Legendary Vietnam’s Central Highlands

The Central Highlands of Vietnam is not only a region with the bold taste of coffee, the ecstasy of the “buried tube wine”, the compelling flavor of smoked meat, the exquisite of soaring roofs of communal houses, mysteries of long houses like “the arm of the Sun Goddess”, but also with irresistible fascination of cultural fusion that has been spawned during the evolution of its inhabitants living along romantic forests, majestic waterfalls, back-flowing rivers and vast fields of coffee and rubber.

The Space of Gong Culture

Learning to play gongs by Bao Hung

The Space of Gong Culture in the Central Highlands spreads over provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Lam Dong to even Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa. Owners of this unique long-standing heritage are ethnic groups of Bahnar, Mnong, Sedang, K’ho, Ro Mam, Gie Trieng, Ma, Jarai, Ede, Churu, Raglai, and some other minority groups.

Gong performance by Ton That Tuan Ninh

For generations, the gong culture has had a tight connection to the life of the whole community and their activities in terms of beliefs, rituals, festivals, traditions, customs, and spirituality. Its development is inseparable from the cultural welfare of the local people and changes to their natural environment. The gong culture appears not only in communal houses or the “guol” house, by fires in living spaces of long houses, but also in mysterious cemeteries during grave leaving festival, at river wharfs, in watershed forests, and on terraced fields during festivals in the spring within this land of sun and wind.

Soul of gongs in Ko Sia Village by Xuan Chien

In 2005, UNESCO recognized the Space of Gong Culture in the Central Highlands as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and in 2008, moved it on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Fertility rites

In the culture of ethnic groups in the Central Highlands, fertility has become a symbol that reflects the lifeblood of creative inspiration for folk artworks and crafts, and the uniqueness in treasure arts of the Central Highlands ethnic groups to express their desire for recreation. Therein, images of women are expressed most concisely with symbols of survival and fertility related to gender like a pregnant woman, a woman breastfeeding her baby; in addition to topics of working and production such as farming and rice pounding.

Village at sunset by Huu Hung

Such images can be found bronze pots of the Ede people, in wooden statues at the porch floor of the Ede people’s long house and at funeral houses of the Mnong ethnic group, or in sculptures in Jarai funeral houses. They not only signify prosperity, happiness, and peace, but also reminds of the matriarchal prehistory via a beautiful, mystical and noble impression.

Season of festivals and rituals

Wrestling festival at Vu Bon Commune by Tran Bao Hoa

The Central Highlands exhibits distinct cultural features from many other Vietnam’s regions, which in turn contributes to the attractiveness of featured traditional festivals and rituals in this land.

Cowing fighting of the H’Mong people in the Central Highlands by Nguyen Cuong

The season of festivals in the Central Highlands lasts from late November to late March annually. As part of the spring, this period arrives with slight transitions from the rainy to the sunny season in combination with continuing festivals like Dak Lak traditional boat racing tournament (on the 4th day of the Lunar New Year Holiday in Krong Ana District), new rice festivals of the Sedan people (on 1 January in Cu M’gar District), Vu Bon wrestling festival (on the full moon day in Lunar January each year in Krong Pak District), Cow fighting festival of the Hmong ethnic minority (on the 6th day of the Lunar New Year Holiday in Krong Bong District), or Long Tong festival which is also known as “Going to the field” festival of the Tay ethnic people (on the 6th day of the Lunar New Year Holiday in Cu M’gar District).

Elephants playing football by Le Oanh

Therein, the most prominent festival is Buon Don Elephant racing festival in Buon Don District which is held every two years in March. In this sunny and windy month, when the sky is blue, the most intelligent and strongest elephants together with talented elephant jockeys from villages gather in Krong Ana Commune (Buon Don Village) to take part in this traditional festival.

Breakout by Minh Phuong

In a stadium nestled in the middle of the dipterocarp forest, tourists can see elephants to parade in front of spectators, kneel down for greetings in a very polite manner; followed by elephant’s pulling heavy objects and throwing logs, elephant-human tug of war, elephant football, and elephants dancing to the tune of Ding Nam trumpet.

River wharf worshipping by Huu Hung

For rituals, it would be an omission if we do not mention the unique river wharf worshipping. Such ritual is held by the Ede villagers at the beginning of each New Year or on significant occasions of the village such as leaving the village and building a new one. River wharf worshipping is carried out with a hope for fresh water from the god of water.

River wharf at sunset by Uy Long

During its three days, all activities such as farming, hunting, and gathering must be stopped. This is also an occasion for villagers to gather to sing and exchange heart-to-heart talks.

The article used information from the magazine of Dak Lak – Vitality of the vast jungles