DIFFERENT MONTAGNARD AND CENTRAL HIGHLAND GROUPS

DIFFERENT MONTAGNARD AND CENTRAL HIGHLAND GROUPS

Before the Vietnam War, the population of the Central Highlands, estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million, was almost exclusively Montagnard. Today, the population is approximately 4 million, of whom about 1 million are Montagnard. Of these, between 229,000 to 400,000 are thought to follow evangelical Protestantism. An additional 150,000 to 200,000 are Roman Catholic. The 30 or so Montagnard tribes in the Central Highlands comprise more than six different ethnic groups drawn primarily from the Malayo-Polynesian and Mon Khmer language families. The main tribes, in order of size, are the Jarai (320,000), Rhade (258,000), Bahnar (181,000), Koho (122,000), Mnong (89,000), and Stieng (66,000). The Rhade and Mnong are also known as the Ed and the Bunong.

The Austronesian groups of Jarai and Rade form two of the largest ethnic minorities in Vietnam. Both groups spill over into northeastern Cambodia, and they share many cultural similarities. The total Jarai population stands at about 200,000; the Rade number about 120,000. According to 1978 population figures, there were 10,000 Jarai and 15,000 Rade in Cambodia in the late 1970s. They live in longhouses containing several compartments occupied by matrilineally linked nuclear families. There may be twenty to sixty longhouses in one village. The Rade and Jarai cultivate dry-field rice and secondary crops such as maize. Both groups have exogamous matrilineal descent groups (consanguineous kin groups that acknowledge a traditional bond of common descent in the maternal line and within which they do not marry). Women initiate marriage negotiations, and residence is matrilocal. Each village has its own political hierarchy and is governed by an oligarchy of the leading families. In the past, sorcerers known as the "kings of fire and water" exerted political power that extended beyond an individual village. The Rade and the Jarai have been involved intimately in the FULRO movement, and many of the leaders in the movement are from these two groups. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

The Hre is a group with about 100,000 members that live in the mountains of central Vietnam. Other Central Vietnamese minorities include The Chrau, a group of about 20,000 that lives in Dong Nai Province; The Cua, a group of about 15,000 that lives in Gia Lai-Cong Tum Province in central Vietnam; and the Monom is a group with 5,000 members that live in eastern Gia Lai-Comh Tum Province in Vietnam. The Chin live near Dalat. Often ten or more people live in their mud an grass homes. Most villages have a chief or head man.

Ba Na Ethnic Group

The Bahnar (Ba Na) is an ethnic group that lives in Kon Tum Province and the western parts of Binh Dinh and Phu Yen Provinces in Central Vietnam. A census in 1985 counted 136,860 of them. According to the 1999 census there were 174,456. They are also known as the Akakong, Con Kde, Ala Cong, Krang, Bonom, Hu Drong, Jo Long, Kon Ko De, Kontum, Krem, Tolo and To Sung. The Bahnar speak a Mon-Khmer language and have a religion based on the direct relationship between an individual and the spirits and ghosts that control his life. They have intermarried with other local groups such as the Sedang. Their villages have well-constructed communal or men’s houses. Each village is led by a headman. Villages are joined into confederations called toring. Traditionally, the main social groups were freemen, debtors, foreigners and slaves. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

The Ba Na lives in houses built on stilts. In each village, there is a communal house called rong which stands out due to its height and beauty. According to matrimonial customs, a young man and woman can take the initiative in marriage, and the parents are only involved to ensure the respect of traditional principles. After the birth of the first child, they are allowed to set up their own family environment. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Bana, Xedang, and Giarai people living in Vietnam's Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) build huge stilt houses known as rong. The roof of a rong is incredibly steep and tall, like the blade of a hole. In front of a rong stands a balcony. These stilt houses serve as communal halls. Mourning houses erected to honour the dead of the Gia Rai and Ba Na ethnic groups are symbolised by statues placed in front of the graves. These statues include couples embracing, pregnant women, and people in mourning, elephants, and birds.[Source: vietnam-culture.com]

The differences between the communal house of Jrai, Bana and Sedang ethnic groups is the curling degree of the roof. In the area of Bana and Cham people in Van Canh district, Binh Dinh province, there is a special type of bamboo wattle used making the house floor. Wood or bamboo which as small as the toe and connected to each other each by each other and placed above the wood girdle of the floor. There are mats in the sitting places for guest, and the resting place of the house owner.

Bana Ethnic Group Culture

The Ba Na musical instruments are very diversified with various combinations of gong sets, t'rung xylophones, bro, klong put, ko ni, khinh khung, and to tiep trumpets. The aesthetics of the Ba Na are expressed in their unique woodcarvings and extraordinary decorative crafts. Traditionally, the men tended to wear loincloths and the women wore sarongs. Their main source of income is slash-and-burn agriculture and the rearing of livestock. Almost every village has forges to make metal products. Women also weave cloth to make their families garments and the men practice basketry and mat-making, the Ba Na often barter goods. ~

T'rung is one of the popular musical instruments closely associated with the spiritual life of the Ba Na, Xo Dang, Gia Rai, E De and other ethnic minority people in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. It is made of very short bamboo tubes differing in size, with a notch at one end and a beveled edge at the other. The long big tubes give off low-pitched tones while the short small ones produce high-pitched tones. The tubes are arranged lengthwise horizontally and attached together by two strings. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Vietnam’s Space of Gong Culture

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands of Viet Nam covers 5 provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong. The masters of gong culture are the ethnic groups of Ba Na, Xo Dang, M’Nong, Co Ho, Ro Mam, E De, Gia Ra. The gong performances are always closely tied to community cultural rituals and ceremonies of the ethnic groups in Central Highlands. Many researchers have classified gongs as ceremonial musical instrument and the gong sounds as a means to communicate with deities and gods. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The gongs are made of brass alloy or a mixture of brass and gold, silver, bronze. Their diameter is from 20cm to 60cm or from 90cm to 120cm. A set of gongs consists of 2 to 12 or 13 units and even to 18 or 20 units in some places. In most of ethnic groups, namely Gia Rai, Ede Kpah, Ba Na, Xo Dang, Brau, Co Ho, etc., only males are allowed to play gongs. However, in others such as Ma and M’Nong groups, both males and females can play gongs. Few ethnic groups (for example, E De Bih), gongs are performed by women only. ~

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands are heritage with temporal and spatial imprints. Through its categories, sound-amplifying method, sound scale and gamut, tunes and performance art, we will have an insight in a complicated art developing from simple to complexity, from single to multi-channel. It contains different historical layers of the development of music since the primitive period. All artistic values have the relationships of similarities and dissimilarities, bringing about their regional identities. With its diversity and originality, it’s possible to confirm that gongs hold a special status in Viet Nam’s traditional music. ~

See Space of Gongs, Music

Brau Ethnic Group

The Brao are an ethnic group that lives in mostly in Vietnam, with a small number in Laos. There were about 50,000 of them in 1985, with around 40,000 of the them in Vietnam. They are culturally similar to the Kao and some anthropologists feel they are best classified as a Kalo subgroup. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

