Types of folk literature
At the end of the 20th century, we used the term “myth” to indicate a traditional thought, a type of folk literature and a poetic factor in folk literature. As a literature type, myth appears earliest in literature history of all mankind. Myth of Lam Dong people can be categorized into groups as follows:
Myth on the universe origins
Reflecting the people’s observation, awareness, questioning and trying to find answers for fundamental wonders about nature.
Residents of Lam Dong in particular and of the Highlands in general have polytheist faith. They worship the god of mountain (Yàng B’Nôm), the god of water (Yàng Đạ), the god of jungle (Yàng Bri), the god of earth (Yàng Ụ). There is not clear distinguishing among the functions or neighbourhood of these gods. Some gods are not worshipped regularly by people, yet their importance in the people’s faith and religion remains strong in their myths. There are K’Du and K’Ndu, N’Du and his sibling K’Da forge the sun, the moon, the sky and stars using the buffalo’s horns and its body. Nho sa rpu means eat and drink buffalo (normally translated as the buffalo stabbing festival), this must be related to the belief in natural creation. This myth also confirms the important role of buffalo in the people’s customs, beliefs and sacrifice rituals.
God K’Bung or K’Vung, as ordered by K’Du, creates a giant K’Yut. K’Yut’s role is to push the sky away from the earth, similarly to that of the God of Sky Pillar of Viet people, or the sky pillar of other ethnics in Viet Nam. However, none of the myths tell about the creation of earth, it seems that the people have always considered the earth as an initial material from which other creatures are made.
According to their myth, the moon (mat kon hai) and the sun (mat to ngai) are siblings. The myth tries to explain bad temper or gentleness of these two gods, which result in the formation of day and night. When the two gods meet, it creates eclipse (mang lin mang lo) making the day become dark. Another explanation for eclipse is because the sun and the moon are in love. No matter what the explanation, it reflects the primitive belief of the people.
It can be seen in myths that people believe there are seven or more layers of universe, or space. They imagine these layers are like special areas, though being far away from each other, they can make contact with each other. These areas include areas for normal people, for gods and goddesses, for the deaths, for the evils, and so on. The living condition, level of thought, social structure - as in village areas, influence how people understand other worlds.
Myths of origin of all creatures
There are many significant details in these myths, particularly the transformation of gods to create essential materials like salt, iron, and fish. Together with the destructive transformation is the creation of fauna and flora by God K’Bung. These primitive creatures continue the transformation process similar to that of gods to create other creatures. There exists many versions about Mother Ka Jong - the first mother of humankind, and Mother Ka Grum - the mother of local residents, she also discovers rice, corn, egg-plant and chili. There are many versions of the story of her three giant sons who transform themselves into salt, iron and fish.
In the transformation process, there are humans who transform into animals (monkeys, gibbons, elephants) like the story of humans transforming into elephants of Ma, Co Ho and Chu Ru. Humans not only transform into animals, but also mate with animals to create other humans or animals. Significantly, animals can be human’s master, like the story of monkeys showing human how to deliver babies which are told in most ethnics in the Highlands. The myths of M’Nong also emphasizes why people of Dakcat, Lang Ding, and Boon Krong do not eat monkeys.
Basically, the transformation of gods, humans, and animals is significantly important. The relationship between humans and gods, humans and nature is also remarkable in myths of origins of all creatures.
Myths of origin of humans
The myths of humans’ origin remain in the traditional culture. It is told that humans are created by K’Bung, first they live underneath the earth, and then they go out of the earth through a hole. However, according to the people’s belief, all these original humans are destroyed. This is the belief of Ma and Co Ho. For M’Nong, in Beng Chu Lay, humans already exist in villages of Bon Kon Chong, and then they meet with an immigration of humans from the hole, led by Beng Chu Lay.
Among hundreds of versions of human’s origin publicized by the Vietnamese scientists, none of Lam Dong version is published. However, recently, 7 versions have been discovered and made public.
The human myths are associated with myths related to floods which we normally know as the great destruction of deluge. This is also common in Southeast Asian myths. The siblings survive the deluge by hiding in a drum, in a boat, or up in the mountain. This story reminds us of the image of the pumpkin boat of Laos people. Yet, there is no version of human’s origin of Lam Dong people telling the re-creation of humans from a pumpkin after the deluge.
The most tragic event told in these myths is marriage in the same blood line in order to reproduce. This is granted by the gods. What kind of human does this marriage create? Most of versions agree that three siblings are born, who will later on mate with each other to create three major ethnic groups: Kon Prum (Chaêm), Kon Chau (Maï, Cô Ho or Chu Ru, Raéc Laây), Kon Yoan (Kinh). The ability of telling myths of human’s origin is built and developed when the ethnic people meet with Kinh people. The birth of humans which is told in these myths is the birth of an ethnic group. That is the story of three mothers Ka Grup, Ka Grum, Ka Grau, or short for Rup - Rum - Rau which is very common in Lam Dong.
It should be noted in these myths that they are told using both poetry and prose.
