“Living human treasure” preserves gong sounds of Tay Nguyen hinh anh 1A gong tuning artisan of Mrong Yo 1 village, Ia Ka commune, Chu Pah district, Gia Lai province, is working on a gong. (Photo: VNA)

Hanoi (VNA) – To conserve the traditional culture and the unique characteristics of the Tay Nguyen Central Highlands, gong tuning artisans in Gia Lai province travel every village to keep the sounds of mountains and forest alive.

Artisans who are experts in adjusting the sounds of gongs have always been considered living human treasures of the community in the Central Highlands of Tay Nguyen in general and Gia Lai province in particular. Those artisans, though few in number, have made considerable contributions to the conservation and development of the values of the gong culture of Tay Nguyen.

Gia Lai currently keeps records of 5,655 sets of gong. The province is home to more than 900 gong tuning artisans. Many of the artisans, mostly of Jrai ethnic minority group, live in IaKa commune, Chu Pah district.

The artisans usually work in groups of from five to ten people, because after adjusting, they will play the gongs together to see if the sounds are right or not.

Artisan Siu Bit said the tools for gong tuning are very simple, which consist of a circular wooden bar and a small hammer. However, in order to adjust the sounds of gongs, an artisan must first of all know how to strike the gong, remember many ancient gong music pieces and have a delicate ear.

He said adjusting the sounds of gong could not be rushed. The artisan must first listen carefully to the sounds to detect the wrong ones. Some could be tuned very quickly, in just one or two hours, but there are also cases when they have to work for days.  

“Living human treasure” preserves gong sounds of Tay Nguyen hinh anh 2A gong tuning artisan (Photo: VNA)

Sets of ancient gongs are now very rare in Tay Nguyen. Therefore, gong tuning artisans are ready to go to faraway villages to preserve the unique sounds of gong, which are said to reflect the soul of the mountains and forests in the Central Highlands.

Artisan Ro Cham Guk said whenever receiving a request for adjusting gongs, artisans in Mrong Yo 1 village always try to do it as soon as possible. Some will bring their gongs to the artisans’ house for tuning, but for the gongs in villages hundreds of kilometers away, the artisans will travel to the location and stay there until finishing the tuning.  

Though gongs are indispensable in the life of ethnic minority people in Tay Nguyen, the local people cannot produce gongs. Most of the gongs they use today are decade-old, even hundreds of years old. As a result, some would be damaged due to use, and their sounds become out of tune, needing adjustment.  

The issue also attracts special attention of Tay Nguyen cultural researchers, as gongs are the soul of the Highlands culture.

According to Nguyen Quang Tue, head of the cultural heritage management section of Gia Lai provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, without the gong tuning artisans, the gong cultural space of Tay Nguyen could not exist.

“Living human treasure” preserves gong sounds of Tay Nguyen hinh anh 3Gong tuning artisans at Mrong Yo 1 village (Photo: VNA)

However, the gong tuning artisans now share the concern that it is difficult to find young people to continue their work. Artisan Ksor Sioh said he is willing to pass all his knowledge and experience in adjusting the sounds of gongs to any young people who wish to learn it. “If no one does the work, damaged gongs will have to be thrown away, which means our traditional culture will fall into oblivion,” he said.  

He himself has opened some classes to teach young people in performing gongs and adjusting gong sounds.

Village elder Ro Cham Nha at Mrong Yo 1 village said the elderly regularly urge local people to keep the traditional culture. “After many communications campaigns, some young people have begun to learn not only gong tuning but also other traditional crafts such as rattan and brocade weaving, and statute carving,” he said.

The Cultural Space of Gong of Tay Nguyen was recognised by the UNESCO as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of the humanity in 2005. It is closely linked to the daily life of local people. Their belief systems form a mystical world where the gongs produce a privileged language between men, divinities and the supernatural world./.