Dak Nong Geopark is an ancient land, spreading over nearly 5000 km2 in the Central Highlands, Vietnam, at the end of Truong Son Mountain Range. It is a long-standing habitat of the M’nong, Ma and Ede ethnic groups. However, in recent decades, Dak Nong has become a new residence of 40 ethnic groups. As noted by scientists, Dak Nong is relatively rich and diverse in traditional ethnic culture, creating a continuous flow from past to present and towards future. That “wealth” is made up from the unique cultural characteristics of each ethnic group. Most prominent feature of this land is the cultural identities of the three indigenous ethnic groups of M’nong, Ma and Ede – the owners of many cultural heritages such as folk festivals, epics (Ot N’drong). Especially are gongs, including lithophone (known as Goong lu – one of the most ancient musical instruments of prehistoric gongs), contributing to the creation of “The cultural space of gongs in the Central Highlands” recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on November 15th, 2005 (now known as UNESCO Representative intangible cultural heritage of humanity).
Gong culture space involves many knowledge of nature, society and people, particularly knowledge of physic applied to select natural materials to make instruments (from stone to bronze), knowledge of music to adjust the sound; knowledge of arts and instruments performance; knowledge of education and training on community characteristics; knowledge of spirituality, beliefs, etc. The outstanding value of the Central Highlands gong culture space contains the creativity of the mankind’s masterpiece.
Nowadays, the cultural space of gongs in the Central Highlands (including the space of Dak Nong Geopark) is posing urgent problems in conservation and promotion of its identity and values. In addition to general difficulties in mechanism, policy, manpower, materials…, Dak Nong as well as other provinces in the region has also faced a series of challenges including: development trend, international economic integration along with the market mechanism, urbanization and globalization effects. Besides, some issues such as hunger eradication and poverty reduction, environmental protection, tourism development, modern lifestyle have made strongly impacts on traditional cultural values and their sustainable conservation (including gong culture).
* Geopark is an ideal environment for gong heritage to be preserved and promoted in a sustainable way
Dak Nong province has submitted the application dossier to UNESCO for the Global Geopark designation in November 2018. This is particularly important not only for gong culture space but also for all other heritages within the Geopark’s area. Once the landscape, environment and biodiversity are protected and restored, it will provide the best condition to revive the gong’s performance environment. Through UNESCO-oriented tourism activities, cultural values will be preserved and promoted effectively.
Gongs of indigenous people in Dak Nong Geopark are a type of music that plays a special outstanding role in the community as its performance summarizes diverse cultural values associated with the natural environment with high community characteristic. Therefore, gongs performance becomes the highlight tourism product enabling visitors to experience local cultural identity. This has contributed to creating favorable conditions for gongs to revive and develop as it restores gongs performance environment and brings economic benefits for local artisans.
On other hand, the Geopark also pays special attention to the methods of gongs performance preservation as tourism is essentially an economic activity, thus it is easy to turn the heritage into a “kind of goods” that gradually degenerate and change the nature of that heritage.
Environment of gongs performance is quite diverse, but the most popular and suitable is still the one associated with community. This environment is not only a favorable place to practise and develop artisans’ capacity but also for passing on from generation to generation. Together with other intangible cultural values, it forms a folk performance program, which is considered a featured tourism product of community-based tourism model in the Geopark.
Though tourism activities, Dak Nong Geopark pays a lot of efforts to create a truly environment for gong culture so that it could be revived in the community and becomes the property of locals, preventing “professionalism” for stage performance only. With these efforts, Dak Nong Geopark is trying the best to preserve this type of heritage according to UNESCO criteria and to develop it sustainably.