The Brau (Brao) live in Dak Me Village, Bo Y Commune, Ngoc Hoi District, Kon Tum Province in central Vietnam. There were 313 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Brau have led a nomadic life for a very long time, but also practice slash-and-burn cultivation in order to grow rice, corn, and cassava using rudimentary tools. Women wear a lot of jewelry around their arms, ankles, and necks. Men often wear loincloths and women wear pagnes. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Brau have a tradition of tattooing their faces and bodies and filing their teeth. Their houses are built on stilts. Young men and women are free to choose their partners. The wedding ceremony is organized by the bride's family and the groom must live with his wife's family for several years before bringing his wife and children home. ~

The Brau language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group. The Brau like to play gongs and traditional musical instruments. In particular, a set of two gongs called the chieng tha has great value in their culture. Young girls often play Krong Put, a musical instrument that consists of 5-7 bamboo tubes, both long and short, which are joined together. The sound is produced when air is forced into them by the clapping of the hands. ~

Bru - Van Kieu Ethnic Group

The Bru-Van Kieu (Tri, Khua, and Ma-Coong) live in the mountain regions of Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien-Hue provinces in central Vietnam. There were 55,559 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. Both men and women wear costumes similar to those of the Tay Nguyen. The Bru - Van Kieu live on rice cultivation, through slash and burn agriculture and submerging their fields. They also hunt, fish and rear cattle. Basketry and palm mat-making are their sideline occupations. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Bru - Van Kieu live in small houses on stilts. These villages are usually located near rivers or streams and are always arranged along the water current flows. The houses are arranged in circles around a communal house on flat and expansive terrain. Young Bru - Van Kieu men and women are free to choose their partners. The maternal uncle says the last words at marriage or burial ceremonies for his nephews and nieces. He also has the decision power in house construction. Ancestor worship is the most common religious activity. Also, the Bru - Van Kieu pay veneration to sacred objects such as a sword or a fragment of a bowl, and they especially worship fire and kitchen deities. ~

The Bru-Van Kieu language belongs to the Mon-Khmer culture. The Bru - Van Kieu love creative arts and maintain a rich treasury of traditional art and culture. They possess numerous musical instruments such as drums, castanets, knob gongs, wind instruments, and string zithers (including the a-chung and po-kua). Folk singing is popular as is cha chap (sung stories), and sim, an alternating chant between young men and women. Folksongs, proverbs, and old tales make up the rich culture of the Bru - Van Kieu. ~

In the Khe Sanh area a large number of Van Kieu tribesmen were killed or injured when they dug up live shells and bombs, along with spend cartridges and rockets, to sell for scrap.

Chut Ethnic Group

The Chut(also known as the also known as the Ruc, Sach, Arem, May, Ma Lieng, Tu Vang, Pa Leng, Xe Lang, To Hung, Cha Cu, Tac Cuc, Ymo, and Xa La Vang) live in Minh Hoa and Tuyen Hoa districts of Quang Binh Province in central Vietnam. There were 3,829 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Chut are primarily involved in agriculture and they practice slash and burn cultivation. They also practice hunting, gathering, fishing, and animal husbandry. Carpentry and basketry are another means of income generation. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Though most Chut live a sedentary life, their villages are quite separated and their houses are temporary. Each lineage has its leader and an altar to worship their common ancestors. Among the leaders of the lineages, those who can win the highest prestige will be proclaimed village chief. Matrimony is still practiced. The Chut have very simple funerals. ~

The Chut language belongs to the Viet-Muong Group. The Chut have inherited a rich folk art and culture. The folk songs are called Ka-tum and Ka-lenh, and are very popular among many people. The ancient tales of the Chut are diverse and have various themes. The Chut play pan-pipes and six-hole flutes. ~

Co Ethnic Group

The Co (also known as the Cor, Col, Cua and Trau) live in Bac Tra My and Nam Tra My districts of Quang Nam Province; Tra Bong District of Quang Ngai Province in central Vietnam There were 27,766 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Co language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group. The Co like to sing, dance, beat drums, and gongs. Folksongs such as the Xru, Klu and Agioi are very popular. The Co lives mainly from slash-and-burn agriculture. They grow rice, maize, cassava, cinnamon, and other plants. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Co believes that all things have souls, and they worship the souls of rice grains. In former days, the Co lived in long houses built on stilts. Recently, the Co has built shorter houses that are level with the ground. The village chief is chosen on the basis of knowledge, experience in production, behavior, and the trust of villagers. In the past, no Co lineage had an individual name; they all took the family name of Dinh. Now, they have taken the family name of Ho, after President Ho Chi Minh. ~

Men leave their upper torsos naked and cover their lower torsos with loincloths. Women wear a skirt, bra and shirt with short sleeves. Women often tie colorful beaded strings around their waists. In winter, they cover themselves with blankets. ~

Co Tu Ethnic Group

The Co Tu (also known as the Gao, Ha, Phuong, and Ca Tang) live in central Vietnam in Tay Giang, Dong Giang and Nam Giang districts in Quang Nam Province; A Luoi and Phu Loc districts in Thua Thien-Hue Province. There were 50,458 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. Co Tu language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group. The Co Tu practice a slash and burn cultivation, often dig holes to plant seeds, practice animal husbandry, weave cloth and baskets, gather, hunt, and fish. The exchange of products is carried out by bartering. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Co Tu believes in and worships Giang (Genie). The houses are set out in the form of an ellipse. In the middle of the village is the Rong (Communal House), a large and beautiful building used for the reception of guests, to hold meetings, rituals and cultural performances. Patriarchy prevails among the Co Tu as the children take the family name of their father. The right of inheritance is reserved only for sons. Marriage dowries are also a common practice. ~

Men wear loincloths and leave their upper torsos naked. Women wear skirts and short vests. In winter they wear a piece of cloth to keep them warm. Popular ornaments consist of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. ~

The Ta Oi and Ca Tu people make houses of wattle by the trunk cover of achoong tree – a tree in mountainous area of A Luoi district (Thua Thien – Hue province).

E De Ethnic Group

The E De (also known as the Rade, De, Kpa Adham, Krung, Ktul, Dlie Rue, Bio, Epan, Mdhur and Bich) live in Concentrated in Dak Lak Province, southern Gia Lai Province, and western parts of Khanh Hoa and Phu Yen provinces. There were 270,348 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year.

