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The Fight to Preserve Indigenous Music: Bunong’s Kong Reng

MONDULKIRI: The Bunong tribe of Mondulkiri is an indigenous minority group that has lived off the land for centuries. A 2011 study showed that 95% of Bunong people regularly use medicinal plants. Their traditional houses are thatched with bamboo walls, however the Bunong use bamboo for another human need as well: art. This week, EAC News is featuring the Kong Reng, a stringed bamboo instrument from the Bunong tribe.

The Kong Reng, or Chapei Klok is a six-stringed instrument made from bamboo. The Bunong craft two styles of Kong Reng: one made of a large bamboo stem with strings attached around the body, and another, more intricate design which pairs a 50 centimeter long Pok bamboo stem, with metal wire and a dry gourd to amplify the sound.

The Kong Reng is played one person and can be played solo or in a group using two traditional melodies called the Talum and Tetavav. Unlike other ancient Khmer art forms, the Kong Reng can be played anywhere at any time and does not require a blessing or a ceremony before it is used.

The Bunong use the instrument to play lullabies for sleepy babies, to entertain themselves after work and to accompany them in the fields and forests as they work or play. It is also a popular addition to any party or social drinking occasion.

According to the Ministry of Information's report on the intangible cultural heritage of indigenous peoples in Mondulkiri, the instrument faces extinction unless effective preservation methods are employed.

Mondulkiri’s Department of Culture and Fine Arts have trained Bunong musicians to teach so that they can pass on their knowledge to the next generation how to craft the instruments and play the music that has been a part of their culture for centuries.

The public can catch performances of the Kong Reng and other Bunong instruments when travelling through Mondulkiri, especially at the Busra Waterfall, where indigenous people play music at the path’s entrance.

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