Myths of mountains and rivers
The number of these myths collected is less. Story of making mountain Lang Bian, Myth of Elephant Mountain, Myth of Da M’Ri Waterfall, Myth of Da R’Nga River are a few to be named. A common feature in these myths is the sacred water source. This sacred water source flows on its own, or is discovered by hunters, then it flows into springs, waterfalls, small rivers and big rivers. Recently, some love stories between Lang and Bian, or Dam and Bri have been discovered, yet their origins cannot be identified so they are not used by researchers. Myth of Da M’Ri which is told for tourist is about similar love story, yet it is different from the story of Dam B’Ri of M’Nong people.
There are many myths of ethnic people of Lam Dong, but the number being collected is less. These myths are mixed with other myths, yet they remain less affected by the feudal times or history like the myths of Viet Nam. They have their own distinct features, especially the close association with beliefs and rituals. They are similar, yet different from the myths of ethnic people of the Highlands, and Southeast Asia. However, it should be noted that most of the published myths are those of Ma and Co Ho. The number of collected myths of Chu Ru, Rac Lay and M’Nong remain very less.
With their two-facet feature, legends are also a type of folktale history, or history told in a poetic way, or literature reflected in history. Because they do not develop have their own writing, ethnic minorities in Lam Dong do not have their own historical literature. However, the historical relationship among people, or ethnic groups leave traces in their legends, and myths.
The relationship between Cham and the Highlands is reflected in legends, telling about their relationship in military, politics, economics, culture and marriage. However, the poetic features overshadow the historical ones, mostly based on the imagination. Storied told about leaders K’Te, K’Tien, K’Oanh, K’Choi, K’Tar of Ma and Co Ho, or about dam B’Ri of M’Nong are mixed between legends and historical tales.
There are several versions telling the inner competition like Bon dong bon Ma or versions of K’Tit telling about disputes and solutions for disputes. The oral tales of family tree can also be considered as legends in which the tellers remember their gods - first ancestors, then forget a long period of time in the middle, and remember several latest generations. Being passed down orally, folktales can keep some features of human’s history, as well as their historical relationship, keeping facts as well as supposed-to-be facts.
Before, there are stories about Ma Kingdom. This issue is considered again when talking about the Cat Tien archeological site. However, even kingdoms like Thuy Xa, Hoa Xa which are mentioned in books are actually neighborhoods or residential areas. The ethnic minority of Highlands borrowed one word from Cham people: potau (motao, patau) to indicate religious leaders. The words potao and po are common in folktales of Lam Dong. For Cham people, they use the noun potao or po to call gods, king, religious leaders. The word po is mis-pronounced into pua, bua, vua; hence scientists, mostly Viet people, translate potao or po as vua, and conclude that these are kingdoms. Kingdoms, kings, princes, princesses are words commonly known in translated version of Highland folktales.
Fairy tales consist of many types, most remarkable are tales about disguised people, orphans, half-human half-ghost.
Tales on orphans
These are very popular tales. Ethnic people of Ma, Co Ho, Chu Ru, Rac Lay, M’Nong have a lot of tales which are published in many versions.
Theoretically, when the primitive society is broken up and the civilized society is formed, there is no more common kitchen, more no mothers who are willing to take care of every child. Hence, the issue of orphan becomes a social, humane issue. However, recently we see the long common house, as well as the common kitchen. The tales on orphan appear a lot in the primitive society which is rather uncommon as in this society, there is no distinct difference between the rich and the poor. Yet, the feature of social class cannot be associated with tales on orphans, nor it can be said that tales on orphans are the products of a hierarchical society, reflecting the fight against social classes. It can only be explained that the issue of orphan is a common social issue, reflecting the humanity of people. From the tales of ethnic minority people, we can understand better tales of Viet people.
The common scenario of tales on orphan is: unfortunate → effort + blessed → happiness. The happiness often comes from magic helps. Yangs, especially the Sun Yang, offer the orphans magic weapons, magic seeds or tools. The imagination, humanity, and multi-god belief influence the creation of tales. There is only one God in nature, as well as in legends. But in the fairy tales, the world of Sun consists of many powerful individuals, led by pôtao maêt tôngai (known as the God of Sun). The neighborhood of this world is located high in the sky, or across the great sea. No matter where they are, they are aware of the unfortunate destiny of people, and often help orphans, sometimes they even have their sons or daughters married to orphans.
Appearing together with the help of magic people is the magic things. In legend, we see the image of the magic pumpkin. This image also appears a lot in fairy tales. It can be the pumpkin branches, or pumpkin giving magic seeds, or a magic pumpkin helping to find lost family.
With the help, the orphans can change their lives, achieving happiness with houses, clothes, rice, soldiers, husbands or wife’s. These are happy endings. We rarely see tragic endings like in Viet’s tales. However, even in happy endings in Viet’s tales, we see punishment while in Lam Dong’s tales, we see forgiveness.
Marriage is a common feature. This is an ideal happy ending. The people show a great but simple desire about a happy life, democratic and fair society. These tales also show optimism.