See Rhade

Gia Rai Ethnic Group

The Gia Rai (also known as the Gio Rai, To Buan, Hobau, Hdrung and Chor) live in Gia Lai Province, parts of Kon Tum Province and northern Dak Lak Province. There were 317,557 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Gia Rai are a Malay-Polynesian people. They live on slash-and-burn cultivation and terraced fields. Rice is their staple food. They also breed elephants. The men are very skillful in basketry, and the women in cloth weaving. Hunting, gathering, and fishing are other sideline occupations. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Gia Rai believe in the existence of Giang (Genies) and hold many rituals connected to their genies. They live in separate villages called ploi or bon. Houses are built on stilts. The village chief and the elders have great prestige in Gia Rai society and play a role in running collective activities. Each village has a communal house called a Rong. A matriarchal system has been adopted. Women are free to choose their lovers and decide who they marry. The husband lives with his wife's family and has no rights to inheritance. The daughter, after marriage, no longer lives with her parents and inherits from them. The children take the family name of the mother. ~

The Giarai set up mortuary houses surrounded by carved wooden figures, including those of monkeys, an animal believed to rule in the ancestral realm that is the afterlife. Gia Rai language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian Group. Long epics and old tales such as "Dam Di Di San" (Dam Di Goes Hunting) and "Xinh Nha" are very popular in Gia Rai society. Musical instruments include gongs, T'rung, To-Nung, and Krong-Put. The Gia Rai garments resemble Tay Nguyen's garments. ~

Bana, Xedang, and Giarai people living in Vietnam's Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) build huge stilt houses known as rong. The roof of a rong is incredibly steep and tall, like the blade of a hole. In front of a rong stands a balcony. These stilt houses serve as communal halls. Mourning houses erected to honour the dead of the Gia Rai and Ba Na ethnic groups are symbolised by statues placed in front of the graves. These statues include couples embracing, pregnant women, and people in mourning, elephants, and birds. [Source: vietnam-culture.com]

T'rung is one of the popular musical instruments closely associated with the spiritual life of the Ba Na, Xo Dang, Gia Rai, E De and other ethnic minority people in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. It is made of very short bamboo tubes differing in size, with a notch at one end and a beveled edge at the other. The long big tubes give off low-pitched tones while the short small ones produce high-pitched tones. The tubes are arranged lengthwise horizontally and attached together by two strings. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Vietnam’s Space of Gong Culture

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands of Viet Nam covers 5 provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong. The masters of gong culture are the ethnic groups of Ba Na, Xo Dang, M’Nong, Co Ho, Ro Mam, E De, Gia Ra. The gong performances are always closely tied to community cultural rituals and ceremonies of the ethnic groups in Central Highlands. Many researchers have classified gongs as ceremonial musical instrument and the gong sounds as a means to communicate with deities and gods. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The gongs are made of brass alloy or a mixture of brass and gold, silver, bronze. Their diameter is from 20cm to 60cm or from 90cm to 120cm. A set of gongs consists of 2 to 12 or 13 units and even to 18 or 20 units in some places. In most of ethnic groups, namely Gia Rai, Ede Kpah, Ba Na, Xo Dang, Brau, Co Ho, etc., only males are allowed to play gongs. However, in others such as Ma and M’Nong groups, both males and females can play gongs. Few ethnic groups (for example, E De Bih), gongs are performed by women only. ~

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands are heritage with temporal and spatial imprints. Through its categories, sound-amplifying method, sound scale and gamut, tunes and performance art, we will have an insight in a complicated art developing from simple to complexity, from single to multi-channel. It contains different historical layers of the development of music since the primitive period. All artistic values have the relationships of similarities and dissimilarities, bringing about their regional identities. With its diversity and originality, it’s possible to confirm that gongs hold a special status in Viet Nam’s traditional music. ~

See Space of Gongs, Music

Gie Trieng Ethnic Group

The Gie Trieng (also known as the Dgich, Tareh, Giang Ray, Pin, Trieng, Treng Ta Lieng, Ve, La Ve, and Bnoong) live in Kon Tum Province and the mountainous areas of Quang Ninh Province in the Central Highlands. There were 30,243 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Gie Trieng language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group. The Gie Trieng lives mainly on the cultivation of the land, hunting, fishing, and gathering. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Gie Trieng lives in long houses built on stilts. Houses in the village are arranged in a circle around the Rong (communal house). Young woman decide when they will marry according to their own initiative. The Gie Trieng believes that all beings have a "soul" and a "spirit". Therefore ritual ceremonies and the watching of good and bad omens have prevailed. The sacrifice of buffaloes is a common ritual ceremony. Men usually wear loincloths. Women wear skirts long enough to cover their chests and some have adapted to wearing a bra sewn into their skirts. ~

The dan nhi is a bow instrument with two strings, commonly used among the Viet ethnic group and several national minorities: Muong, Tay, Thai, Gie Trieng, Khmer. The dan nhi comprises a tubular body made of hard wood with snake or python skin stretched over one end and a bridge. The neck of the dan nhi has no frets. Made of hard wood, one end of the neck goes through the body; the other end slants slightly backward. There are two pegs for tuning. The two strings, which used to be made of silk, are now of metal and are tuned in fifths: C-1 D-2; F-1 C-2; or C-1 G-1.

Temporary houses are used by people from south Central Highland like the Mnong, Je Trieng, and Stieng. These are long house but because of the custom of shifting the location of houses they are all single-storey house with unstable materials (wood is of a a thin or small type). The house is covered with thatch which is hanging down near the ground. Two oval doors are under the thatch.

Hre Ethnic Group

The Hre (also known as the Cham Re, Chom Kre and Luy) live in The western parts of Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh provinces in central Vietnam. There were 113,111 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Hre are atheists. The small-sized nuclear family unit is very common among the Hre. They live in stilt houses and the village chief is considered to have high prestige and plays an important role in village life.

The Hre language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group and has close ties to the Xo-Dang and Ba Na languages. The Hre often hold buffalo-stabbing ceremonies which are accompanied by verses and songs. The Ka choi and Ka leu are two very popular tunes. Their musical instruments include the Brook, Ching Ka la, Ling Ia (traversal flute), and Ta lia (longitudinal flute). Men wear loincloths and waist-deep vests. They may also remain bare chested and wear turbans as headgear. The Hre grow wet rice and farm. Basketry and weaving are other forms of income generation.

Jeh

The Jeh are one the Montagnard groups in Vietnam. Approximately 15,000 Jeh live in central Vietnam, where they are part of the official Gie (Jeh) Trieng ethnic group. According to the 1995 census, 8,013 Jeh people live in southern Laos, in the Dakchung District of Xekong Province and the adjoining Sanxai District of Attapu Province.

