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Gongs in the life of the Muong

The gong as a musical instrument is an important cultural item in the life of the Muong. It appears in all community activities and throughout a person’s lifetime. The Muong consider gongs valuable possession to be preserved from generation to generation.

The gong cultural space of the Muong has been developed during their time-honored cultural and historical tradition, the production, and artistic creation of generations.

 

A set of Muong gongs comprises 12 items representing the 12 months of the year. The Muong play gongs at housewarmings, weddings, and beginning of summer crop ceremonies. Among most Central Highlands ethnic groups, the men play the gongs, but it’s the Muong women who play their gongs.

Bui Chi Thanh, a Muong culture researcher, says bronze drums represent the power of the upper class while gongs are widely used by ordinary people. “Since the 11th century music and the gong cultural space of the Muong have steadily developed. The gong has appeared in all aspects of Muong life and become their symbol.”

The Muong in Tan Lac district, Hoa Binh province, have the largest number of gongs. Phu Vinh commune has about 400 gongs. Poor families have one or two gongs while wealthy families have a full set of 12 gongs. Bui Van Nuom, who has a set of gongs, says he and Phu Vinh villagers have a great love for gongs. Gongs are displayed in an important place in the house and they are frequently discussed by friends and at village meetings. “These gongs were handed down from my father. We display them in the house, use them in celebrations, and bring them to festivals. We won’t sell them but will preserve them for our children.”


(The image of ethnic Muong gongs at Muong Restaurant Kitchen)

People in Phu Vinh commune have a custom of beating the gongs three times to welcome the New Year and invite the souls of their ancestors to return home on New Year’s Eve. The Muong believe that if a family doesn’t beat gongs, their ancestors will not visit their house. Bui Thi Anh says: “Even if we are very poor, we will never sell our gongs. Nothing can replace gongs in our life. Several people have asked to buy our gongs but we resolutely refused.”

The authority of Tan Lac district has worked with the local people to preserve gongs and revitalize traditional festivals to introduce gong performances to Vietnamese and foreign visitors. More than 400 gongs were played at this year’s beginning of summer crop ceremony. Many gong performances evoke the Muong traditional values of thousands of years. Bui Van Dung, Chairman of Phu Vinh commune’s People’s Committee, said: “We have assigned cultural officials to help people collect and preserve gongs. We told them about the significance of gongs so in recent years no family has sold gongs.”