Central Highlands gong culture has recently won UNESCO recognition as masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humankind. This has provided a great source of pride for Central Highlanders. However, it has also created heavy tasks for local people to uphold and preserve the value of their traditional culture.
Following Hue Royal Court Music, Central Highlands gong culture has recently been recognised as masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humankind by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
H’Voc from the M’Nong ethnic minority group is a worker providing gong services at Ho Lac tourist site under the Dak Lak Tourism Company and does not know about gong culture’s recognition. Nevertheless, she and her bothers provide gong services to one or two visitor delegations everyday. Apart from riding elephants, sailing boats and eating thac lac fish, visitors to Ho Lac often want to enjoy the beautiful sounds of Central Highlands gongs.
Although M’Nong ethnic minority people in Jun hamlet in Lak district are not properly aware of the great global honour that their ancestors’ gongs have achieved, they never think of selling their valuable gongs. H’Diep, a resident in Jun hamlet, said people in the hamlet buy more gongs and they never sell gongs.
Ethnic minority groups in the Central Highlands region have many festivals and worshiping rituals. Gongs are present at part of all festivals and rituals of Central Highlanders. Gongs are considered means of communications with supernatural and mysterious powers. At rituals such as age congratulations, new rice celebrations, ceremonial offerings and guest welcomes, the sounds of gongs are always important. However, few hamlets preserve the gong tradition like Jun hamlet. For some reason, many local people have sold their valuable sets of gongs.
Most people in the Central Highlands region understand the value of gongs and they do not sell them as they did in the past. Nevertheless, it is not very difficult to buy expensive gongs, which range between VND10-15 million for a set of 12 gongs. As a result, gongs continue to leave Central Highlands hamlets. I-tai-ju, a teacher of the I-Jut primary school in Jang-Tao commune in Lak district, said that in the past all households in the commune had their own set of gongs, but now there are a few such households.
Local people had to sell their gong sets due to their poor living conditions. Some people, particularly young people, do not understand the cultural value of gongs properly.
Mr I-tai-ju said that some people sell their gongs because they find them useless. Young people now do not know how to play gongs. He himself cannot use them.
Nowadays, the living conditions of Central Highlanders have improved and many of them are well off. Therefore, in most cases, it is not economic reason that forces them to sell their valuable gongs. However, there’s a fear that gongs are losing their position in cultural community activities due to a simple reason – young people are ignoring gongs.
Both the ignorance of gongs and the extreme attitude towards gongs cause negative impacts on the preservation and development of the masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humankind. The early appearance of gongs on the stage, which were different to community activities, has reduced the real value of gongs. The early performances Thai Xoe dancing, Thai khap singing and Quan ho folk singing are examples.
It is necessary to create conditions for Central Highland people to organise festivals following their hamlet traditions, where they beat their ancestors’ gongs for themselves. Everyone knows that one of reasons that helped Central Highlands gongs win global recognition is that they existed in cultural community activities a long time ago.
Keeping gong sets in Central Highland Rong houses is difficult, but keeping the soul of gongs in people’s mind is extremely difficult.