(No.5, Vol.8,Oct-Nov Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Construction of Rong house. Photos taken by Nguyen Sy Dung in Kon Tum Province, 2015-2016

Rong house where people gather for festive celebrations.
Photos taken by Nguyen Sy Dung in Kon Tum Province, 2015-2016

Photo by Le Van

Every village of the ethnic minorities in the Tay Nguyen region, including the Ba Na, Gia Rai and Xe Dang has a communal house called the Rong. It’s the tallest and biggest structure in the village, where spiritual and communal ceremonies and cultural activities are conducted. Sometimes the village elders also use the Rong as the court to judge disputes, complaints and grievances and punish those who violate the customs.

Because of these functions, the rong house has a very important role in the cultural and spiritual life of many ethnic minority peoples in Tay Nguyen. When a group of people want to found a village at a certain place, the first thing they do is to build a rong house at a flat clearing. The size of the rong house depends on the leadership capacities of the elders and the chieftain. The beauty of the rong house represents the intelligence, dexterity and unity of the villagers.
A typical rong house is about 10m long, 4m wide, 15-16m high and built with materials available in nature such as timber, thatch and bamboos of many kinds.
The rong roofs, covered with thatch, consists of two  main roofs and two small side roofs, formed on strong, high-soaring frames supported by eight  large pillars of precious timber. The frames are reinforced by beams adorned with carvings that depict ancient legends of valiancy, stylized animals, and scenes of life amongst nature. All are decorated with colorful patterns.
Inside, the rong house is decorated with drums, bow and arrows, scimitars and spears, horns and skulls of animals. Standing out among these decorative items is the image of a radiant sun. On festive days, in the middle of the floor, a tall pole is erected with carvings of the sun, eight-pointed stars and diamonds. When people gather for a spiritual ceremony or a festive celebration, two fires are lit to provide warmth, light for dancing and trance-like elevation of the spirit.
The main door stands in the middle of the front wall, and there is another smaller door at the right side wall. There is a veranda in front of each door for people to sit and wait when too many people are using the ladder, which usually has seven to nine steps.
The walls of the rong house are made of bamboo lattices in a lively pattern. The floor is assembled with wooden planks and bamboo.

By Hoa Khanh