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Artist wants gong culture taught in schools

Update: November, 13/2009 - 00:00

Artist wants gong culture taught in schools


Sulistyo Tirtokusumo, head of the Indonesian delegation at the International Gong Festival in Gia Lai Province this weekend, is also a gong artist and official of Indonesia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. He spoke with Viet Nam News about preserving gong culture.

Loud and proud: Viet Nam’s biggest copper gong is on display at Pleiku’s Dong Xanh Cultural Park, as part of the International Gong Festival this weekend. — VNS Photo Van Dat

Please explain the presentation that your delegation just performed.

It’s about human life actually: the death and life of human beings. The message to the gong festival is about human relationships. Human relations are very important, especially between Indonesia and Viet Nam. Furthermore, it is not just between two countries, but all countries in the world. By understanding human beings and life among nations, we are able to send a message of peace to the rest of the world.

Besides the performances at festivals like this, do Indonesians often play gongs in their villages?

We have more than 300 ethnic groups and each group has its own typical gong culture, but we understand each other. We call it ethnic groups, not ethnic minorities, because we don’t like to consider anyone a minority. The compositions of the gong come from many ethnic groups in Indonesia but we consider the music as belonging to Indonesia.

After seeing Vietnamese artists, do you see any differences between the gong culture between Viet Nam and Indonesia ?

We don’t see any difference. What we have seen is the similarity. What we can see from the festival here is that Vietnamese gong performers walk while they play. Our gong artists sit while playing. Most of our performances are outdoors and we sit when performing.

There are three kinds of gong. One we can play outdoors, another indoors and the other we play when walking. Our presentation here is for outdoors. When we play the indoor style, the sound of our melodies are soft.

The people in the Central Highlands provinces play gongs after harvest time and other important occasions. How about Indonesians? Is the gong culture valued in the spiritual life of your people?

It’s similar to Vietnamese. Indonesian people play gongs on three occasions, the birth of a baby, marriage and death. We also play gongs to prevent bad things from coming to the villagers, such as epidemics, and we ask for rain after a long time of drought.

Largest gong
on display

GIA LAI — Viet Nam’s biggest copper gong is being displayed at Pleiku city’s Dong Xanh (Green Field) Cultural Park during the four-day International Gong Festival in Gia Lai Province, which began on Thursday.
The giant gong, 2.5m in diametre and 700kg in weight, was made by artisan Duong Ngoc Truyen of Phuoc Kieu Village in Quang Nam Province’s Dien Ban District.
The gong is being displayed in a spacious area along with other items that depict the spiritual life of ethnic minorities, such as stilt houses, communal houses and tombs of the Gia Rai ethnic group.
The Vietnamese Guinness Records Centre yesterday held a ceremony to recognise the musical instrument as Viet Nam’s largest-ever gong made in the country.
Popular among museum visitors were the country’s largest bronze drum, 1.52 metres in diameter and one tonne in weight, designed in the traditional northern Ngoc Lu style, and the largest curved bronze painting. — VNS

Does Indonesia have policies to preserve the gong cultures?

The Government has established some high schools and universities to teach young generations about the gong culture. As you have seen at our presentation at the festival, there are two dancers. They are from our country’s university of art. They not only can dance but play the musical instruments and sing.

Gongs are part of our culture and life, so we are not afraid the culture will disappear. No house in Indonesia has a gong but every community has gongs.

Every year, we also have a gong festival in our country. For 20 years, we have held an annual gong festival in Bali. This is one of the ways to preserve our gong cultures. In the US, there are 300 groups of Americans who play Indonesian gongs. Nowadays, there are some universities in the US, Europe, Australia, Japan that teach Indonesian gongs, like University of Michigan or Australian National University.

The Vietnamese Government is trying its best to preserve gong culture. Do you do the same?

What we have seen last night is the great effort of Viet Nam’s Government and Gia Lai Province to keep the culture. In our case, we encourage more people to learn and play gongs. In our country, the gong is played at hotels and resorts to introduce tourists about our culture.

We should not buy and provide gongs for everybody and ask them to play it. The most important thing is how to make them passionate about the culture, so they themselves will then buy and keep it. In our country, many people play gongs but none of them are donated by the Government.

In our country, the old gongs more than 50 years old are banned for playing. Every year, we give awards to people of our ethnic groups who have great contributions in preserving gong cultures. The annual festival is one of our ways to monitor how the cultures are preserved in their villages. — VNS

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