For many years, in his free time, Mac Van Nguyen, 90, in Chan Village, Thach Giam Commune, has cleaned and checked the sound of his family’s traditional set of gongs. The set is considered as the family’s treasure and has been preserved for five generations. “My father told me that my great grandfather exchanged four oxen to the set from a rich family in Muong Xen Town, Ky Son District, in the province,” Nguyen recalled.
Nguyen has refused many generous offers from people, both inside and outside the district and the province, who want to buy the set.
“I want to preserve my family’s treasure,” Nguyen asserted, adding that he often beats the gongs on festive days and festivals so that his descendants can learn about their ancestors’ traditional instruments.
Lo Xuan Tinh, an O Du ethnic man in Vang Mon Village, Nga Mon Commune, recounted the days when his ethnic group lived in Com Village, Kim Da Commune, and his family received an offer of up to VND44 million in cash for his family’s old set of gongs, but his father rejected the offer because it was a valuable property left by his ancestors. The bronze gongs can produce a clear and pure sound which can be heard from a long distance.
As the O Du ethnic group has only 604 people left, they consider gongs an indispensable part of their spiritual life and make every effort to preserve their sacred cultural practice.
For many years, Tuong Duong District’s authorities have attached due attention to uphold the practice of gongs among ethnic minorities in the locality with a focus on local elders, patriarchs, and gong enthusiasts who have a certain understanding about gongs.
In Vong Village, a folk song and dance club was established and elders in the village are entrusted to keep and practice valuable sets of gongs in the community.
Elder Vang Van Que, a member of the club, said: “Although we are old, we are still honored to protect the gongs, which are the soul of our group, and to hand down the practice to our descendants.”
Located in the southwest of Nghe An Province, Tuong Duong District is home to six ethnic groups including Thai, H’mong, Kho Mu, O Du, Tay Pong and Kinh.
Among them, the cultural and religious practices of Thai, Kho Mu, O Du and H’mong people are strongly related to gongs. Therefore, the musical instrument has been preserved through generations and has become a treasure of families and villages in general. To date, the district has more than 40 sets of gongs.
According to Lo Thanh Long, Head of Tuong Duong District’s Culture and Information Office, as a multi-ethnic distric, Tuong Duong has a diverse cultural identity with many unique features, including the gong culture of ethnic minorities.
While the H’mong people use gongs in their worshiping ceremonies, the Thai, Kho Mu and O Du ethnic communities use them during festivals and New Year holidays. They are very aware of protecting the instruments and local elders are often entrusted to keep the tradition alive.
Vice Chairman of Tuong Duong District People’s Committee Lo Thanh Nhat said that the local authorities have coordinated with local associations of war veterans, elders, and women to establish people-centred art clubs, which are set to safeguard and promote traditional practice in the district, including gong culture.
The authorities have added more than VND10 million to its annual spending for the preservation and collection of gong sets in villages and hamlets.
Plans to integrate gong culture into community-based tourism development have also been set up to further uphold the cultural value of the practice while boosting the local hospitality sector.