September 1965: Văn Đa on Cát Bà Island

In 1965, during its prominence as a sanctuary for People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) militia, Văn Đa travelled to Cát Bà island. In his sketch (fig. 1), Đa records a group of militia manning earthen defences in a crude dugout. To give a sense of how picturesque the island is, the militia is looking out over the Cát Bà Archipelago at the southeastern edge of Hạ Long Bay in North Vietnam.

Figure 1: Văn Đa, 22 September 1965, Cát Bà Island. “Tự Vệ Cát Bà (Woman’s Island Militia).” Ink on machine-made paper.

Another artist to concentrate on the role of women in the PAVN, Đa referred to his sketches of militia on Cát Bà island as a depiction of “Woman’s island militia” (fig. 1), while also documenting drawing two female militia soldiers on the island (fig. 2).

Figure 2: Văn Đa, 20 September 1965, Cát Bà Island. “Cát Bà (Woman’s Island).” Ink on machine-made paper.

Not only humorous, Đa’s reference also drew on the island’s history. Legend tells of three women of the Tran Dynasty who died and each drifted to a separate sandy beach on the island. Afterwards, the inhabitants built temples on each of the beaches and the island was called Cát Bà (Women’s Island) and the temples called Women’s Temples. Opposite Cát Bà town is small Cắt Ống island (Men’s Island), which was a secret place for soldiers to hide weapons.

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