Unique Gong Sets of the Central Highlands People
Dec 15th 2016.
The Gong Culture space in the Central Highlands is a unique kind of culture of peoples living for many years here and has been recognized and honored by UNESCO as an oral and Intangible Masterpiece of Humanity (in 2005). Experiencing the process of historical development, the peoples of this land have created the massive gong sets with unique performing style different from the art of gongs of other countries in Southeast Asia.
One of the unique features of the Central Highlands gongs are the local peoples do not make gongs themselves but buy them from other ethnic groups and then assemble into sets, adjusting sounds to suit musical resonance and the aesthetic taste of their peoples to make up the gong sets for collective performances. The most typical gong set is the bamboo gong set, Knah gong of Ede people, Tha gong of the Brau, arab gong of the Gia Rai, the Ba na Goong, the 6-piece gong set of the Ma, the K’Ho in Lam Dong.
Ede’s Bamboo gong
It can be considered the most ancient bronze gong of the Central Highlands tribesmen before they looked at the kindof bronze cast gongs of different ethnic groups.
From the bamboo cylinders available in the forests, the E De have devised a very unique type of gong for their people. Bamboo gong is called”Ching Cram”. Normally a gong set includes 5 to 7 or 9 gongs but sometimes the gong set can also be staffed with 20 gongs. Crafting bamboo gongs are quite sophisticated, demanding the craftsmen to be talented and experienced, especially at the stage of choosing bamboo and sound evaluation. Each pair of”Ching Cram” consists of a bamboo cylinder and a bamboo stick and it must have a tone sound corresponding to that of a brass gong, so the bamboo cylinders in the gong set are cut at large and sma sizes to get corresponding sounds. Normally, cypinders are from 30-45 cm in length; 8-10 cm diameter. Additionally, to get the satisfying gong sets, the craftsmen must have sharp, keen ears to evaluate sounds and dexterous hands to cut bamboo cylinders to create the sound as desired
It is a very special gong set and only the Brau possess it. The gong set includes 2 gongs: female gong (chuar) and husband gong(Jo Lieng), of 45 50 cm diameter. Gong is cast in a very strange alloy, when hit it emits a vibrating sound better than other gong types. For the Brau, Tha gong is not only a musical instrument but also the “holy spirit” and their”ancestors, so when performing they always use appreciative words like: Go Tha po (invite Tha to say) but never used the word danh chieng Tha (beat Tha gong) as when using musical instruments. Before saying “invite Tha to say,” the Brau always invite Tha to eat, to drink The way to perform Tha gong is very special, the gong is hung on the rafters or on the console of about 10 cm above the ground. When performing, two artists sit flat on the ground facing each other, legs outstretching. The one who plays the male club (To Long Tha) beats on the inside of the gong and the other uses the female club (Gio Ra) knocking at the outside of the two gongs (Tha gongs each Tha gong set has two male clubs and two female clubs having different formations) This shows the traces of traditional beliefs of primitive times still exist in the culture of Central Highlands ethnic groups. Tha gongs are often used in such happy occasions as welcoming guests, celebrating the new rice festival, hol housewarming but never in funerals.
Arap gongs of the Jarai
They are considered the most massive” gongs in terms of numbers, including 23 gongs, in which are 8 nipple gongs and 15 flat gongs of different sizes. The largest ones have a diameter of m, the smallest 20cm. Arap gong performance is quite special: the gong set is hung on a long bamboo pole with two people carrying both ends, the remaining people go to and fro and beat the gongs with clubs. Each person can take on many gongs when performing.
Knah gong (in EDé language: Ching K’nah)
It includes 10 gongs. The gong set includes 3 nipple gongs and 7 flat gongs. All the gongs are named as members of a family.
The largest flat gong is called cing céhar (grandfather gong), the largest flat gong is called Cing Ana (mother gong), medium- nipple gong, or M dueh (father), small nipple gong: Mong(uncle). The 6 remaining flat gongs are named in order from largest to smallest: K’nah Di(eldest sister); H’liang (second sister); Khok (oldest son), H’lue Khok (second son); H’liang (third sister); H’lue Khok diet (youngest son) drum: H’gor (grandmother). The biggest gong is 70 80cm, the smallest gong 45-50cm in diameter.
6-piece gong set of the Ma and the K’Ho
The gong set of the Ma and the K’Ho in Lam Dong is staffed with maximum 06 units so it is called 6-piece gong set. The Ma and the K’Ho call 6-piece gong set”cing droong”. These flat gongs are named in the order from large to small, such as Vang (also known as mother gong), rdom (father), don (eldest brother), thoong (second brother), tho (middle brother) and Thé (youngest brother). When performing 6-piece gong set cing droong”, each musician will beat a gong and 6 musicians will move in a circle, the right hand beat the gong on the outside, while keeping the left hand side at the inside surface to block sounds and create melodies. This is a very sharp difference between the ethnic peoples of North central Highlands and Southern Central Highlands when using this musical instrument. In North Central Highlands, people often use the club to activate the sound therefore the gong set here could have a larger numbers and the rhythm is louder, more vibrating. Meanwhile, the South Central Highlands ethnic people activate the sounds by using fists to beat the gongs; therefore the sounds do not strongly vibrate but people can feel the fanciful, mysterious sounds, as if they resounded from the majestic Central Highlands forests.
Gong and gong culture is an invaluable cultural and musical asset. This is the unique cultural heritage of Vietnam and of humanity. It does not only have “physical meaning as well as artistic value, but it also is the voice of the people and the gods in the concept of animism”.
By Doan Bich Ngo