The diverse and distinctive culture of the ethnic people in the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) region has been receiving special attention along with increasing investment in socio-economic development to improve the living conditions of local people.
Many projects and much research aimed at preserving and developing the Tay Nguyen culture have brought about remarkable results, with the most easily seen being the revival of many traditional ethnic festivals such as the "gong" festival, the buffalo sacrifice ritual, the new rice festival, river wharf worship, and the rain-calling festival. Some festivals, including the elephant race and the gong festival, have become annual events for Tay Nguyen people.
The culture and information services in Tay Nguyen provinces also collect documents and typical articles of the local culture. Studies on the cultural identity of the E De, Gia Rai, Ba Na, Se Dang, Gie Trieng and K'ho ethnic minorities, have been implemented for years together with the collection of these groups' epic poems, folk songs and dances, musical instruments and traditional costumes.
A great deal of evidence of the history and culture of ethnic groups in Tay Nguyen has been unearthed at archaeological sites in Lung Leng (Kon Tum), Cat Tien (Lam Dong) as well as cultural-historical and archaeological sites in Dak Lak, which showed that the Tay Nguyen culture formed at about the same time and developed to an equal level as the Dong Son culture in the north, the Sa Huynh culture in the centre and the Dong Nai culture in the south.
The two most valuable cultural heritages of Tay Nguyen ethnic groups, the gongs and epics, are the focal point of the preservation task. The country has submitted documents to the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), asking for the recognisation of the Tay Nguyen gongs as a non-tangible and oral cultural heritage. Gong will be preserved and further developed under a US $400,000 project devised by the Culture and Information Institute until 2010.
Tay Nguyen provinces are making a count of the number of sets of gongs kept by the people, and organising training courses for people of the E De, M'nong, Gia Rai, Ba Na, Se Dang and K'ho groups. Most villages now boast at least one gong band which plays during community activities.
The oral literal heritage is another feature that makes Tay Nguyen stand out as one of the country's seven main cultural regions, especially its epics which have been passed down for many generations. With hundreds of epics still being recited at community activities, Tay Nguyen is the only home to epics in Vietnam and one of the few such regions in the world.
To preserve and develop this precious treasure, the culture and information service has since October 2003 held courses on epic recital in the region, which received warm responses from both old and young people. The Government has also given VND 21 billion (roughly US $1.3 million) to a national project on collecting and studying Tay Nguyen's epics. A ten-year survey showed that not only the E De and Ba Na wrote epic poems, but the M'nong, Gia Rai, So Dang, Raglai, Xtieng, Cham H'roi, and possibly the Ma, K'ho and Churu also have their own epics. In addition to the five Tay Nguyen provinces of Gia Lai, Kon Tum, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong, epics have also been heard in the neighbouring provinces of Binh Phuoc, Ninh Thuan, Khanh Hoa and Phu Yen.
Researchers have collected hundreds of Tay Nguyen epic works and the Institute for Research of Traditional Culture plans to publish 75 Tay Nguyen epics in both the Vietnamese and ethnic languages from now to 2007. (VNA)
Reprinted with permission from Nhan Dan Newspaper