The Gong Culture of Vietnam’s Central Highlands Hill Tribes
The Central Highlands of Vietnam is a fascinating, mountainous wilderness that up until French rule in the late 19th century was almost never explored by the ethnic Vietnamese, who viewed the region as full of savages, with fierce animals like tigers, “poisoned water” and “evil malevolent spirits.” These superstitions have long been forgotten, but with the exception of the city of Dalat which attracts thousands of tourists annually, the rest of the Central Highlands region is still rarely visited by outsiders.
The native inhabitants of the Central Highlands are the Degar, an indigenous group of hill tribes, also known as the Montagnard, or ‘mountain people’ in French – a name coined during French rule. They have a fascinating gong culture that is found throughout the Central Highlands and is centered around the belief that gongs create a link between humans and supernatural spirits. Each of these gongs is believed to contain a deity, whose power corresponds to the gong’s age.
If your clients visit the Central Highlands they will hear the clashing and rhythmic sounds of these metal instruments reverberating around the hillsides. Recognized by UNESCO in 2005 as “a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity,” the gongs are sacred and ceremonial instruments to nearly 17 minority Degar groups scattered throughout the Central Highlands’ five provinces.
The culture of the gong plays a central role in the lives of these hill tribe people. Every family possesses at least one gong, which indicates the family’s wealth and prestige and ensures their protection. Their belief system is a mix of ancestral worship, shamanism, and animism, although many have now converted to Christianity. Their traditional beliefs, however, are still closely linked to daily life and the cycle of the seasons.
Gongs are also played at village ceremonies such as ritual sacrifices, the blessing of the rice, mourning rites and harvest celebrations. For every particular ceremony there are different arrangements and rhythms, while the groups playing the gongs vary in size – as do the hand-held instruments themselves.
Khiri Travel Vietnam can arrange a mesmerizing gong performance for visitors wanting to explore the Central Highlands region. Our itineraries are about adventure and immersion in the tribal culture, and meeting the people of the Central Highlands is a core theme of our tours. Local hill tribes are genuinely welcoming of visitors and want their authentic traditions to be valued and preserved.
Of course, we will also take guests to lush tropical forests and plantations of coffee, pepper, and rubber – crops which support the livelihoods of many people in this region. With the exception of Dalat, there are no luxury hotels in the Central Highlands, so it’s definitely a destination for those who really want to have an off-the-beaten-track experience. Travel with Khiri to Vietnam’s Central Highlands and you will be rewarded with the unforgettable experience of meeting genuine, friendly people, with an authentic and captivating culture.
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