Thứ Hai, 6 tháng 6, 2011

Tay Nguyen gong, a masterpiece of humanity

On November 25, 2005, Vietnam’s cong chieng (gong) culture of Tay Nguyen (the Central Highlands) was officially recognised by UNESCO as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible culture of humanity after the court music of Hue. This affirms that Vietnam has an age-old culture with many traditional art-forms that should be protected, preserved and developed.
Nobody knows when the gongs appear on the sunny and windy land of Central Highlands. Many people guessed that the gong culture originated from the Dong Son Civilization (3,500-4,000 years ago) with its bronze drums being well known.
The Central Highlands’ gong culture prevails in five provinces, including Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong and the owners of this unique art-form are the people of such ethnic groups as the Ba Na, Xo Dang, M’nong, Co Ho, Ro Mam, E De and Gia Rai.
The gongs are closely associated with the life of the Central Highlanders. They serve as the voice of the people’s souls and spirits, reflecting their joys and sorrows in daily life and activities. The gongs are used in the thoi tai (blowing the ears) ceremony to take a new-born into life and the bo ma (leaving the grave) ceremony to bring the dead to the sacred world. They appear in most rituals and ceremonies, such as weddings, welcoming of the New Year, new rice and new communal house, the farewell ceremony to the soldiers going to the front and the celebrations of triumphs and victories.
The gongs are a medium of communication between people and deities. According to the Central Highlanders’ conception, behind each gong resides a deity. The older the gongs, the more powerful the deities. The gongs also constitute a treasure and a symbol of power and wealth. A gong was once as valuable as two elephants or 20 buffalos. On festive days, people dance around a sacred fire or sit by the jars of can wine (wine drunk out of a jar through pipes) enjoying the sounds of the gongs, which gives the Central Highlands a romantic and fanciful image. It may be said that the gongs contribute to creating the epics, songs and poems full of romantic and grandiose characteristics of the Central Highlands’ culture.
The sounds of gongs were beautifully described in the following excerpt from Dam San epic: “Beat the gongs with the purest sounds and the gongs with the deepest sounds. Beat the gongs gently so that the sounds are brought down to the earth by the wind. Beat the gongs so that the sounds spread everywhere. Beat the gongs so that the sounds go through the floor. Beat the gongs so that the sounds cross the houses to reach the Heaven. Beat the gongs so that the monkeys forget to cling to the branches and fall to the ground. Beat the gongs so that the ghosts and devils are so absorbed in listening that they forget to harm people. Beat the gongs so that the mice and squirrels forget to dig their holes, the snakes lie motionless, the rabbits are startled, the deer forget to graze, all of them listen attentively to the gong sounds of Dam San…”.
Existing on the grandiose Central Highlands for thousands of years, the gong art has developed to a high level. The gongs of the Central Highlands are abundant and diverse.
Each ethnic group and each area has its own gongs with specific characteristics. The gongs can be used in single or in a set of two to twelve units. There is a set of up to 18-20 units such as the gong set of Gia rai ethnic group.
The Central Highlands gong band is organised as an orchestra which can perform polyphonic pieces of music in different tunes. The specialty of this orchestra lies in the fact that each bandsman plays a cong or a chieng (cong has a dome in the middle and chieng has none).
The artists play cong and chieng in great harmony, producing different pieces of music with diverse and unique rhythms and tones. Each ethnic group has its own pieces of gong music to depict the natural beauty and people’s aspirations. Gia Rai ethnic minorities have such pieces as Juan and Trum Vang, while Ba Na people have their Xa Trang, Sakapo, Atau and Toroi.
At the ceremony to proclaim the gong culture of the Central Highlands as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible culture of humanity, UNESCO Director Koichiro Matsuura said: “I have enjoyed the traditional gong music of Vietnam and seen the unique musical instruments in the gong orchestras of the Central Highlands ethnic groups. This is a typical traditional culture of Vietnam, wonderful and special. The gong culture of the Central Highlands deserves the title a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” – Source: Vietnam Pictorial
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