Update: 09:50 | 08/06/2018
In Ngoc Bay commune, Kon Tum city, Kon Tum province, almost everyone knows artisan ABiu, a Ba Na ethnic person, who is always concerned about conservation and teaching traditional gong playing to the younger generation.
Passion from the gong sound
On the road from Kon Tum to Yaly, ABiu's house is located at the beginning of Plei Klang village, with beautiful roofs full of wildflowers and carved in many patterns of the Ba Na people. In front of the house is a large courtyard full of gongs and drums where his family will perform when guests visit his house.
An impressive space of nearly 1,000 m2 around the house looks like a miniature Central Highlands with neu trees (a tall bamboo tree used to ward off evil spirits during Tet), wooden statues, and models of Rong (communal houses), alongside antique che (small jar), and dozens of ethnic musical instruments collected through the years.
With a gentle smile, artisan ABiu slowly talks about his childhood. His mother’s village is An Khe (Gia Lai) while his father’s village is Kon Tum. When he was a child, he always watched his father play gongs. Growing up, he began to be curious about the bronze musical instrument and was taught by his father.
However, ABiu was misfortunate as his parents died early and the family faced many hardships, almost all of the jars and gongs were lost during the war. He went to study and graduated from teachers college, before returning to Ngoc Bay as a teacher and holding the position of Deputy Head until his sick leave.
During his teaching career, he began to practice his passion for gongs. At first, he borrowed the gong of the village, and then he tried to learn how to beat and read more documents on the traditional musical instruments through the Central Highlands’s epic stories.
After that, he went around to collect gongs, from Gia Lai, Kon Tum and then Dak Lak. At little cost, he bought the cheap gongs that were broken by collisions and then he soldered and repaired them for use. He said that, unlike other objects, the music instrument gongs for Tay Nguyen people are very precious, because it is an identity, bringing in the sacred sound of the nation.
In 2000, the price of each set of gongs was estimated at around two taels of gold, which would be equal to one cow. Even now, his wife tells how he sneakily sold a cow to buy a Klang Brong gong (also known as an eagle gong, because the main gong in the set is designed with an image of eagles). This is one of the four precious gongs of the Ba Na people. There are 12 gongs in the set, with a special sound, sometimes the sound is unhurried, and sometimes the sound is like a waterfall echoing throughout space.
Diffusing sacred sound
The little boys practice their mini instrument.
From these passions, together with the knowledge on the Central Highlands epic stories, artisan ABiu resurrected the gong melodies with his new compositions. The traditional gong performances were also added to the rhythm. And all of these compositions were taught free to many generations of students in primary and secondary schools in the area.
He thinks that the gong sound is the root of the Ba Na people. It is like the joyful speech, sadness, and the narrative of the history of their nation, so the younger generation must also understand it and have a passion to preserve the gong as a heritage of their forefathers.
After some serious illnesses, his health was reduced but the artisan still has the enthusiasm to open classes and organizes troupes to play gongs. Now, hundreds of his students in Kon Tum are able to join him in preserving and promoting the Ba Na gong. His house on stilts is now also an address to promote traditional culture.
Many domestic and foreign tourist groups have visited here. Guests are immersed in the busy music space of the family band, which is guided by the gong playing with the traditional dances of Ba Na people. The family band together to play, express the smooth melody of the love songs in Ba Na, Vietnamese, English and French.
With the taste of sweet wine, visitors can enjoy a great musical performance among the Central Highland’s high mountains and thick forests that makes people remember forever artisan ABiu, who keeps the soul of Ba Na gong in Ngoc Bay.