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Xayaboury festival drumming up visitors to rural district

The recent drumming competition in rural Thongmixay district is one of Xayaboury province’s biggest festivities throughout the year and always lively, colourful and meaningful for participating residents and visitors.
While a drumming competition mightn’t immediately sound interesting, Thongmixay district’s event is very special because it centres on its own unique type of drum, the kong peung.
Kong peung is significantly different from drums made elsewhere because it is only beaten for three months of the year during Buddhist Lent.

Drummers battling with each other in competition.--Photos Dexa

The kong peung drum shell is a made of mai dou (Pterocarpus indicus) and mai xor (Gmelia arborea) wood with the two faces covered by dried cowhide. The drummers cover their hands with ropes before beating and each face which is glued on with pounded steamed sticky rice, which helps produce the unique sound.
The drumming is undertaken in pairs and competition judges have the difficult task of picking the winner of each acoustic duel.
A kong peung is about 1.5m long, 50cm wide, always beautifully carved and believed to be found only in Thongmixay district.
It gets its name from the booming “peung” sound it makes which is very impressive and festival goers get very excited experiencing the competition.
Thongmixay people recognise  the drum as part of their cultural and spiritual heritage which has been passed down through the generations.
Nobody knows the drum’s exact origin but folklore has it that long ago a master monk led villagers to create a drum for beating to convince people to enter the temple to receive dhamma and as a community alert.
The tradition of making drums and the annual competition has been continued and preserved from generation to generation and therefore has become one of the valuable symbols of the district and its people.
Each year, the traditional event attracts thousands of domestic and foreign visitors and also includes a street fair, activities, rituals and cultural performances.
During the three months of Lent the men will weekly beat the drum on either the 8th or 15th (lunar date) in order to practise and prepare themselves for the competition.
The villages will regularly bring their drums to compete with other neighbouring villages for a friendly skills test.
So, when entering this district during Lent, you will hear the impressive sound of this drum from many corners, which offers a glimpse of the culture and lifestyle of the rural folk.
The annual competition is the biggest and is held on the 8th day (lunar month) or about seven days before the end of Lent.
A committee will organise pairs of drumming competitors in a knockout event to eventually announce the winner.
There are always two categories of competition, best sounding drum and the most beautifully decorated drum which is accompanied by three girls in Lao traditional silk costumes called Nang Khamkong or Miss Drum.
This year’s competition was organised on September 28, at the temple of Donephoun village with 13 drums representing each village from all over the district.
The winner of the best sounding drum was Napeuay village with Namong village second and Namon village third. The most beautifully decorated drum award went to Donephoun village, then Gnai village, and Namong village third.
The overall winners were announced and prizes handed over by district Governor Mr Somphone Xaiduangta with the event chaired by the Chief of Donephoun village, Ms Sengdao Sounakhen.
“The competition is very important and meaningful for the district and residents because it celebrates the kong peung drum, which is a special identifying symbol and cultural heritage which should be preserved and promoted,” Ms Sengdao said.
“I would like to ask visitors to participate this event again next year. Of course, the competition will be bigger and more colourful and interesting in the future.”
Thongmixay district is a small rural district in southwest Xayaboury province about 43km from Paklai district and shares a border with Thailand.
The district, believed to be the land of drums, has an abundance of natural resources and unique culture and traditions including the kong peung competition.

By Visith Teppalath
(Latest Update October 12, 2017 )

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