With a shorter and thinner stem, rushes harvested in the 10th month of the lunar calendar are only suitable for smaller items such as name-card holders.
Chatting with her fellow weavers, Chiu Shu-tzu (邱淑子) from the district’s Sici Borough (西岐) sighed about the decline of the once prosperous rush weaving industry.
“Whether it is in [Taichung’s] Dajia District or [Miaoli’s] Yuanli Township [苑裡], the majority of women who have mastered the weaving skills are already in their 60s. For a day of hard work, weavers are only rewarded with a salary of between NT$200 and NT$300,” Chiu said.
During the summer, as rushes dry out quickly because of the ever-increasing temperature and become vulnerable to breakage, weavers cannot turn on an electric fan and they swelter in the heat while working.
When taking on a large woven piece, senior craftspeople have to sit on the ground in a stooping position for several hours, which often causes backaches.
Because of the low pay-to-effort ratio, many of their family members have urged them to retire from the waning industry.
Accompanied by her granddaughter, who from time to time gives her grandmother a massage to ease her back pain, an elderly woman surnamed Chen (陳) from Longcyuan Borough lamented the decline of the traditional craft.
“People are calling for the preservation of the rush weaving culture, but weavers can barely survive on the meager salary. Youngsters nowadays refuse to stay in their hometown, and an old woman like me can only do odd jobs to make a penny,” Chen said.
However, when the weaving industry was in its heyday, things were different. Back then, both women and men were eager to join the weaving industry, as the paycheck was enough to raise a family of six. Woven hats and mats were deemed one of the three treasures, along with the Jheng-lan Matsu temple and butter pastries, in the district.
Dajia District’s Sishihai Promotional Association chief executive Kuo Su-yueh (郭素月) said that while the association had been calling on women in Longcyuan Borough and Jiansing Borough (建興) to pass down the craft to the younger generation, they could hardly continue their endeavors without the government’s support.