The Space of Gong Culture in Central Highlands (Intangible Cultural Heritage)

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The space of Gong culture in Central Highlands stretches 5 districts: Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, and Lam Dong. And owners of the special cultural type are ethnic people living in the Central highlands: Bana, Xêđăng, Mnông, Cơho, Rơmăm, Êđê, Giarai, etc. The Gong is associated with the Central highland people; it is the voice of spirit, people’s soul and shows happiness, sadness of the life, in laboring and in their daily life.

The gongs are made of brass alloy or a mixture of brass and gold, silver, bronze. Their diameter is from 20cm to 60cm or from 90cm to 120cm. A set of gongs consists of 2 to 12 or 13 units and even to 18 or 20 units in some places.

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In Central Highlands, gongs are often performed in the form of orchestra. Gong orchestras adopt a natural sound-scale as the foundation for theirs. Depending on different ethnic groups, a gong orchestra can consist of 3, 5 or 6 primary sounds. However, as a polyphonic musical instrument, gongs often have some additional sounds apart from their basic ones. In fact, a six-gong orchestra can produce more or less 12 different sounds. So, gong sounds are heard resonant and solid. Moreover, a gong orchestra is arranged in a broad space, so the melody is formed by three-dimensional sounds with different pitch, length and resonance. It is the stereophonic effect – an original phenomenon of gong performance.

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Regarding to origination, according to some researchers, the Gong is a “child” of lithophone. Before having Bronze culture, people found to stone instruments: stone Gong, then coming to the Bronze Age, people just invented bronze Gong. From original period, the gong was used to welcome a new rice harvest; the present of belief is communication with super nature. All festivals year around, from festival of blowing ears for newborns to water worshipping, the festival of a new rice harvest, etc. need the sound of Gong like a kind of connection between people in a community.

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The space of gong culture in Central Highlands is heritage with temporal and spatial imprints. Through its categories, sound-amplifying method, sound scale and gamut, tunes and performance art, we will have an insight in a complicated art developing from simple to complexity, from single to multi-channel. It contains different historical layers of the development of music since the primitive period. All artistic values have the relationships of similarities and dissimilarities, bringing about their regional identities. With its diversity and originality, it’s possible to confirm that gongs hold a special status in Viet Nam’s traditional music.

On November 25, 2005 in Paris, France, the space of gong culture in Central Highlands was recognized by UNESCO as an oral-transmitted masterpiece and intangible cultural heritage of the humanity.

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