Tales on disguised characters
These tales account for a large number of tales in new as well as existing collection.
The origin for creation of such characters is complicated: multi-god beliefs, belief on the connection of thing in the universe, the primitive production method, the bond between human and nature, the life of disabled people, etc.
The disguised people are varied, yet the main category is disabled people, magic people, or gods in disguised appearance to test humans.
This is an important feature to distinguish the types of characters or types of tales. The disguised people are known through their names, which are also the names of the stories or tales, such as the young armless, the scabies, the pig-man, the goat-man, the banama-lady, the ivory-lady, etc.
Among these types, the disguised people under animal appearance account more than half. The unmarried girls after eating or drinking something strange in the forest will give birth to disguised children.
The disguised feature is important and compulsory for these characters. It has a purpose of a temporary cover, after being removed, the characters will appear beautifully.
The remarkable value of these tales is the humanity. The good people receive beauty, or the inner beauty transforms the outside appearance of the characters, creating a balance. It stirs a humane feeling from people, changing their unconscious comments or intention of insulting disabled people. It also emphasizes on the inner beauty of people and their dream to perfect their outside appearance.
If the orphans have to ask for magic help, the disguised people have magic in them with which they uncover the disguise and reveal their true self without any help. They not only find their own happiness but also bring happiness to the orphans. Hence, there’s a close connection between the two main characters, yet they are different from each other.
Tales on half-devil human
Long time ago, people of Highlands believe that alongside with Yang who help people, there exist another force which harms people. Ma and Co Ho call this force cha or cha ma lai, M’Nong call it m’lai, Rac Lay call is kamalai, Cham call it kamulai. The primitive belief leaves a strong influence on highlands people. News report cases in which people killed half-devil humans.
The primitive belief in half-devil men influences the creation of a folktale: the tales on half-devil men; similarly these half-devil tales also reflect this belief. In literature, this half-devil character does not appear as a soul or spirit, but as humans - half-devil. They live together in a separate neighborhood, or live among normal humans, using their magic to approach then harm people. In the first episode of these tales, we see the deaths of victims, especially children or women.
In the next episode, the half-devil characters are chases by the victims’ families and the whole community in order to kill these characters. If forgiveness is a beautiful feature in tales of people in Lam Dong, only in these tales of half-devil we do not see the forgiveness but severe punishment.
With the stories about half-devil, we see the close connection between belief and reality, religion and custom with these tales. The abolishment of this killing of half-devil men needs a lot of effort and time.
Funny stories and fables
We have not seen funny stories which take the sense of humor as a tool to mock some kind of people or some behavior. We have neither seen a fable which concludes with a knowledge, life experience or philosophy.
Dozens of collected stories have main characters of rabbits, turtles, monkeys, tigers, and elephants. These are not stories about animals as they do not describe animals’ life. The animal-characters are divided into smart and stupid. The cheats are used by smart characters. After one cheat, the laugh is echoed. These animal-characters have human features while still retaining their animal characteristics. These are the joint between human characters and animal characters, a result of a natural evolution based on people’s belief and observation. The feature of funny stories and fables are intertwined, hence, we consider them as one type.
Similar to the stories of rabbits are the stories about turtles, and the third group of stories called K’Yut - K’Doi. The laugh is echoed through the cheats between the smart characters and the stupid ones. In this third group, the funny feature is more prominent while in the first two groups, the fable feature is more prominent. The repeated cheats and actions make these tales complicated, surrounding a central character.
So far, there are 33 versions of Ma and Co Ho, 3 versions of Chu Ru in which the main characters are rabbits, turtles, monkeys, etc. More collection should be done to identify the animal stories of Highlands’ tales.
Some issues of Lam Dong folktales
The feature of mixture is shown through different thoughts from the primitive beliefs to the basic philosophy, from the history to customs and culture. Folktales are a form of social intellectuals, an intangible form of culture, connecting literature with the physical and spiritual life.
The folktales of Highlands have a mixture of different features. These stories are not only told, but also sung in songs, or are written in both poetry and prose.
This feature is also shown through the co-existence of different types in the folktales. For example, endings of legends do not reflect historical facts, or there are myths, legends and fairy tales which are intertwined. There is also mixture of characters and plots in different versions like Tistoli, Ha The, etc.
The feature of primitive culture appears strongly in folktales.
The belief of magic things, ancestries’ belongings, intertwined relationship among things, people believe that things can transform into humans, or humans into things, humans give birth to things (not under disguise) like in myths, or human give birth to thing (under disguise) like in fairy tales.
The appearance of fatherless children indicates an innocent viewpoint towards pregnancy, or the origin of life.
The role of mothers, grandmothers, uncles and the mother bloodline is important in the orphans’ life. Particularly, these stories emphasize the role of the uncle, marriage with uncle’s children, while the role of father is neglected.
The role of buffalo in legends, religions and rituals is also remarkable.