As is true with many Asian people, the Jeh will do anything they can to save face and make foreign visitors happy even if it means misleading them. Instead of telling you the unpleasant truth they would rather tell you what you want to hear. American soldiers in the Vietnam War who asked if crossing a storm-swelled river was possible were told it would be easy. Only after they were swept down the river and came within an inch of losing their life did they realize the truth. [Source: Howard Sochurek, National Geographic April 1968 \\\]

Children amuse themselves with home-made tops, bows and arrows made with bamboo. The Jeh sometimes give their children names like "Drunkard," "Snake" and "Dung" in the belief that these names will trick the evil spirits into believing that the children are not worth bothering and inflicting with disease. \\\

They Jeh enjoy hunting monkeys. Roasted bats, rats and lizards are all considered delicacies. They also enjoy swapping animal stories over homemade rice wine. The wine is fermented in a large earthen jar and consumed from the jar through long bamboo straw to avoid swallowing mashed rice husks. To make tools from scratch the Jeh make a fire hot enough to will melt iron with a bellow that works like a bicycle pump. \\\

Jeh Religion

The Jeh believe in two kinds of supernatural forces: the aloof Yang spirits that dwell in the mountains, the rivers and the sky; and the evil Kanam spirits, the forest-roaming souls of the dead ancestors who for one reason or another are not at peace. To keep these two forces in balance the Jeh sacrifice pigs, chickens and buffalo in honor of the Yang spirits who the Jeh believe will keep the Kanam spirits from causing trouble. [Source: Howard Sochurek, National Geographic April 1968 \\\]

The Jeh believe that a violent death causes a soul to wander and inflict harm on people nearby. During the Vietnam War, Jeh tribesmen often abandoned their companions after they were wounded because of this belief. On one occasion, American soldiers had to rescue a Jeh soldier who had been shot through the jaw and left to fend for himself. \\\

The Jeh believe that rainbows are bad luck. At the end of one, they believe, is not a pot of gold but a river-sucking phantom that provides water and nourishment to the spirits of unnatural death victims who now roam the jungle bringing harm to anyone that crosses their path. \\\

Jeh Childbirth

Pregnant Jeh women go into the forest to give birth. During the delivery the woman clutches a special wooden staff, and often the baby is born while the woman is standing up. After the birth the mother and child are not allowed to enter their house for ten days, and then they must enter through the back door. [Source: Howard Sochurek, National Geographic April 1968 \\\]

Twelve days after the birth the people in the village gather to spread rice wine over the child's body and chant hymns such as "Don't be crying, don't catch skin disease." After this is finished a chicken is sacrificed. The father or grandfather names the child a few months later at another ceremony in which blood from a sacrificed pig is rubbed into the child's ear. \\\

Traditionally, a Jeh woman who dies during childbirth is buried with her baby—even if it is still alive. The body of both the woman and the baby are placed in a hollowed out log placed above ground, often in the same field where animals graze. \\\

Ma Ethnic Group

The Ma is a grouping of about 50,000 slash-and-burn farmers that live in the highlands of southern Vietnam not far from Ho Chi Minh City in Lam Dong, Dong Mai and Thuan Hai provinces. There are four major subgroups: the Ma, the Chop Ro, the Cho To and Cho Sop. Rice is the staple crop. It is grown in the highland and through irrigation on river banks. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

The Ma (also known as the Chau Ma, Ma Xop, Ma To, Ma Krung, and Ma Ngan) live in Lam Dong Province. There were 33,338 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Ma language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group. The Ma cultivate rice, corn, and cotton. Ma women are very skilled at cloth making. They are also very skillful at forging. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Ma live in bons (villages). Each bon is comprised of five to ten elongated houses. The chief of a bon is called the quang bon. The family of a young man proposes marriage, but after the wedding the groom comes to live in his wife's house. Only when he has enough wedding presents to hand over to the bride's family can he take his wife to his house. ~

The Ma believe in the existence of spirits in the river, the mountains, and the rice field. They possess a rich folklore including many ancient tales, myths, and legends. Their musical instruments consist of gongs, drums, pan-pipes with bamboo-boxes, horns, bamboo string zithers, and three-holed bamboo flutes. The women wear skirts that fall below their knees and the men wear loincloths. They also file their teeth, stretch their earlobes, and wear a lot of ornaments.

Muong Ethnic Group

Muong are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Southeast Asia and the second largest in Vietnam. They occupy a region that stretches for 300 kilometers from north to south, from Yen Bai province to Nghe An province. The live mainly in mountainous areas whose forests cover is largely gone. Most of their settlements are in narrow valleys below limestone and earthen hills. They speak a Austroasiatic language of the Mon-Khmer group. The have no written language. [Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993); Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Muong are also known as Mi, Moai, Moi, Mal, Mual, Moi Bi, Au Ta Ao Ta and Montagnards. There are at least 500,000 of them and they make up about 1.5 percent of the population of Vietnam. In may cases Thai live to the west of them and Vietnamese live to the east. There are many of them in Hoa Binh Province and the mountainous districts of Thanh Hoa Province in northern Vietnam not so far from Hanoi. There were more than 1,137,515 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Muong language belongs to the Viet-Muong group.

The Muong have practiced farming for a long time. Wet rice is their main food staple. Other family income is generated through the exploitation of forest products including mushrooms, dried fungus, ammonium, and sticklac. Muong handicrafts include weaving, basketry, and silk spinning. Muong women are known to be very skilled at loom weaving. Muong marriage customs are similar to the Kinh. When a woman is giving birth to a child, her family surrounds the main ladder to the house with a bamboo fence. The child will be given a name when it is one year old. The Muong hold funerals with strict rules. Muong practice a polytheistic religion and ancestor worship.

Muong Religion

Traditionally, the Muong are animists, shamanists and ancestor worshipers whose beliefs have been shaped somewhat by Chinese religions, particularly Taoism. Within a house there are special altars for the spirits and ancestors. Regular offerings are made to ancestors, a protector deity called the Earth Genius and sometimes Buddha.

The Muong believe that spirits can have a positive an negative affect on human beings. Their religious universe has three levels. At the top is "the celestial land" governed by the king of heaven. The second level is "flat land," the terrestrial world where people live. The lower level is divided into two parts: one a minatory version of the terrestrial world underground and other, under the water, where snakes can change their forms at will.

Male household leaders are usually in charge of the domestic worship of ancestor spirits and household gods. Part time specialist act as healers diviners and shaman. The power of these people is much less than it once was. Shaman are generally called upon on cure illnesses caused by soul loss by bring the wandering soul back. They play a key role in funeral rites and are called upon to explain misfortunes and preside over rites that protect households or villages.

Muong Superstitions and Funerals

The Muong also observe a wide range of taboos, superstitions and rites. There are taboos concerning travel. Charms are used to treat illnesses. And events, such as the beginning of the rice planting season, are marked with sacrifices. All these traditions are weaker now than they were in the past. In the old days, people were accused of being devils and witches and were severely punished. That doesn’t happen so much any more.

The Muoung believe that each person has 90 souls. Upon death these souls travel from one body to another on a journey that includes stops at heaven and visits to ancestors. In the old days, the body of the deceased was kept in his house for 12 days before the funeral. At the funeral a water buffalo was sacrificed and the deceased was buried in a coffin with personal possessions to take to the afterlife. A creation myth is chanted as a funeral song by a shaman.

Some Montagnards place their dead in open coffins in trees for two year. Later they bury the bones. In the past rites for the dead continued for several years. The government has restricted expensive and elaborate funerals as they have with grand feats, marriages and festivals.

Muong Marriage and Family

Marriage have traditionally been arranged, often at a young age and contrary to the wishes of bride and groom. The groom’s family was required to pay a bride price of around 10 kilograms of pork, an equal amount of alcohol and a few silver coins. Elopement was the only was the only way to escape from such arrangements but they were rare because often couples that made such a move were harshly punished. Muong literature is filled with stories about lovers torn who suffered under the arranged marriage system.

