Viet Nam News
By Mai Linh & Văn Cảnh
The Mường ethnic group is a minority group with many of its people residing in the western outskirt districts of Mỹ Đức, Ba Vì and Thạch Thất in the capital.
In the development process, the Mường have tried to preserve their traditional art of playing gongs.
To the Mường, gongs are not only tools for humans to communicate with Gods, they are also valuable property to families and villages, gong artisan Bùi Thị Bích Thìn said.
“Each gong set consists of 12 pieces, which resemble the 12 months, and also the harmony between the universe, heaven, earth and human beings,” she said.
“The Mường people believe that gongs have souls. When they let them rest, they put the gongs with nubs downwards, otherwise, the gongs will lose their sounds. Whenever they start a performance, they hold a ceremony to test the sounds as a way to ask the permission from the gong’s soul,” she added.
Gongs are used as musical instruments in important events throughout the life of the Mường people including welcoming a new-born, weddings, new house celebrations, village festivals and funerals.
Thìn said that two ancient gong melodies that are still popular nowadays are Xắc Bùa and Bông Trắng Bông Vàng, which used to be played at the important events in the village.
Xắc Bùa is often played in spring time as a musical background for folk songs.
Artisan Thìn, herself, is the only person who possesses a set of 12 pieces of gongs in Hà Nội.
Though she was born into a farmer’s family, in the northern province of Hòa Bình, she soon expressed her art for passion and talent.
At 8, she worked as a babysitter for a rich family in her village, where she had a chance to learn how to play gongs. After school, she worked as an office staff at local People’s Committee. She then took a theatre director’s course at today’s Hà Nội Culture University.
Before 2008, Tiến Xuân Commune in Lương Sơn District of the northern province of Hòa Bình, where she lived, was considered the birthplace of gong art of the Mường group. Then the region merged with Hà Nội city, and after that she brought her gongs to teach the Mường people in other localities in the city.
At present, she is a teacher of 27 gong groups in Hà Nội and the central province of Thanh Hóa with some 300 learners.
“We are from the Mường group. We love gongs, but no one in our village knew how to play,” Nguyễn Thị Vịnh, from Vân Hà Commune, Ba Vì District, said.
“Early this year, I watched a TV programme on Thìn and was very happy that there was such a person with such a passion for gongs. We asked her to spare two nights a week so that we could come to her house to learn. Though we have just started, we have learnt a lot about the history and culture of our group,” Vinh said.
Some groups Thìn trained have performed in many places. In early 2014, a gong group from her hometown, together with Hà Nội Dancers’ Association, performed at Lý Thái Tổ Park in downtown Hà Nội.
“Many elders of the Mường group from other localities even burst into tears as the show stirred their memories of the past with its ancient melodies,” Thìn said.
Together with training people, artisan Thìn has also gathered photos of the art to share the traditional value of her homeland.
Gongs in every hamlet
Vân Hòa Commune in Ba Vì District, about 50km to the west of Hà Nội’s centre, hosts various ecological tourism sites such as Khoang Xanh, Suối Tiên, and Thiên Sơn – Suối Ngà. The commune also hosts three groups of Kinh, Mường and Dao.
Since 2015, the commune has set up gong clubs in every hamlet to perform at home and in other localities.
Gong club in Bặn Hamlet is the youngest club with 20 members who are women farmers aged between 35 and 68.
“When we first set up the club,” Nguyễn Thị Vịnh, head of the gong club recalled, “local people donated as much as they could. But we could not afford a set of gongs. Then, a member, Nguyễn Thị Sơn, decided to sell one of the fruit trees in her garden and donated the proceeds. Then another person in our hamlet donated the rest of the sum so that our club could buy a set.”
There are more than one million people of the Mường group throughout Việt Nam’s north and central regions. They reside in valleys along the Đà River in the north and Mã and Bưởi rivers in the central province of Thanh Hóa.
The Mường people possess a rich folk literature and arts of folk lullabies, legends, epics and gongs. – VNS