Rare women’s gong troupes dwindling

The matriarchal Ede people in the Central Highlands have rare all-woman gong troupes unique to the region.

Though there are plenty men’s gong troupes in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, women’s troupes, such as the Trap Village’s troupe in Krông Ana District, Daklac Province, Ma troupe in Lam Dong Province, and M’nong troupe in Đak Nong Province, are few.

Not o­nly are the performances unique, but so is the role they play in community, focusing o­n women.

According to Nguyen Nang Luu, Chief of the Krong Ana Culture and Information Bureau, Bih, or Ede Bil people in Trap Village are a small part of the larger Ede, a minority group in Vietnam. In Ede, “trap” means marshy, as the village was ‘born’ from marshy bank of the Krong Ana River.

In the past, the Bil people lived in 10 villages. According to documents, the group included about 10,000 people in 1922. Now, the Bil group have just Trap Village, with 700 people in about 100 families.

According to elders in the Trap gong troupe,  women began to learn the gong with their mothers in childhood and now, as rule, mothers teach the gong to girls o­nly.

At Trap, women use a set of gongs called Jho, six breast-like shapes of metal. The troupe includes seven players, o­ne o­n the drum.

Their performances follow three movements: Kano (Male) and Ama (Father); Ana (Female) – Ami (Mother); and Mdu (Child) – Anac (also child). They call this the “family of the gong” .

The Trap group performs about 10 pieces, playing either o­n demand or in festivals. When the women play, the men dance with swords and shields, traditional accompaniment to the Xongarap in Pothi festival.

(Pothi or Le Bo Ma (Leaving Ghost) is o­ne important traditional festival of people in the Central Highlands. When a villager dies, the body will be buried in a tomb. The family will take care of the tomb for three years and then perform a ceremony to say goodbye the spirit. Known as the Bo Ma ceremony, it is solemn, performed during the full moon. People play the gong and dance round the tomb. Then, if the deceased was a man with a wife, the widow will be free. It is an indispensable festival of the Giarai, Bana, and Ede people in Central Highland.

Together with the Jho gongs, the Ede people have another set of gongs, Knah, including 10 instruments. The largest is cing ana, symbol for the mother; k’nah di (oldest sister); h’liang (second sister); h’luê h’liang (third sister); and drum h’gơr, the symbol of the grandmother. The ceremony itself conveys confidence from the women to their husbands and lovers.

Now, however, older players in the Trap troupes are retiring or dying, the most recent Aduôn Rai,  lead player. According to Mr Luu, there are o­nly about 20 women at Trap who can play the gong and the Krong Ana People’s Committee is trying to train young people. But few are interested.

To add to the problem is he Trap custom of distributing property with the deceased, and o­ne to two gongs go into the average burial, leaving fewer and fewer to play. A group of culturists recently had to buy a set of gongs in Trap, but it wasn’t so easy and Lu worries whether or not the culture will survive.

Source: GD&XH