Gong culture space covers 5 provinces in Central Highlands Vietnam, including Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong. This art is created and performed by the Vietnamese ethnic groups who live along the Truong Son Mountain Range: E De, Ba Na, Ma, Lac and others.
The gong culture sees gongs as a privileged connection between men and the supernatural, where each gong houses a deity whose power corresponds to the gong’s age. It has been strongly affected by economic and social transformations that disrupted the traditional transfer of knowledge and stripped the gongs of their spiritual significance.
Each ethnic group plays Gong in their own way generating different pieces of music used for different festive occasions and rituals as a way to communicate with Gods. Over the years, gongs have become a special cultural feature of Central Highlands Vietnam. In 2005, the Space of Gong Culture was officially recognized as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
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.
As for the majority of Vietnamese ethnic groups in the Central Highlands region, gongs are musical instruments of sacred power. It is believed that every gong is the settlement of a god who gets more powerful as the gong is older. “God of gong” is always considered as the tutelary deity for the community’s life.
Gongs are associated to all rites in one’s life, such as the inauguration of new houses, funerals, buffalo sacrifice, crop praying rite, new harvest, ceremony to pray for people’s and cattle’s health, ceremony to see-off soldiers to the front, and the victory celebration.