The cultural exchange is shown through the Cham stories and Cham characters. This also shows the brotherhood among Cham + Viet + Kon Chau, which is respected in recent legends. The exchange is reflected through stories of sea, floods, or the borrow of Cham language (po, pôtao, ma lai), Viet language, as well as Latin characters, influence from the Bibles in several stories.
About number 7: The number 7 appears in many folktales of Lam Dong people. This is a plural number, indicating the plurality in measurement. If goes with noun (mountain, spring, river), number 7 indicates the great distance. The number is also used to indentify time, used with words like day, night, moon, crop season. But basically, number 7 is used to describe challenges for the characters: number of enemies, number of battles. After overcoming all the challenges, the main character receives his awards associated with number 7. The search for number 7’s universal popularity is difficult. Although being influenced by other cultures or religions, number 7 must have been in the local folklore. Influence from outside cultures only increases the intensity of its appearance.
Types of poetry of Lam Dong people
There appear stories told in poetry. Different ethnic groups call poetry with different names: yal yau, tam pôùt, lah long, dôs chri, hri, ndrí hay nrí.
Yal yau means telling old tales, similar to the definition of legends. When being told in poetic way (singing), these tales have a poetic feature. From literature’s view, yal yau is prose; from the folklore’s view, yal yau is pre-music form. While waiting for the agreement in terms, we will use common terms as known in the literature.
Folk songs are traditional songs which people normally call nri, tam pot or lah long. Nri or ndri is poetry of people in Lam Dong, it consists of a complicated collection of content and type. However, about content, there are several main categories like ritual folk songs, love folk songs. This is only relative category.
For Viet people, proverbs are short or long sentences, for example, the shortest one has four words. No matter what the length, proverbs are a complete product. However, for Lam Dong people, this is different. For comparison, we give one example below:
Viếp pik viếp lơ ạ
Dà vơh dà Bring
Ching tur ching Bro
Pro panh pro yam
Tàm kup tàm rìng
Krìng kup krìng pría
Ka kup ka krang
Yang yô yang ơt
Pes mus pes yao
Tàu pơh tàu dung
Nung uh nung rke
Ve sa ve bang
Yàng hoih Yàng B’nơm
Tơm tuh tơm klong
Lòng coh lòng tơlir
Tir vik tir lon kỗnh
Get water from Bring spring
Play Bro bronze drum
Let the pumpkin grow old
Catch the fat crab
Catch the silver phoenix
Catch the white fish
Drink black alcohol
Burn the old forest
Break the big sugarcane tree
Blow trumpet made from buffalo horn
Eat the famale goat
Pray to the god of mountain
Bridge over the spring
Get wood from the tree
Sleep with uncle’s child
About form, these sentences are rhythm. In each sentence, the first and the third word are the same. These are easy to be learned by heart.
About content, each sentence has a specific content, reflecting a natural or social phenomenon, or reflecting social experience. However, apart from the direct meaning, each sentence has an implication. Hence, these sentences do not stand alone as a complete product, but are connected to form a long poetic work. However, when the whole poetry is used related to customs, then it is concluded by the last sentence, showing a truth: sleep with the uncle’s child, i.e. get married to the uncle’s daughter. Some archaeologists call these works law or regulations. However, despite being used in primitive court justices, the judge cannot depend totally on these works. From the development of literature, we can consider these as pre-proverbs. About content, these works contain some knowledge, or life experience. This also indicates the mixture feature of people’s folklores.
Don’t consider unvisited neighbourhood strange
Don’t consider unvisited jungles Yang
Don’t think old houses without people have ghosts
Yang give eyesight to see
Yang give hands to grow rice
Yang give ears to listen to old tales
Life experience of people is told in rhythm sentences, creating a song. These songs, or poetic works show us the experience in farming and living of Lam Dong people.
Ritual songs are commonly sung in rituals performed by people. The structure of these songs: sentences are rhythm, the number of words in one sentence is not necessarily the same, neither the number of sentences in one song.
Hê nhu lir vông
Lọt nhu mơ hê
Kon ka mê
These songs are normally used in rituals calling gods to witness the sincere hearts of people, or inviting gods to enjoy the offerings, asking gods to bless people with good health, with rain and good crops.
Now I ask for gods
To repair the pipes
I need you like a bee needs its wax
I open the rice wine for you god
Wine is good so I invite you to try
In the smell of incense I light for you
Please come, wife and husband
God, your in-laws
God, your mothers and children
And all the people
Rituals are religious practices. Songs of praying are also part of rituals. The content of songs shows the multi-god belief of people, reflects their production methods, intellectual levels, primitive religion, family structure and their views on the world. Considering content, these songs are similar to myths. When myths are told in a poetic way, it is difficult to differentiate myths from these folk songs. Even myths about floods and mankind’s origins are mixed with poetic songs.
Núi Rơlé bằng ching,
Núi Rơling bằng nong,
Núi Sơpùng bằng khiên,
Núi Pàngbèr bằng mền rơning,
Núi Đăngching bằng một tấm cót…
Incantations can also be grouped with these folk songs. For example: Vơs u klu, vơs u klàn, vơs bràn klin, vơs lin kwan, klan tam voh, kràn dòn joh.
