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Role of music instruments in spiritual life of Van Kieu, Pa Ko people

Music instruments play an important role in the intangible culture of Van Kieu, Pa Ko in the Western region of Quang Tri as they convey their aspirations and emotions to deities, people, and creatures surrounding them. The instrumental tools have contributed to diversifying the spiritual life of those ethnic minorities.

Role of music instruments in spiritual life of Van Kieu, Pa Ko people

Unique culture

Van Kieu and Pa Ko people possess different sets of musical instruments with each carrying its own role. The instrumental tools can be used separately or collectively to form good pieces of music. Of them, many kinds are used in festivals to pray for good natural conditions, bumper crops, and good relationships.

For Van Kieu and Pa Ko people, ta lu or lute music instrument is the most popular kind which has been attached to their lives for years. The instrumental tool is made from an old-aged piece of bamboo tree and its strings are also made from bamboo tree. Ta lu produces nice sound thanks to skillful artisans.

The sound of ta lu is not strong but very clear. The player often plays ta lu and sings at the same time and they play anytime, anywhere, in any circumstance. In daily life, ta lu helps Van Kieu and Pa Ko people express their feelings. Once the sound is produced, listeners can feel the messages the players convey.

Especially when going to the terraced fields, the Van Kieu and Pa Ko people often bring along ta lu to relax during their breaks. Ta lu is also used to lull children to sleep and it’s a tool for women and men to express their emotions when they find their lovers, a long-lasting tradition of the Van Kieu and Pa Ko groups when the people mature enough and find their lovers.

The unique characteristics and values of ta lu have been praised by famous musicians, including Huy Thuc who wrote “Ta lu sound” and Phuong Nam with “Ta lu sound echoed the deep forest” song.

Nowadays, ta lu is made in a better and nicer way. It’s made from good wood with an appearance that looks like a guitar but smaller. Ta lu has two strings and produces a clear sound.

Ho Van Viet, a resident of Vuc Leng Village, Ta Rut Commune, Dakrong District, Quang Tri Province, is one of few ethnic artisans making ta lu from wood. He said making ta lu from wood is much more difficult than bamboo as it costs meticulous efforts from choosing wood, chiseling, carving, and creating the body and strings. A wood-made ta luhas two or four strings, costing lots of effort to produce a high and clear sound.

Wood-made ta lu is popular for all players regardless of whether young, elderly, male, or female and is normally used in good circumstances.

Apart from ta lu, khen be or panpipe, a kind of wind instrument made from bamboo tubes arranged close together is popularly used by Van Kieu and Pa Ko in their daily life. The instrument is made from 14 bamboo tubes arranged in seven sets with different lengths and connected by a metal piece made from silver or bronze to create sound. Khen be makes a great sound and is usually used in big events and festive activities of the community. It is also used as an accompaniment for other musical instruments.

It takes an artisan five to seven days to make a khen be, which costs them lots of time to make sound. At present, just a few people in Quang Tri can make this kind of instrument. There are Ho Van Chon in Ky Tang Commune, Lia Village of Dakrong District and Pa Hoi in Lao Bao Township of Huong Hoa District able to make this kind of instrument.

In addition to the aforementioned instruments, the Van Kieu and Pa Ko groups are good at making other kinds of musical tools namely some kinds of flute: khui, pi, ta ring, kong, amam, po lua, Abel, Achung, tro, pr-teng, mpreh, pa-tal, a-pong, kal-took, areng, ng-koai, ng-kong, kr-tuung. Those instruments are mainly made from bamboo which requires meticulous and skillful craft.

The instruments are used in different circumstances, depending on the number of the audience and expressions of the players and audience, reflecting the diverse culture of people in the Western region of Quang Tri.

Role of music instruments in spiritual life of Van Kieu, Pa Ko people

The need for preservation

Each instrument made by the Van Kieu and Pa Ko people carries out a certain mission, used in weddings, harvest ceremonies, worshiping deities, dating, and family reunification. The people use instruments to bring people closer and connect with the community.

As time passes by, a number of their instruments are on the brink of oblivion due to difficulties in making the instruments. It’s hard to find successors to make such musical tools as it requires meticulousness and passion for traditional instruments.

To preserve the instruments, local authorities and Van Kieu and Pa Ko artisans have made efforts to promote such distinctive tools and culture of the ethnic groups. It’s necessary to have training courses on making instruments to pass down the craft to the next generations.

Kray Suc in A Lieng Commune, Ta Rut Village of Dakrong District said: “The Van Kieu and Pa Ko people’s spiritual lives are made more poetic by the unique cultural values and meanings associated with musical instruments. These instruments also serve as a catalyst for the strengthening of bonds between people, their love for one another, their sharing of joy and sorrow, and their battle to eradicate evil from every individual, clan, and village.”

Many residents view certain everyday musical instruments (such as flute, panpipe, and ta lu) as essential as clothing and food. People are currently concerned about the fact that there are not enough skilled craftspeople to meet the high demand for musical instruments in the community, in every family, and among individuals.

To make goals achievable, there are classes teaching folk music, traditional instrument playing, and grassroots mass art movement promotion. Furthermore, it is imperative for local authorities and communities to provide backing for research and preservation efforts aimed at promoting traditional musical instruments. This could involve hosting classes on musical instrument making and inviting artisans to share their expertise with the next generation.

Additionally, artisans who work to preserve intangible cultural heritage are granted special preferential treatment. With this move, the Van Kieu and Pa Ko people hope to inspire and foster their work ethic, enthusiasm, and creativeness while also advancing their distinct cultural values and aiding in the development of intangible cultural heritage.

Ko Van Suong – Linh Pham


Ko Van Suong – Linh Pham

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