Accompanied by Mr. K Vang, a knowledgeable K’ho guide, earlier this year I traveled to Lạc Dương, a small town north of Da Lat City, Vietnam that is home to the K’ho Lach indigenous community. Here, I met the community’s chieftain, Krajan Plin, who has dedicated his life to researching and documenting information about Cồng Chiêng. “Chiêng is a special form of ‘wealth’ that is incomparably precious to our people,” he says.
While there is a misconception that ‘Cồng’ and ‘Chiêng’ refer to two different types of gongs, “Cồng chiêng” is simply the Vietnamese transliteration for the word “Goong Cing” in the Lach language, which literally translates as “bronze instrument.” This said, there are two types of Chiêng—one is flat, while the other has a small rounded dome at the center—which the K’ho Lach people play by striking them with their fists, rather than with sticks as in other cultures. While most are forged from bronze, they can also be made with cast iron and lead alloy. Sometimes, you can even find gold or silver in the dome part of several precious Chiêng, which are considered a symbol of financial power. “In the past, people depicted their wealth by the number of Chiêng they had in their homes,” Mr. Plin adds. “The more Chiêng, the wealthier the person.”