It is believed that when being bit by poisonous snakes, reading this incantation will save one’s life. These sentences are called vi and cannot be translated. We think this is a list of snake names, yet the importance is not in understanding the incantation but the belief of people.
Songs about law and customs
The nri has a good structure with poetic and rhythm sentences, reflecting old customs:
K’Yut teaches us how to kill buffaloes
N’Du shows us how to build villages
K’Tieng, K’Tang show how to make mortar and pestle
Ka Kong, K’Yai arrange the marriage
K’Drot, Ka Droi offer the marriage rings...
These characters listed above are names of gods or ancestor who we see in rituals and myths. Acknowledging their names and merits is not for expressing gratitude, but for asking people to follow the old customs. These characters also appear in other stories. According to customs, what gods do is considered to be the standard, which needs to be followed. When someone does not follow, one is considered to break the law and will be punished. Although being passed down orally, these customs also help to strengthen family, relatives, village and maintain social rules.
However, customs include both traditional and old-fashioned ones. In the customs of people, there exists an old-fashioned one that is the killing of half-devil man. There is even incantation to kill half-devil man.
Prepare the beam
Hold the beam
My power is in the beam
Someone dies, I prepare the beam
I kill the buffalo, leave the cow
I sell the tailless monkey, keep the water monkey
I kill the half-devil men, I love the normal men
Love folk songs
There are many love folk songs used in courting between boys and girls. These songs are for showing emotions, and feelings, especially of young people. For example, this song is about the girl’s beauty:
That girl is as beautiful as a spring onion
The squirrel meets her
That girl is white, the otter meets her
That girl is beautiful, the phoenix meets her
The young girl makes the wild boar hit the tree
According to a Ma intellectual, squirrel, otter, phoenix and wild boar are images of boys - those who discover the girl’s beauty and propose to her. Sometimes, a beautiful girl is compared with:
The pigeon’s egg in a bush
The peacock’s egg in the tall branch
The plu bird’s egg in the mountain peak
The girl’s body is compared not only with common animals, but also with forms and colours of fruits:
The girl’s body is like that of a vegetable
The girl’s hand is like a young bamboo root
The girl’s body is like a ripe banana
These songs are for singing during festivals, or by the springs, in the front yards. Singing these songs is to show the affection between the boys and the girls. While songs about customs are used mainly by elderly, these love songs are sung among the young people. While young people do not remember the songs about customs, they are fond of these love songs. These are called lah long or tam pot. There is mixture feature of poetry, prose and song. In this case, love songs (lahlong, tampot) are similar to folk songs, which have been publicly known. The citations above are chosen by the author to illustrate the poetic literature of local people, translation is done by K’Cheoh in 1998.
Besides, it can be seen that these love songs reflect the natures, some daily life activities, entertainment, and customs. In the volume Highlands folk songs collected by Professor Vo Quang Quan, we find songs about greater love, or love for the country and revolution such as Gathering water, Village life, Led by the Communist Party, Responding, Clearing trees for cultivation of Ma people; Calling rice, Arranged maters of Co Ho; God of the Earth, Hunting elephants of M’Nong. These songs may be named by the collector.
Folk arts include many types such as poetry and folk songs. Authors of these works are unknown.
One of the typical cultural activities is folk songs. Folks songs do not have author’s name.
Pre-musical folk songs of ethnic minorities
Ethnic minorities in the Highlands begin their musical culture in form of “singing while speaking”, in which yal yau is a typical type. Yal yau originally means “thinking about the past”. Yal yau can be sung from day to night. There are several long yal yau for being sung from day to day. These yal yau performance attract a lot of people.
One yal yau consists of many sentences. Melody of these sentences is similar while rhythm has no rules. Yal yau is a kind of music which is passed down orally and is heavily influenced by the people.
The pre-musical folk songs, particularly yal yau, are the elder’s interest. However, these songs are popular because of their responding factor.
In the pre-musical folk songs of Highlands’ ethnic minorities, dos chrih is most similar to yal yau. Dos means talking, and chrih means strange tales. Dos chrih are songs of strange content. In other words, instead of telling strange tales, the ethnic people sing these tales in their long hunting journey.
In the Highlands’ treasury of folk songs, the ethnic minority of Chu Ru contributes their folk dance tamja.
Although being a folk dance, tamja is born on the foundation of Chu Ru ancient music, with two main instruments of drums and pan-pipes. The music of tamja is developed until recently, hence the tamja dance becomes popular among the today Chu Ru community.
Pre-musical folk songs of Viet people
The Viet people from many other parts of the country have come and settled in Lam Dong. They are those who bring the basic form of their folk music to the south Highlands, the most typical type is children’s song.
According to some researchers, children’s songs are songs sung by children or sung for children. Like other areas, children’s songs in south Highlands have the 3rd, 4th and 5th syllables as main syllables. They also have 6-8 sentences. Children's’ songs vary in length, and have many different versions. In general, children’s songs reflect a lively world with the relationship among people or between people and the natural world. With their own style, children’s songs reflect the facts with an educational purpose. Most children’s songs are created by children.