The marriage system is not as strict as it once was and bride prices have been reduced. Although arranged marriages are still the norm more people are marrying for love, and more are marrying non-Muong and people in bad marriages are escaping them through divorce.

Most households are nuclear rather than extended families. Children are generally pampered. Women have traditionally been subservient but their status has improved under the Communists. The eldest son has traditionally inherited two thirds of the family property.

Muong Society

In traditional Muong society there were strict hierarchal division between the upper classes, affiliated with certain clans, and peasants. Each village was led by a headman that was connected with one of the powerful clans, namely the Dinh, Quach, Bach and Hoang. Commoners were like a single caste known as the "bui." Alliances for them were based on lineage. Within a lineage work was shared and the group came to the aid of individuals that were in trouble. This arrangement—known as the "lang dao" system—characterized Muong society in the old days and is still alive today. The "lang dao" ruled the Muong regions. A head of a "muong" was a "lang cun", "lang xom", or "dao xom".

Traditionally the village has been the focus of Muong society. Each village functioned independently and autonomously. The headman and powerful clan members decided who would use the land and settled disputes. Under the Communists, some villages were united into communes and collectives and duties performed in the past by the headmen have been taken over by Communist officials.

Men tend to do heavy work such as plowing, slashing and burning, hunting, build houses and making fam tools and watering the paddy fields. Women do weeding, harvesting, carrying and processing crops, gathering wild fruits and vegetables, cooking and household chores. Children are often in charge of taking care of animals.

Muong Villages and Homes

Muong villages typically have about 50 households and are situated on the slopes of mountains. The houses that are raised off the ground on stilts or piles and have a wood frame, bamboo walls and roofs thatched with elephant grass.

The houses are typically divided into two unequal size rooms by a shoulder-high bamboo screen. The smaller room is a bedroom and has traditionally been used by women and unmarried girls. The large room serves as a guest room and an area for cooking and dining. An altar for ancestors is located in a prominent place. Both rooms are reached by separate staircases. The front side is reserved for males. The back side is reserved for females.

Each house has an upslope side without a window and a downslope side with a window and a view of the valley. Where people sit in the house is associated with their status. High status people, male elders and guest are seated towards the window. Lower status people, females and children sit on the non-window side. This arrangement is maintained even when families are relaxing or eating.

Muong Music and Culture

The Muong are famous for their risque songs, the sap dance and embroidery patterns. Women wear a white kerchief on their head to identify which clan they belong to. Girls used to lacquer their teeth and wear a chignon before they reached puberty. Tet is a biggest feast. Offerings of steamed fish are made after the rice harvest.

The popular literature and arts of the Muong are rich and include long poems, "mo" (ceremonial songs), folksongs, dialogue duets, proverbs, lullabies, and children's songs. The Muong of northern Trung Bo have an epic poem called "de dat, de nuoc" (giving birth to the earth and water). The gong is a favorite musical instrument of the Muong, as are the two stringed violins, flutes, drums and pan pipes. The Muong hold many ceremonies year round such as the Going to the Fields Ceremony ("Khuong Mua"), Praying-for-Rain Ceremony (during the fourth lunar month), Washing Rice Leaves Ceremony (during the seventh and eighth lunar months), and the New Rice Ritual.

The dan nhi is a bow instrument with two strings, commonly used among the Viet ethnic group and several national minorities: Muong, Tay, Thai, Gie Trieng, Khmer. The dan nhi comprises a tubular body made of hard wood with snake or python skin stretched over one end and a bridge. The neck of the dan nhi has no frets. Made of hard wood, one end of the neck goes through the body; the other end slants slightly backward. There are two pegs for tuning. The two strings, which used to be made of silk, are now of metal and are tuned in fifths: C-1 D-2; F-1 C-2; or C-1 G-1.

The Muong, as well as other ethnic groups in the Truong Son-Tay Nguyen regions, use gongs not only to beat the rhythm but also to play polyphonic music. In some ethnic groups, gongs are only intended for men to play. However, the sac bua gongs of the Muong are played by women. Gongs hold great significance and value for many ethnic groups in Tay Nguyen. The gongs play an important role in the lives of the inhabitants of Tay Nguyen; from birth until death, the gongs are present at all the important events, joyful as well as unfortunate, in their lives. Almost every family has at least one set of gongs. In general, gongs are considered to be sacred instruments. They are mainly used in offerings, rituals, funerals, wedding ceremonies, New Year’s festivities, agricultural rites, victory celebrations, etc. In the Truong Son -Tay Nguyen region, playing the gongs electrifies the people participating in dances and other forms of entertainment. Gongs have been an integral part of the spiritual life of many ethnic groups in Vietnam. ~

Men dress in indigo pajamas. Women wear white rectangular scarves, bras, long skirts, and short vests that are open at the front (or at the shoulders) without buttons. The skirt is complemented by a very large silk belt embroidered with various motifs such as flowers, figures, dragons, phoenixes, deer, and birds.

Muong Economics and Agriculture

The Muong are primarily subsistence farmers. They are not known as being traders or craftsmen. Some make silk clothes and baskets but they make them primarily for domestic use rather than for sale.

The Muoung that live in lowland areas practice wetland rice agriculture while those in the hill regions practice slash and burn agriculture and grow dry rice, corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, and cotton, Both groups grow root vegetables, herbs, vegetables, pumpkins, gourds, cucumber and beans . Pig are the primary source of meat and protein. Some times they are sold to lowlanders. Chickens are also common. They are kept for sacrifices and food.

The Muong collect medical herbs, edible tubers, leaves, fruits, berries, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and hunt deer, wild pigs, pangolins, and other animals with crossbows, snares, traps, nets, flintlocks and rifles. Communal hunting has traditionally been organized for festive days and a good hunt is regarded as a good omen for the rice harvest. Fishing is done with dip, vat and scoop nets, The Muong are good at catching fish with bow and arrows and knives. During floods families often catch lots of fish.

Traditionally slash and burn agricultural land was not owned and was cultivated by whoever clears it and irrigated wet rice land was usually communally owned and controlled by the village head man with support of upper class clan members. Land and property was passed down to male heirs. Families with no male heir lost their land and often possessions too. Now the land is owned by the state and peasants pay a tax or give a portion of their harvest to the state.

O Du Ethnic Group

The O Du (also known as the Tay Hat) live in The O Du live in the villages of Kim Hoa and Xop Pot in Kim Da Commune, and the rest live in nearby villages in Tuong Duong District, Nghe An Province in northern central Vietnam. There were 301 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The O Du live off of farming on slash-and-burnt plots, rearing animals, gathering, and hunting. Weaving is also a sideline family occupation. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The O Du live in small families. After marriage, the bridegroom lives at his wife's house for some time before returning to his house with his children and his wife. For the O Du, the New Year begins on the day when the thunder rolls for the first time in early spring. They believe that people have souls which, after death, become the soul of the house, watching over every activity of the living. ~

O Du language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group and is now no longer used. They do use the Thai and Kho Mu languages, however. As a result, their cultural identity is obscured by the influences of the Thai and the Kho Mu. ~

Rhade

The Rhade is a group that lives in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and neighboring Cambodia. They have traditionally lived primarily in longhouses set up along paths with kitchen gardens nearby. Within the longhouses each nuclear family has its own area with special compartments for old people and young women and their guests.

