Space of gong culture

Inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2005)

The cultural space of the gongs in the central highlands of Vietnam covers several provinces and seventeen Austro-Asian and Austronesian ethno-linguistic communities. Closely linked to daily life and the cycle of the seasons, their belief systems form a mystical world where the gongs produce a privileged language between men, divinities and the supernatural world. Behind every gong hides a god or goddess who is all the more powerful when the gong is older. Every family possesses at least one gong, which indicates the family’s wealth, authority and prestige, and also ensures its protection. While a range of brass instruments is used in the various ceremonies, the gong alone is present in all the rituals of community life and is the main ceremonial instrument. The manner in which the gongs of Vietnam are played varies according to the village. Each instrumentalist carries a different gong measuring between 25 and 80 cm in diameter. From three to twelve gongs are played by the village ensembles, which are made up of men or women. Different arrangements and rhythms are adapted to the context of the ceremony, for example, the ritual sacrifice of the bullocks, the blessing of the rice or mourning rites. The gongs of this region are bought in neighbouring countries, and then tuned to the desired tone for their own use. Economic and social transformations have drastically affected the traditional way of life of these communities and no longer provide the original context for the Gong culture. Transmission of this way of life, knowledge and know-how was severely disrupted during the decades of war during the last century.Today, this phenomenon is aggravated by the disappearance of old craftsmen and young people’s growing interest in Western culture. Stripped of their sacred significance, the gongs are sometimes sold for recycling or exchanged for other products.
Throughout the Central Highlands of Viet Nam, Gong ensembles are part of various ceremonies and closely linked to the communities’ daily life and the cycle of the seasons. The instruments, measuring 25 to 80 centimetres, are played by men as well as women.