Gongs are treasure – holy spirit in the life of the Ma

Like other ethnic minority peoples living on the Truong Son – Western Highlands land, for the Ma,  the tuned gong is not only a musical instrument but also a “treasure – holy spirit” of the families and the community.

Origin of the”Treasure Holy Spirit”

The Ma call the knobbed gong”cuong”.  the flat gong “cuông”  and they usually use the flat gong.  When had gongs existed?  Nobody knows.  But harmonious tuned gong had resounded in the Ma’s consciousness from many generations.  For them,  the tuned gongs are not merely common musical instruments,  but they are the”sacred air”;  that is,  a sacred musical instrument conferred them by Yang.  Legend has it that long long ago,  a set of gongs including 6 items had been born in a deserted,  deep forest.  The gongs had lived a human life,  moving,  talking,  having sad,  happy feelings.  They gathered and lived in good order like the order of the Ma family.  the first gong that could speak is Cing-Flat”Mother Gong next is Ro-Dom”Father cing”.  then Room or eldest brother”,  Thoan”middle brother”,  finally,  Tho,  Thuy or”younger and youngest brothers”.  An old Ma family had discovered the gong set,  they organized a ritual to worship Yang and brought it to the Ma community for use…

Gongs of Ma people

Gongs of Ma people


Tuned gong:  a “sacred treasure”

The Ma do not cast gongs but they barter for bull,  buffalo,  brocade…  from other places,  and artists adjust the sound to create a distinctive melody of their people.  Large-sized gongs or copper,  silver and gold mixed or black copper gongs are the kinds of precious gongs due to their smooth and sonorous tones.  Some gong sets must barter for 15 20 buffaloes.

For Ma people,  gong is considered a precious asset,  symbolizing authority and wealth of each family and ethnic clan.  Gongs which have been passed from many generations and retained in families and clans are more precious.  Those families and clans that can preserve gong sets passed by generations take pride themselves on these precious assets and get respect from their community and from other clans.  Therefore,  previously,  each Ma family possessed at least a gong set,  some families even owned several sets.

Gongs Show

Gongs Show


Tuned gongs: “Holy Spirit”

Besides being a “treasure”,  the tuned gong is also considered a sacred object associated with spiritual rituals of the Ma community.  They think that in each gong there exists the embodiment of Gods(Yang-  Cing).  Gong sets used in important rituals enhance the power of the God and become more sacred.  The value of the gong set is not only in the processing techniques but also in its spiritual significance.  Being considered a secred object,  before using the gong,  Ma people must organize rituals to ask for permission,  also considered as a rite to awaken the soul of the Gong After the festivities,  the gong sets are carefully kept near the altar,  the most solemn place in the long house,  which is called the sacred space (snao).

Gong perfomance

Gong perfomance

During important rites to show thanks and gratitude to the gods,  the blood of the sacrificial animal is always applied on the gongs.  This is an evident ceremonial characteristic of the ritual(sacrifice).  At the same time,  the flickering flames with resounding vows,  the sounds of tuned gongs help make the space more solemn,  more ethereal and more sacred.  It is seen as a means to help the officiating master to convey the prayers to the gods.  As such,  gong is considered the soul of the festivity.

For the Ma,  gongs are not only found in all important rituals of human life and community,  but even in the treasure”to be divided to those who passed away.

It can be said that,  gong des not only have a simple artful significance,  but is seen as a”treasure holy spirit”  of the family and the western ethnic Community in genera of which is the Ma.  This cultural identity is worth respecting and preserving In recent years,  in famous tourist resorts such as Lang Biang,  Dreaming Hill,  Prenn waterfall,  Bidoup Nui Ba National Park,…  the gong culture space of the indigenous peoples has both a significance of cultural identity preservation and an appealing tourism product to attract tourists to Dalat.

By Thanh Binh

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