February 11, 2010

Chinese New Year in Miri 5 - Multiracial Society Merry Making- Drums and Gongs

I had a good lesson on Gendang today! I was surprised when I arrived at the end of the festival market I saw so many stalls operated by all the other races in Sarawak!! There were Kedayan stalls and Malay stalls. There were Iban stalls too.  It made the place very very colourful in an ethnic way.

A couple brought their Sarawak gendang (drums) for sale and probably thought that it would be a good opportunity at the Chinese New Year Promotion market. They were selling their drums alongside the Nyonya Clothes stall.

They are from as far away as Sri Aman which is a day's journey by bus from Miri. Each of these drums is made from Mother Goat's skin and durian wood which pleasantly surprised me. The small one costs Rm160 and the bigger one RM200.

These drums are "bowl shaped" and are open at the bottom. The goat skin is stretched to its maximum in order to produce the best possible of musical sound. The wood from the durian tree I suppose will determine its value and longevity too. All these pieces are laced together by strong rattan.

Each drum is made from skin from one mother goat so this couple have to take time to make a good collection of the skins. I am wondering if Kebuloh in Miri would consider producing mother goats' skins for these drum makers at a special contract price!!?? The skin is dried in the usual way - stretched out flat on a piece of wood and dried in the sun for more than three days. "Each drum takes about three weeks to make!" I was told. So the price is really very reasonable.

this lady told me not to worry about the cost for if I rented the drums out at RM50 per night I could get back all my money pretty soon. Nice thought. Besides these two sizes of drums are "male" and "female" (in West Malaysia they are "mother" and "child".

The Malay gentleman said that the sounds of the drum can be adjusted. He removed a small ring probably made of rattan and the drum has another pitch and tone. To many this drum originated from the Ibans. However most people would also attribute this type of drums to the Malays. I suppose the debate of the origin of drums continues.

Here he is removing the "hidden" element to provide a nice drum sound.

In the next stall Iban gongs made from brass hang and look so attractive. Each Iban family should be the proud owners of a few gongs to ascertain their status in the society. The more gongs a family has the richer they are. I suppose that also goes with the social and political status too.

Gongs are important in Iban cultural life. For example when a wedding in a longhouse takes place the bride and groom sit on gongs for a special blessing or ceremony.

A thought crosses my mind. Would someone organise an orchestra made up of native drums and other instruments to promote a real Sarawak Symphony?

A friend philosophised the other day "If I were a symphony you would be the clarinet playing the happy and spirited notes....."

And I thought about it..."If I were a symphony my children would be the violins playing the melody and my friends will be the gendang to give the tempo and colours of life!"

Happy Chinese New Year....and may the drums beat on for you!!


Anonymous said...

Hi Sarawakiana
It would be wonderful if someone could organise a great Sarawak Ethnic Symphony!! Great Idea!

Happy Chinese New Year...


Ah Ngao said...

give me RM200 also,i don't know where to start.so its reasonably priced becoz these drums are made skillfully,can even do tuning...hehe

Ah Ngao said...

hi Sarawakiana....,Happy Chinese New Year to you and family ! yeepee !!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ah Ngao...you can buy them in theSri Aman market...may be cheaper there...I like the couple because they are so well informed and willing to teach...

Very inspiring.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao

Happy Chinese New Year to you and your family...May the Lord of Wealth smile on you....and you prosper....

Sarawakiana@2 said...


It would be a dream come true if there is a full symphony from Sarawak with all these local instruments as well as the normal stand western instruments...

And if possible many of the local musicians should also get scholarships to study in New York and work with great conductors!!

If only I could write a symphony!!

thanks for visiting.

Ann said...

Left hand hold a drum,
right hand holds a gong,
still holding gong and drum.
come lets sing a song.

Courtesy Mdm Mamora. and later I watch a Nancy Kwan movie.

I teach this to my students,so they know their right and left. Some China mums have never hear this song in China.

Do you rememebr?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann
Nice to remember this song so fondly. Every new year we will go over these songs many many times. This is a happy song..I love Nancy Kwan in Flower Drum Song. Pity still not available in DVD. My kids would love it.

I know my left and right in English but difficult to differentiate the two Chinese words (one has a mouth and one has work...which is which???) hehehehe.

See if I can get the song on Youtube....

Tonights dinner is being gotten ready. Just came back from the serene Miri Market.....very quiet this year...nice feeling though..so far...

Happy New Year's Eve...

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