Preserving Central Highland cultures and identities

Socio-economic development and improving the lives of ethnic minorities has not distracted from the need to preserve and promote the cultural values of Central Highland ethnicitties.

Provinces such as Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Lam Dong, Gia Lai, and Kon Tum are important in political, economic, and defence terms but are also some of Vietnam’s most culturally diverse areas.

The soul of gongs

The Steering Committee for the Central Highlands (Tay Nguyen), says that since the Party Central Committee’s fifth resolution on Vietnamese cultural and national identity, society has united behind the Central Highlands’ political, economic, and social advances. The spiritual and cultural lives of ethnic minority groups have also improved considerably.

Cultural preservation and heritage programmes receive consistent levels of investment and international cultural cooperation schemes continue to proliferate.

Central Highlands provinces have reinvigorated the variety of traditional festivals and rituals celebrated by the region’s ethnic groups. Gong festivals and epic poetry collections  are two of these cherished traditions.

Vietnamese folk music researchers consider Central Highlands gong music a unique cultural form villages and hamlets have managed to preserve for thousands of years.

The echoes of Tay Nguyen gongs call hamlets and villages together. If one considers the J’rai’s “Rong house” and the Ede’s “long house” the souls of highland hamlets and villages, gong music provides the vitality.

Central Highland ethnic minority groups also use gongs to communicate with their gods and to signify family prosperity. On November 25, 2005, UNESCO recognised Central Highlands gong traditions as an intangible oral masterpieces of human culture. The region’s cultural richness is the pride of Vietnam as a whole.

Central Highland provincial authorities have worked hard to collect, document, and preserve Tay Nguyen gong customs. In addition to annual communal and provincial festivals, Ede, M’nong, J’rai, and Bana artisans have been hired to instruct younger generations in the gong traditions.

Dak Lak province has more than 500 Ede children gong teams who regularly perform for local people during community activities, traditional festivals, and rituals. The Lunar New Year Festival is the height of collective, ritualistic gong performances and dances in villages nationwide.

A living epic poem collection

The Central Highlands are equally famous for its oral literature masterpieces. Epic poetry is an integral part of ethnic groups’ community activities.

Experts have researched and collated more than 622 of the region’s epic oral poems. New epic forms recited by the M’nong and Xdang ethic groups were especially exciting finds.

Twenty-one of 52 translated epic poems have been published and disseminated widely.

Central Highlands provinces have held classes on epic poetry for younger members of the community since 2003. The classes, organised by the Folk Art Research Institute, were warmly welcomed by both students and village elders.

Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Deputy Director Nguyen Tan Dac is a passionate promoter of the Central Highlands’ vibrant cultural traditions.

The gongs and epic poetry of Tay Nguyen are great contributions to Vietnamese and international culture.

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