Folk Art and Crafts,  Local Guide

A Spiritual Journey to Explore the Space of Gong Culture in the Central Highlands

The space of gong culture in the Vietnam Central Highlands (Vietnamese: Không gian văn hóa Cồng Chiêng Tây Nguyên) is a subregion in Central Vietnam that is home to cultures that value gongs. It includes provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nông, and Lam Dong. The space of gong culture was recognized as a Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity on November 25, 2005 by the UNESCO.


The spiritual bridge between human and supernatural (Source: Google)

In the length of Vietnam cultural history, the gong culture acknowledges gongs as a privileged connection between men and the supernatural, where each gong houses a deity whose power corresponds to the gong’s age. However, it has been strongly affected by the rapid economic and social development that disrupted and interfered with the traditional knowledge transfer and stripped the gongs off their spiritual significance.

The beauty of gongs – a traditional musical instrument of the Central Highland


Traditional musical instrument of Vietnam Central Highlands (Source: Google)

The space of gong culture in the Vietnam highlands extends throughout 5 provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Lam Dong and the owner of this special Vietnam cultural art are residents of the Central Highlands: Bana, Xêđăng, Mnông, Cơho, Rơmăm, Êđê, Giarai…

Gongs are closely associated with the life of the Central Highlands and considered the voice of the spirit, the soul of highlanders with the purpose of expressing joys and sadness in their life, at work, and in other daily activities. Gongs are a kind of musical instrument made from copper alloy, sometimes mixed with gold, silver or black bronze.  Each musician plays The gong with different measurement, between 25 and 80 cm in diameter The maximum size of gongs can reach 90 to 120 cm in diameter. From two to thirteen gongs are played by the village ensembles, which consist of both men and women

Tay Nguyen gong is a unique, impressive and versatile musical instrument. The Central Highland gong orchestras take the natural accretion scales as the basis for setting up their own scale, in which composes of 3-tone scale, 5-tone scale or the basic 6-tone scale. Because the gong is a polyphonic instrument, besides the basic sound is always accompanied with some other sounds. Therefore, an orchestra of 6 gongs is going to provide at least 12 tones or even more, giving the gongs a rich and deep melody.

According to several well-known researchers, gongs are “the descendants” of the Lithophone – an ancient musical instrument with 11 slabs of stone. In Vietnam cultural history, gongs were played to celebrate a new and prosperous rice season and express the sacred belief of communicating with the supernatural powers. In all of the most important festivals in a year of the Highlanders, from infant’s ear-blowing ceremony, mourning ritual to the bufallo-stabbing ceremony, the attractive and sweet melody of gongs play an undeniable part in connecting people in the same community.

The crucial importance of gongs in the spiritual life of the Central Highland


The unique beauty of gong culture of ethnic minorities (Source: Google)

According to the Highlanders’ belief, each gong houses a deity whose power corresponds to the gong’s age. The more ancient the gong is, the more powerful the god is. Furthermore, the gong is not only a valuable asset but also a symbol of power and wealth. In festivals, the impressive image of Highlanders dancing around the sacred fire, drinking Rượu Cần and listening to the echoing rhythm of gongs bring a romantic and mysterious air to Tay Nguyen’s mountainous areas. Therefore, the gong contributes greatly to create poetic but heroic cultural epic poetries.

In most ethnic groups, the gong is considered a male’s instrument like Gia Rai, Ede, Ba Na and so on. However, there still exist several groups which allow both men and women to play this special musical instrument. The music of Tay Nguyen gongs is the obvious evidence that shows off the skillful abilities of artists in applying gong playing techniques to performance. From gong adjustment and orchestra arrangement to playing techniques and performance, villagers, who have never been to any professional training institutes, have no difficulty in amazing others with excellent skills.

Moreover, Tay Nguyen’s gong music not only contains an invaluable artistic value recognized by the society, but also a convergence of sacred souls of mountains and rivers for generations. In addition, highlanders regard their traditional instrument as the bridge connecting human and god.

On the 25th, November, 2005, the space of gong culture in Vietnam highlands was officially recognized as a Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Along with “Nhã nhạc” of Hue court (a form of Vietnamese court music), Tay Nguyen gong is the second intangible heritage of Vietnam which was honored to be listed in the World Heritage List.

Ideal destinations for enjoying the space of gong culture


Exciting activities at Gong Festival (Source: Google)

Gong Festival

Gong festival is an annual festival held in provinces which are famous for gong culture, including Đắk Lắk – an important and favorable place due to its crucial position in Tay Nguyen’s culture, politics and society.

During the festival, tourists have chances to witness countless wonderful performances of talented artists from different provinces on the background music of gongs.

Elephant racing in Buôn Đôn

Located 42 km from Buon Ma Thuot City to the Northwest, Buôn Đôn is the perfect destination for exploring gong culture. Elephant Racing Festival is often organized in March at Buôn Đôn. Participating in this fascinating activity, visitors will be amazingly impressed by the vibrant atmosphere created by the unique sounds and melody of gongs as well as spectacular performances from Buôn Đôn’s elephants.

Furthermore, Elephant Racing is regarded as a huge cultural event of the Central Highland with the purpose of honoring the sporting spirit of M’Nong people, who are well-known and well-respected for their bravery and talent in taming wild these wild creatures.

Spring Festival

The festival lasts for 2 to 3 months, from October to February in Lunar Calendar. Villagers stop their production activities to take part in the festivals or visit their friends and relatives. Especially, a buffalo stabbing ritual is arranged to worship the gods of the village and ask for their blessings.

Tourists are warmly welcomed to immerse in the friendly and exciting air of the festival, join traditional activities, participate in boisterous dances and sing along with generous and hospitable locals in beautiful melodies of gong music.

There is no exaggeration to say that the space of gong culture has occupied an indispensable and religious position in Vietnam cultural history and contributed significantly to the introduction of Vietnamese ethnic cultures to the world.

Tuong Vi





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