One of the Viet ethnic groups who come early to the Lang Bian plateau is Nghe Tinh and Ha Dong people. Nowadays, in Nghe Tinh commune (Da Lat) there are children’s song which may originally come from Nghe area.
The froggy frog
There’s gathering in my house
There’s death anniversary in my house
I can invite you
I can push you out
Don’t be so bold
You froggy frog
Eating hurts the corner of the mouth
Eating hurts the lips
Eating hurts the tongue
Children’s songs are mostly sung or performed by children. The songs’ melody is cheerful. Songs are simple, mostly singing like talking. The major feature is talking, the minor one is singing. These features are interchangeable depending on the children’s age. At elder age, the singing feature is more dominant. Due to their simplicity, children’s songs are closely associated with children’s games.
Folk music is musical performance or musical activates created and pass down by the people.
Folk music of ethnic minorities
In the musical life of Lam Dong’s ethnic minorities, while yal yau and dos chrih are free-styled in musical structure, tampot and lahlong are more structured. Tampot is a form of responding or asking riddles for people in the Mon-Kho Me linguistic group, especially Co Ho and Ma people. A tampot does not have limitation in the number of sentences, but it is not as long as a yal yau. The length of tampot depends on the content of the riddle. The winner in tampot singing will be awarded with two pigs. This type of music is often used as a greeting. The host will sing tampot when the guest arrives; if the guest replies like the host expect, then he will be welcomed warmly. If the guest is a great tampot singer, the host may kill their pigs for a feast. Ma people have a proverb: Nimto chsăt, pơt tơ nhu (translation: As depressing as moaning over the death, as exciting as drinking and singing tampot). If the guest cannot reply well, then there will be no feast.
Besides tampot, the ethnic minorities in Lam Dong also have lahlong. Lahlong is a type of love song, or courting song (its raw meaning is sweet words). This musical form is very popular among young people. It is not surprising to see that after each lahlong, couples exchange rings, or engagement bracelets as a promise to “spend their live together”. There are two types of lahlong: the short lahlong is for saying sweet words, and lahlong dam K’Lir is for exchanging promises. Lahlong has a clear structure and rhythm. Some researchers consider this to be a relatively complete folk music.
Tampot and lahlong are the two most remarkable of folk music of ethnic minorities in south Highlands.
In the local ethnic group, besides free-styled and non-rhythm music, there exists a type of music mixed of folk music and professional music. This music has better structure, and is considered to be proper folk music by many researchers. Local people write these songs for themselves, and mostly written in Co Ho language.
When someone dies, the community holds a funeral in which they sing songs to farewell the death. No drums are played during the funeral.
One of the ethnic groups that contribute to the distinct culture of south Highlands is the ethnic minority immigrating from the north. Representatives of this immigration group are Tay and Nung people, with two musical types of sli and luon. Nung people sing:
Đăm khẩy sli. Đăm sli tẩn”
(Sick night is long, sli nigh is short).
While Tay people sing:
"Ké quá tàng đẩy tỉnh lượn then
Mừa rườn tàng piến vầng báo ón”
(Old people hear the sound of the door latch
When reach home, they feel young)
The journey of sli - luon brought by the northern ethnic minorities into the Lam Dong mountainous area has made the local folk culture richer and more beautiful.
Similar to lahlong of local people, sli-luon of Tay and Nung people are responding and love songs. The smallest factor of this folk music is the sentence. In sli-luon, the responding sentences are similar to those of other love songs. It should be noted that the performance environment for sli-luon of Tay - Nung people is being narrowed within their small community or their linguistic group. Hence, in market gatherings of the south Highlands, people rarely sing sli-luon.
One of the good examples of sli-luon:
Beginning the song in the midnight
The dark night conceals the desire
Being alone, I ask you to sing with me
Because my soul is full of depression
At midnight, it is so quiet
I want to grow a big tree
I want to make a big tree
Making a road
Folk music of Viet people
The folk music of Viet people is very rich. One of the remarkable features of Viet’s folk music is that the melody is developed on the foundation of 6-8 poems.
While local people have lahlong, or northern immigrants have sli-luon, Viet people also bring their boy-and-girl songs, which are sung between boys and girls.
This boy-and-girl song is a type of Viet’s folk music. One song may have many melodies which are different from each other in terms of intensity and length. The content of these songs is mostly about love.
At home, I am afraid of my mom and dad
Here in the jungle, only me and you
Me and you are like carrots and peas
Without you, I keep awaiting
Await that the weather will be good
When you come here, I’ll take you out
Besides this type, Viet people in Lam Dong also have other musical types such as yo-heave-ho, lullaby, etc.
People in Lam Dong use different musical instruments in their festivals and other gatherings. Musical instruments are used mainly to accompany songs and direct the dance steps. There are a number of groups as follows:
In this group, the typical instruments are stone organs (lu gong), gongs (chiang, ching) and drums. Stone organs and drums are more common ethnic minorities than in Viet community. Drums are popular in almost all communities. For Chu Ra and Rac Lay, drums play a vital key in their cultural life.