The Rhade (also known as the E De, Rade, De, Kpa Adham, Krung, Ktul, Dlie Rue, Bio, Epan, Mdhur and Bich) are concentrated in Dak Lak Province, southern Gia Lai Province, and western parts of Khanh Hoa and Phu Yen provinces. There were 270,348 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. E De language belongs to the Malay-Polynesian Group. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Rhade practice both slash-and-burn dry-rice and maize agriculture and wet rice irrigation cultivation. Each village has a stand of bamboo trees considered scared. Descent is matrilineal and property is controlled by women although men serve as head of the longhouses. Villages form alliances, in may ways based on marriages. The Rhade honor a pantheon of deities and spirits and honor them with a number of rites. The most important deities are involved with rice production.

According to the U.S. Army in the 1960s: "The Rhade have lived on the high plateau for centuries, and their way of life has changed little in that time; whatever changes came were mainly the result of their contact with the "civilized" world through the French. They settle in places where their livelihood can be easily secured, locating their houses and rice fields near rivers and springs. Because they have no written history, not much was known about them until their contact with the French in the early nineteenth century. It is generally agreed that most of their ancestors migrated from greater China, while the remainder came from Tibet and Mongolia. [Source: US Army history.army.mil/books \*/]

Rhade Houses and Culture

The Rhade live in houses built on stilts. These houses are generally elongated. The interior of the house is divided into two parts. The main part, called the Gah, is reserved for receiving guests. The rest of the house (called the Ok) is divided into compartments for a kitchen and for living quarters. At each side of the house there is a floor yard. The yard lying in front of the entrance is called the guest yard. ~

The homeowners' bedroom faces east, while the guest room faces west. The roof is highly unusual in that it is trapezoid-shaped, with the longer end at the bottom. This roof is supported by columns and extends from one to one-and-a-half meters in the front and back. The interior is equally strange, as the roof is so tan and narrow. Most of the house is taken up with the living room, supported by four columns: the master column, guest column, drum column and gong column. Guest seating entails benches made from old trees, 27 to 30 meters in length, which are intricately carved. [Source: vietnam-culture.com]

Building a house is a family enterprise. All members of families who wish to live together pitch in and build a longhouse in accordance with the size of the families. The house is made largely of woven bamboo and is long and narrow, sometimes 400 feet long, with entrances at each end. Both family and guests may use the front entrance, but only the resident families may use the rear. The house is built on posts with the main floor usually about four feet above the ground and is almost always constructed with a north-south orientation, following the axis of the valleys. \*/

Rhade Long Houses

The long house is used by the Ede uses vertical beams and long timbers to make structures than can be tens of meters long. They are placed to overlap each other without any nail, but they are still stable after tens of years among the plateau. Even the single timbers are not long enough to complete the house’s length, it is hard to find the connection point between two woods. The long house of Ede people contains kpan (long chair) for the artisans playing gong. The kpan is made from the long timbers, 10 meters long, 0.6-0.8 meters wide. A part of the kpan is curled like a head of the boat. The kpan and gong are symbols of richness of Ede people.

In some parts of the Central Highland, people striving for a better life have abandoned their traditional houses. Ede people in Dinh village, Dlie Mong commune, Cu MGrar district, Dak Lak province are keeping the old traditional style. Some Russian ethnologists said that: "Coming to the mountainous area of Central Highland, I admire the clever living arrangement of people which is suitable for the nature and environment of them."

Long houses are used by the Ede and Jrai people. The thatch roof is normally thick with the ability to withstand of tens of years of continuous rain. If there is any leaking place, people will redo that part of roof, so there are places of new and old roof which sometimes look funny. The doors are at the two ends. Normal stilt houses of the Ede and Jrai people are often 25 to 50 meters long. In these houses, a system of six big wood pillars (ana) is placed parallel along the house. In the same system are two beams (eyong sang) which are also across the length of the house. Jrai people often choose a house to be near a river (AYn Pa, Ba, Sa Thay Rivers, etc) so their pillars are often higher than on Ede houses.

Rhade Culture

The life of the Rhade is governed by many taboos and customs. Outsiders are expected to honor these. Healing is the responsibility of the village shaman, and the general state of health among the Rhade is poor. Religion has traditionally been animistic—natural objects are thought to be inhabited by spirits— but the tribe also has a god (Ae Die) and a devil (Tang Lie). Now many are evangelical Protestants.

The Rhade have a rich and unique treasury of oral literature including myths, legends, lyrical songs, proverbs, and particularly well-known khan (epics). Their musical instruments are comprised of gongs, drums, flutes, pan pipes and string instruments. The Ding Nam is a very popular musical instrument of the Rhade which is much liked by many people. Women wear a skirt and vest with colorful motifs. Men simply wear loincloths. The Rhade like to wear copper, silver, and beaded ornaments. ~

Vietnam’s Space of Gong Culture

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands of Viet Nam covers 5 provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong. The masters of gong culture are the ethnic groups of Ba Na, Xo Dang, M’Nong, Co Ho, Ro Mam, E De, Gia Ra. The gong performances are always closely tied to community cultural rituals and ceremonies of the ethnic groups in Central Highlands. Many researchers have classified gongs as ceremonial musical instrument and the gong sounds as a means to communicate with deities and gods. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The gongs are made of brass alloy or a mixture of brass and gold, silver, bronze. Their diameter is from 20cm to 60cm or from 90cm to 120cm. A set of gongs consists of 2 to 12 or 13 units and even to 18 or 20 units in some places. In most of ethnic groups, namely Gia Rai, Ede Kpah, Ba Na, Xo Dang, Brau, Co Ho, etc., only males are allowed to play gongs. However, in others such as Ma and M’Nong groups, both males and females can play gongs. Few ethnic groups (for example, E De Bih), gongs are performed by women only. ~

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands are heritage with temporal and spatial imprints. Through its categories, sound-amplifying method, sound scale and gamut, tunes and performance art, we will have an insight in a complicated art developing from simple to complexity, from single to multi-channel. It contains different historical layers of the development of music since the primitive period. All artistic values have the relationships of similarities and dissimilarities, bringing about their regional identities. With its diversity and originality, it’s possible to confirm that gongs hold a special status in Viet Nam’s traditional music. ~

See Space of Gongs, Music

Rhade Society

Matriarchy prevails in E De society. Women are the heads of their families. The children take the family name of the mother. The right of inheritance is reserved only for daughters. The husband comes to live at his wife's house after marriage. If the wife dies and nobody among the wife's relatives replaces her position, the man then returns to his home and lives with his sisters. The E De practice a polytheistic religion. ~

