To he is one of the rare folk toys of Vietnamese children remaining until today. Xuan La Village in Phuong Duc Commune, Phu Xuyen District, Ha Noi (former Ha Tay Province) is often mentioned as one of originated places of making to he (kneading coloured dough into coloured paste animals).
Almost of all villagers (80%) in Xuan La know how to make to he. White-haired old people and even children who have not gone to school also can make to he. Derived long time ago, but nobody knows who was the ancestor of making to he (this is explained that since the loss of documentation). Besides, the village has many families such as: Dang, Nguyen, Vu, Le, Chu, Trinh… all of these families know well how to make to he. Thus, all deserve the title of ancestor of making to he.
The stage of making dough is the main secret formula of the profession. If this formula is not good, when the powder dry it will rub off very easily and break out of stick. The main ingredient for making to he is ordinary rice and a little of glutinous rice flour. It is mixed at the ratio of 10 parts of rice contain 1 part of sticky rice (this ratio may change depend on the hot and dry weather), well-blend, cover with water then pureed, boil and quick knead. After that, this flour is squeezed into some wisps and each wisp is dyed respectively. Four basic colors are yellow, red, black, and green. In the past, people use colors derived from plants and boiled with a little flour: yellow made from hoe flower or turmeric, red from gac fruit or gardenia, black from burned-straw or dyer’s weed, green from indigo leaves or rieng leaves… Other intermediate colors are created from these four colors.
To he attracts strangely not only young children but also many people of all ages. Perhaps, distinctions that create special appeal of to he is just only with a little of colored dough and a bamboo stick about 40cm in length, the artisan with talented hands has made pictures in the imagination became a reality in some minutes. To see the most attraction of this game, one should follow each skilful act of rolling and kneading of the artisan. Audiences palpitate with the artisan’s hands as a magic when products finish. Each to he always causes curiosity and admiration for all people on creativeness of the artisan.
Today, artisans make to he not only with traditional shapes of animals, fruits, but also with many others of abundant in shapes, especially cartoon characters that children love such as Doraemon, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Superman…, and industry food colors are used for their more convenient.
With a simple tool set consists of a small knife, a few bamboo sticks and a little beeswax, the artisans of making to he go to many villages all over Viet Nam on market-days, festivals, to sell their products. Nowadays, to he appears not only at the village festivals, parks, schools but also at hotels, trade fairs, important national and international cultural, social, sports and tourism events…
To he is considered as a unique folk toy, which brings both national and scientific characters. It also plays an important role in life, learning, entertainment activities and aesthetic training for children. To he is a toy which children often pick for them in many occasions, especially every time the Mid-Autumn Festival arrived.