Stone organ: In the family of Mr. K’Broi in B’Rde village (Loc Bac, Bao Lam), they still keep an original stone organ. While growing crops in the mountain, Mr. K’Broi’s ancestors found 3 pieces of stone which made melodious sound when touched. Today, these stone pieces are considered precious and are only used in special festival such as “stabbing buffalo” festival. After the festival, these stone pieces are spread with buffalo blood and then kept in a solemn place inside the house. In 1980, villagers of Da Long commune, Lac Duong district found and gave a 7-piece stone organ to Lam Dong Museum. In 1997, one resident in Di Linh found and gave some “sound” pieces of stone to Lam Dong Museum.
Gong: This is a Viet’s term. In Co Ho language, gong is called cing or chiang. Gong with knob is called ching, while gong without knob is called kuong. A common set of gongs consists of 6 pieces named chiang mé, rđơm, đờn, thoòng, thơ và thê. According to Mr. Pangting Uok in Lat commune, Lac Duong district, the method of gong has 36 different rhythms. Gongs are used in cheerful events and festivals. For people of Mon - Kho Me linguistic group, gongs are not used in funerals. Gongs are listed as precious or valuable properties, and the number of ching, kuong is used to assess how wealthy the family is.
Drum: is popular in almost all communities. The drumhead is made from animal skin, the drum-barrel is made from wood, curved or flat. People play drums with wooden drumstick, hands, fingers and even elbows. The arts of drum playing are very important for ethnic people, especially Chu Ru artists.
The woodwind instrument group in Lam Dong is diverse among ethnic minorities and Viet people. This group includes flutes, funeral clarinet, Mao flute, etc. These instruments create a deep and echoing timbre. The most remarkable woodwind of local ethnic minorities is a roundish clarinet (known as mbuot, or mboat). While stone organ and gong are used only in festival, there is no limitation for usage of woodwind instruments. These instruments can express different emotions and feelings of the players. Similarly, Thai people in Lam Dong have pan-pipe, which can be played alone or accompany songs or dances.
This group consists of many musical instruments. Viet people while migrating to Lam Dong also bring their own stringed instruments such as tow-chord guitar, three-chord guitar, monochord, etc.
For local ethnic people, the most typical stringed instrument is dinh dut (literally mean the man who plays music). Similar to mbuot, this instrument is used in many events, and it is said to have an ability of “speaking on behalf of the player”.
Thai and Tay people when moving to south Truong Son bring their tinh tau instrument, which is a remarkable instrument of northern ethnic minorities. Tinh tau means pumpkin instrument as it is made from dry pumpkin. It has a distinct timbre, used to accompany songs and dances. Tinh tau is used by Tay and Tai people in Lam Ha, Duc Trong and Di Linh.
In general, the musical instruments of Lam Dong people are like a museum of their musical life. Among these, the most remarkable instruments belong to Ma and Co Ho people. Their musical instruments are not greatly different from other instruments of Thuong ethnic people in Truong Son - Highlands, or more broadly other ethnic groups of Southeast Asia. For example, the pan-pine is found in folk music of other ethnic people. The stone organ found in this region normally has 3-7 pieces while the stone organ found in other areas only has 6 pieces. This may be related to the belief of the mysterious number 7.
Games, dances, festivals
Games of Viet children are closely associated with children’s songs. Physical games are common among all children in Lam Dong. Children, especially boys, may imitate the wrestling of adults and create these physical games. Besides wrestling, running is also very popular. Running is often accompanied by songs, especially among Viet children. Getting the flag is another common game.
Besides physical games, there are games which test the speed of children. Hide and seek is the most popular game in almost all regions and communities. In this game group, another popular game is bamboo pole dance of Thai, Tay and Nung children. Initially, bamboo pole dance is a common dance style of Thai people in funerals. This dance becomes popular in other ethnic groups. Then it becomes an attractive game especially among girls.
Challenging games are also common in Lam Dong. Local ethnic minorities have a challenge called horse racing without saddle. In this challenge, children are guided by adults to perform horse race. Horse racers are brave children who are capable of control horse without saddle. The winner is awarded with a big prize. This game is often held in the foot of Lang Bian Mountain.
Similar to Viet people in other regions, Viet people in Lam Dong have diverse types of dances such as lantern dance, fan dance, drum dance and fighting dance. Muong people have sac bua dance. Chu Ru people have tamja, a famous dance style. Chu Ru call their dance gramporopo which include 3 main dance styles - arya, damto and paki. Arya is for dancing in the festivals, damto is for courting dance, and paki is to welcome guests to the home.
However, dance is less developed among the ethnic minorities of Lam Dong. Dance is rather neglected in the treasury of folk music of these people. Most of their dances are closely associated with festivals. The dance steps are mostly impromptu and very simple, mainly the movement of shoulders and hands.