In order of descending importance, the social units of the Rhade are the family, the household, the kinsmen, and the village. The Rhade have a matrilineal system; the man is the breadwinner, but all property is owned by the wife. The oldest female owns the house and animals. The married man lives with his wife's family and is required to show great respect for his mother-in-law. If a man is rich enough he may have more than one wife, but women may have only one husband. Marriage is proposed by the woman, and the eldest daughter inherits her parents' property. \*/

The tasks of the man and woman of the family are the traditional ones. The man cuts trees, clears land, weaves bamboo, fishes, hunts, builds houses, carries heavy objects, conducts business, makes coffins, buries the dead, stores rice, makes hand tools and weapons, strikes the ceremonial gongs—an important duty—and is responsible for preparing the rice wine. Authority in the Rhade family is maintained by the man?the father or the grandfather. It is he who makes the decisions, consulting with his wife in most cases, and he who is responsible for seeing that his decisions are carried out. \*/

The average Rhade man is between sixty-four and sixty-six inches tall, brown in complexion, and usually broadshouldered and very sturdy. The men have a great deal of endurance and manual dexterity and have the reputation of being excellent runners. The woman draws water, collects firewood, cooks the food, cleans the house, mends and washes the clothes, weaves, makes the traditional red, black, yellow, and blue cotton cloth of the Rhade, and cares for the children. The women sit on the porch (the bhok-gah) of the longhouse to pound the rice with a long pole and a wooden mortar. \*/

The Rhade practice slash-and-burn agriculture and cultivate rice in submerged fields. Besides cultivating, they also practice animal husbandry, hunting, gathering, fishing, basketry, and weaving. The Rhade tend toward a migratory existence. Once they have used up the soil's vitality in one area, they move their village to a new place, seeking virgin soil or land that has not been used for half a century. At the beginning of the rainy season the people plant corn, squash, potatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, and bananas. Once these crops are in the ground, the rice is planted. \*/

Rhade and the Vietnam War

The Rhade were the first Montagnard group to be approached and to participate in the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG)—a program set up U.S. Special Forces in the early 1960s before the Vietnam War formally started to contain and fight the Viet Cong. For many years, the Rhade have been considered the most influential and strategically located of the Montagnard tribes in the highlands of Vietnam. Mainly centered around the village of Ban Me Thuot in Darlac Province, the Rhade are also found in Quang Due, Phu Yen, and Khanh Hoa Provinces. In the 1960s it was estimated that the tribe numbered between 100,000 and 115,000, with 68,000 living in Ban Me Thuot. \*/

According to the U.S. Army: "The Rhade proved to be enthusiastic participants in the CIDG program in the beginning because the early projects were, they felt, pleasing to the spirits and helpful to their villages. If these two requirements were satisfied (and in many instances they were not later on), the Rhade, and the Montagnards in general, were quite willing to work hard in the CIDG program. \*/

Ro Mam Ethnic Group

The Ro Mam live in The Ro Mam live in Le Village, Mo Rai Commune, Sa Thay District of Kon Tum Province in central Vietnam. There were 301 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Ro Mam language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group. The Ro Mam survive mainly from slash-and-burn cultivation, hunting, and gathering. Sticky rice is their staple food. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The village of the Ro Mam is called a "de". It is headed by an old chief. Each family is comprised of 10-20 people of various generations who have blood ties and who live under the same roof. Each nuclear family forms its own economic unit. The Ro Mam's matrimonial rites are performed in two steps, the engagement phase and wedding phase. Several days after the wedding, a young couple may divorce. However, once they have lived together for a long time they are not allowed to divorce. When a person dies, their body is placed in the cemetery. The cemetery is always located at the west end of the village. ~

Rituals and ceremonies are usually held during the production cycle from the start of the slashing of the field until the land is set on fire, and eventually when the rice is brought to the house. These communal village activities have been preserved to the present day. Women wear skirts and short sleeved shirts. The skirts are made from coarse cloth without decorations, and they fall down below their knees. Men wear loincloths, where the front flap hangs over their knees and the back flap falls below their shins. Women like to wear earrings, bracelets, and necklaces made from glass beads. ~

Vietnam’s Space of Gong Culture

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands of Viet Nam covers 5 provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong. The masters of gong culture are the ethnic groups of Ba Na, Xo Dang, M’Nong, Co Ho, Ro Mam, E De, Gia Ra. The gong performances are always closely tied to community cultural rituals and ceremonies of the ethnic groups in Central Highlands. Many researchers have classified gongs as ceremonial musical instrument and the gong sounds as a means to communicate with deities and gods. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The gongs are made of brass alloy or a mixture of brass and gold, silver, bronze. Their diameter is from 20cm to 60cm or from 90cm to 120cm. A set of gongs consists of 2 to 12 or 13 units and even to 18 or 20 units in some places. In most of ethnic groups, namely Gia Rai, Ede Kpah, Ba Na, Xo Dang, Brau, Co Ho, etc., only males are allowed to play gongs. However, in others such as Ma and M’Nong groups, both males and females can play gongs. Few ethnic groups (for example, E De Bih), gongs are performed by women only. ~

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands are heritage with temporal and spatial imprints. Through its categories, sound-amplifying method, sound scale and gamut, tunes and performance art, we will have an insight in a complicated art developing from simple to complexity, from single to multi-channel. It contains different historical layers of the development of music since the primitive period. All artistic values have the relationships of similarities and dissimilarities, bringing about their regional identities. With its diversity and originality, it’s possible to confirm that gongs hold a special status in Viet Nam’s traditional music. ~

See Space of Gongs, Music

Sedang and Stieng

The Sedang is a group with perhaps 130,000 members that live in the central highlands in Gia Lai-Cong Tum province. They practice both slash-and-burn dry-rice and maize agriculture and wet rice irrigation cultivation. They have traditionally lived in longhouses set up around a central men’s house. The village is the most important social unit, with some inter-village alliances. Extended families are the the norm and traditionally religion focuses on creators and ghosts. Each villages has a rigid social hierarchy with a chief and village headman at the top followed by household chiefs, shaman. smiths, slaves, animals, and spirits and ghosts. The Rengao is a group with 15,000 members that live in the central highlands in Gia Lai-Cong Tum province. They are considered by some scholars as a subgroup of the Bahnar.

Sedang, a language of central Vietnam, has the most vowel sounds in the world (55). Se Dang people live in houses made from the traditional materials which are available in forests such as wood, thatch and bamboo. Their stilt houses are about one meter above the ground. Each house has two doors: The main door is placed in the middle of the house for everybody and the guests. There is a wood or bamboo floor in front of the door without covering. This is for the resting place or for pounding rice. The sub-ladder is placed in the south end for the couples "getting to know each other."

