Viet Nam News
ĐẮK NÔNG — A female artisan of the M’nông people in the Tây Nguyên (Central Highlands) province of Đắk Nông has devoted herself to keep alive traditional music and literature for younger generations.
Kâu Thị Mai, a villager living in the Bu Prâng village of the Đắk N’Drung-Đắk Song district, has spent nearly 20 years learning and researching the songs and epics of the M’nông people.
She began her love for the art from her father, the late artisan and patriarch Điểu Kâu, when she was a child. She travelled with her father around the region to collect and record songs and epics performed by elderly villagers.
“My father infused his love of the M’nông culture into many of his students, including myself. He delivered his work on researching and preserving the epics to me,” said the 42-year-old woman.
Not only does she pour her soul into teaching the legends to her fellow villagers, she also helps provincial cultural authorities record tapes and write books and other documents on the cultural legacy.
Mai is working hard on a new project to investigate and write a collection of documents on M’nông epics that will be used at primary and secondary schools in Tây Nguyên.
The epics of the M’nông people, called Ót N’drong, are oral literary works handed down from one generation to the next. They are verses and songs which contain thousands of words but are easy to learn by heart.
She said that Ót N’drong featured the myths, legends and stories of local people, who were brave and compassionate.
The epics contained stories about the lives of the M’nông people, describing upheavals within their society, natural calamities and social relationships told in a boasting, heroic and impressive style.
"My villagers sing the epics every day after hard work in the fields. Singing helps us to become stronger and happier in our lives and work."
"M’nông people, particularly children and youth, should learn and perform Ót N’drong because ethnic minority people can’t survive without their traditional culture," she said.
Since 1988, the Hà Nội-based Institute of Cultural Studies has worked with Đắk Lắk Province’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism on a long-term project to research and collect Tây Nguyên epics.
Thanks to the project, Tây Nguyên songs and epics have published and recorded more than 2,000 books and several thousand tapes and videos in different languages.
The Đắk Nông Province Museum has 150 books featuring 86 Ót N’drong epics in both M’nông and Vietnamese language.
Nguyễn Văn Toàn, director of the Đắk Nông Province’s Department of Education and Training, said that Ót N’drong played a role in the country’s folk literature.
It was recognised as the national intangible cultural heritage property in late 2014.
“We have worked with local artisans and elderly villagers to teach the epics in schools,” he said.
Toàn believes that the most effective method for preserving epics is not to collect and transcribe them, but rather to expand teaching at schools.
In addition, the oral tradition by reciting the works should also be encouraged more frequently during local activities and festivals.
"I think the best way to keep epic works alive among young people is to get them to learn their epics in their hearts and souls," said Toàn, in an interview with the Sài Gòn Giải Phóng (Liberated Sài Gòn) newspaper.
"For young villagers, learning epics helps them to see and understand the fields, mountains, trees, birds and streams running through the woods in their homeland," he said.
"Teaching the epic tradition to younger villagers is crucial," he said. "But the number of ethnic artisans like Mai, who are able to introduce and translate the epics from ethnic languages into Vietnamese, is too small."
"The epic tradition and artisans are some of our province’s most precious property," he said.—VNS