Festival is the most remarkable event in the cultural life of ethnic minorities and Viet people in Lam Dong. In festivals, there are performances which resemble the people’s daily life such as hunting, praying, etc. Festivals can be regarded as a collection of all cultural forms, or a mixture of songs and dances, or a combination of musical performance and feast. Festival also has a function of ritual performance. This can be considered as an initial form of folk stage performance.
For ethnic minorities, graphic art is not a separate art form, rather it is created within the people’s activities in making their daily tools or utensils. The people’s aesthetic views are illustrated through their craft products such as silk, cloth, knitting products, iron tools, ceramic pots, and boats. Instead, Viet people have already created a separate graphic art form through their traditional paintings, statues and reliefs.
Weaving or knitting is popular among ethnic minorities. Their products have a high aesthetic value. The most remarkable feature of their weaving is their usage and mixture of colors, especially in Ma, Chu Ru and Co Ho people. It can be said that their usage of colors has become a subtle art. Growing cotton tree and weaving become the reason for living of many women in these ethnic minorities. The most popular image in decoration is mortar and pestle, and some fauna and flora. The usage of colors is also noteworthy. The major color used by Ma people is black, while Co Ho use red, Rac Lay and Chu Ru prefer indigo and white. Structure of decoration patterns and colors is not simple or rigid, which creates a sense of arts and gives an enjoyable feeling.
Plaiting is another form in which ethnic people describe their love for beauty. The most remarkable plaiting product is papoose which has many sizes. The pattern structure and decoration are quite the same. The papoose is made with cylinder shape or cone shape. Papoose made by Ma and Co Ho is similar to a turtle’s shape.
In the ethnic minorities of Lam Dong, forging plays an important role in their social life. The forging products are utensils, tools and weapons. Wioh is a tool - weapon of a high aesthetic value. Its shape is compared with the river flow or a bird’s beak (bo cat). This distinct shape is also found in javelin (tandrek) or pia chut knife which is kept in the belt or sometimes used as a hairpin.
There are abundant ceramic products made by Lam Dong ethnic minorities. The decoration pattern in these products has a high aesthetic value. The most typical decoration pattern is wave, mountain, etc. Ma people develop a number of famous ceramic or pottery villages such as Cor village, Pang village, Rada village. Chu Ru also has Kran Go village.
People in villages residing along Dong Nai River, and Da Dang River develop an industry in boat-making from big tree branch. The shape of these wooden boats is long. Two ends of the boat are pointedly sharpened, which make it easy for the boats to travel. This shape makes the boars look like leaves on the water.
Moreover, it can be said that the aesthetic value in these craft products of Viet people is much higher as compared to other ethnic groups. The most remarkable products are wooden statues and reliefs in temples and common houses.
The graphic arts of these immigrants from the plains and coastal areas are well preserved. Statues of Viet people are made from different materials such as wood, stone, baked soil. The creation and development of Viet’s statues are closely related to their religious rituals and communal activities. They mainly make statues of the Buddha, gods, spirits, giant guard and historical characters. Besides statures, reliefs carved on wood, stone and baked soil are another remarkable feature in Viet’s graphic arts. These reliefs, which are places in temples and pagodas, tell the historical story, describe nature and humankind, and to illustrate the people’s viewpoints. The dominant idea described in these reliefs is that mankind should rely on nature, not conquering nature. The people’s graphic arts are also expressed in their way of decoration inside the home, their tools, weapons and clothes.
There seems to be no painting arts in the culture of ethnic minorities. Today, researchers only discover a few number of sculptures, such as house columns, and several paintings in the worshipping shelf. The most remarkable work is the ceremony column (gang). On this column, there are many carvings illustrating the famous buffalo stabbing festival. This column also makes researchers think about “the column of sunlight” (gang or gol of Ba Na, kirt or klao of Gia Rai), or more broadly “the column of universe”. These columns are 10 or 12 meters high, and are divided into 3 parts. The first 2 parts are made from tree trunk and shorter: the first part is 2.5 meters high and the second part is 3.5 meters high. The upper part is made from one tree, and is divided into 7 smaller parts of 1 meter high each. A triangular piece of wood is put at the junction. In these junctions, some decoration and wooden flowers are inserted. The most remarkable pattern is a shape of the sun which is called mook tlac by the French researcher G. Condominas.
Among Viet people, paintings are quite abundant. Viet people when immigrating to Lam Dong also bring their paintings.
The paintings of Viet people can be divided into two types: urban paintings and rural paintings. In urban areas, most paintings are concentrated in Da Lat. The Lam Dong paintings are mostly the ancient paintings of Viet people. Viet’s paintings appear in traditional festivals and holidays. Moreover, Viet’s paintings appear in their religious rituals, especially paintings of tigers, phoenix, dragons, suns and moons.
Viet’s rural paintings are basically a copy of ancient paintings of Viet people in northern plain and central areas. In general, ancient rural paintings are not greatly different from those of urban areas. However, in urban areas, the ancient feature is less preserved than that in the rural paintings. Moreover, paintings in rural areas are more developed than in the urban areas because of the usage of available materials.