The Stieng is a group with perhaps 100,000 members that live in Song De province in Vietnam and bordering areas in Cambodia. They practice both slash-and-burn, dry-rice agriculture and hunt and fish. They have traditionally lack a tribal-level political organization. The family is the basic social, political and religious unit. Most rituals are performed within the family.

Temporary houses are used by people from south Central Highland like the Mnong, Je Trieng, and Stieng. These are long house but because of the custom of shifting the location of houses they are all single-storey house with unstable materials (wood is of a a thin or small type). The house is covered with thatch which is hanging down near the ground. Two oval doors are under the thatch.

Ta Oi Ethnic Group

The Ta Oi(also known as the Toi Oi, Pa Co, Ba Hy, and Ba Ghy) live in A Luoi District of Thua Thien-Hue Province and Huong Hoa District of Quang Tri Province. The Ta Oi language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group and is close to the Bru-Van Kieu and Co Tu languages. There were 34,960 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Ta Oi practice a slash-and-burn method of cultivation and grow wet rice through this process. They are also good at horticulture and fish rearing in artificial ponds. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The communal house of the Ta Oi is called the Rong. It is built at the center of the village and is a fairly elongated house. The children take the family name of the father and only sons have the right to inherit the family estate. The head of a lineage plays an important role in village affairs. Young Ta Oi men and women are free to choose their partners. They believe in animism and organize many ceremonies for Giang. Several years after the burial of a deceased person, the dead's lineage organizes a ceremony to exhume the dead's remains and build a funeral house with sophisticated decoration and statues around the fence of the funeral house. ~

The Ta Oi have managed to preserve many of their proverbs, folk songs, puzzles, and stories. Popular folk songs include Ka loi, Ba boih, Ro in, and especially the romantic Cha Chap song. Gongs, string zithers, flutes, trumpets, drums, and pan-pipes are popular musical instruments of the Ta Oi. Women wear shirts and skirts, but the skirt is usually knotted up to cover their chests. Men wear loincloths and short vests, or leave their upper torsos naked. Ornaments made from copper, silver, glass beads, and ivory are also popular. ~

The Ta Oi and Ca Tu people make houses of wattle by the trunk cover of achoong tree – a tree in mountainous area of A Luoi district (Thua Thien – Hue province).

Tho Ethnic Group

The Tho (also known as the Keo, Mon, Cuoi, Ho, Tay Poong, Dan Lai, and Ly Ha) live in the western parts of Nghe An Province in north central Vietnam. There were 68,394 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Tho language belongs to the Viet-Muong Group. The Tho cultivate rice and hemp. With rice cultivation, they often use ploughs and harrows to till the soil. Hemp is grown primarily for producing items for daily use. The forest provides various kinds of vegetable for Tho daily life. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Formerly, the Tho lived in houses built on stilts. Now they prefer houses built on the ground. Close relationships and a desire to help each other have existed for a very long time in Tho society. Young Tho boys and girls have enjoyed considerable freedom through a custom known as "Ngu Mai". They are allowed to lie together and have heart-to-heart talks with each other. In the course of these nocturnal parties, each boy and girl will eventually find their sweetheart. As for marriage, a boy's family must spend a lot of money in preparation for the celebration of the wedding. Therefore, a boy must work many days for his future in-laws. ~

The Tho worship innumerable genies and spirits. They also have great respect for pioneers who have made contributions to the clearing of the land and the building of the village, and for the numerous war heroes. All families also worship their ancestors. Each year, the most important ceremony called "Going to the Field" is held. Tho attire resembles the farmers’ dress of the Kinh in the early half of 20th century. Tho women buy skirts from the Thai and wear a square white cloth around their heads which serves as a female head dress. The morning ribbon is a long white piece of cloth. ~

Xo Dang Ethnic Group

The Xo Dang (also known as the Xe Dang, Ca Dong, To Dra, Ha Lang, Mo Nam, Ta Tri, Ka Rang, Bri La Teng, and Con Lan) are concentrated in Kon Tum Province and scattered in the mountainous areas of Quang Ngai and Quang Nam provinces. There were 127,148 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Xo Dang belong to the Mon-Khmer Group. Farming is the main form of income generation. Cattle and poultry raising, hunting, picking and gathering, fishing, basketry, weaving, and blacksmithing are other ways the Xo Dang survive. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The buffalo stabbing ritual is held annually. The Xo Dang enjoy singing, dancing, playing gongs, and telling old tales. Xo Dang men are good at architecture, sculpting, and painting. The Xo Dang believe in animism and worship many spirits related to the production of food and life. Each village has a "Rong" (communal house), and the roof of this communal house forms two steeply rising surfaces that resembles an axe-head. The village chief is the most respected person in the community and all village affairs are managed by the chief. ~

Xo Dang people do not have family names as the proper name consists of only one word with a prefix indicating the sex of the person, "A" for men, and "Y" for women. Male and female adults are allowed to seek their own loves. The Xo Dang wedding is very simple. After the wedding, the married couple lives in rotation of their families for a few years.

Bana, Xedang, and Giarai people living in Vietnam's Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) build huge stilt houses known as rong. The roof of a rong is incredibly steep and tall, like the blade of a hole. In front of a rong stands a balcony. These stilt houses serve as communal halls. [Source: vietnam-culture.com]

T'rung is one of the popular musical instruments closely associated with the spiritual life of the Ba Na, Xo Dang, Gia Rai, E De and other ethnic minority people in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. It is made of very short bamboo tubes differing in size, with a notch at one end and a beveled edge at the other. The long big tubes give off low-pitched tones while the short small ones produce high-pitched tones. The tubes are arranged lengthwise horizontally and attached together by two strings. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Vietnam’s Space of Gong Culture

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands of Viet Nam covers 5 provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong. The masters of gong culture are the ethnic groups of Ba Na, Xo Dang, M’Nong, Co Ho, Ro Mam, E De, Gia Ra. The gong performances are always closely tied to community cultural rituals and ceremonies of the ethnic groups in Central Highlands. Many researchers have classified gongs as ceremonial musical instrument and the gong sounds as a means to communicate with deities and gods. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The gongs are made of brass alloy or a mixture of brass and gold, silver, bronze. Their diameter is from 20cm to 60cm or from 90cm to 120cm. A set of gongs consists of 2 to 12 or 13 units and even to 18 or 20 units in some places. In most of ethnic groups, namely Gia Rai, Ede Kpah, Ba Na, Xo Dang, Brau, Co Ho, etc., only males are allowed to play gongs. However, in others such as Ma and M’Nong groups, both males and females can play gongs. Few ethnic groups (for example, E De Bih), gongs are performed by women only. ~

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands are heritage with temporal and spatial imprints. Through its categories, sound-amplifying method, sound scale and gamut, tunes and performance art, we will have an insight in a complicated art developing from simple to complexity, from single to multi-channel. It contains different historical layers of the development of music since the primitive period. All artistic values have the relationships of similarities and dissimilarities, bringing about their regional identities. With its diversity and originality, it’s possible to confirm that gongs hold a special status in Viet Nam’s traditional music. ~

See Space of Gongs, Music

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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