The Drum Towers of the Dong

 

In many of the villages of the Dong of the South, who inhabit the southeastern region of Guizhou Province and the northwest of Guangxi, there are still many Drum Towers.

Drum Tower is, in fact, the translation of a Chinese term, since in ancient times each Chinese city had a tower with a drum, with the functions of marking the hours, to announce the opening and closing times of the doors of the city wall, or to summon the population. Since the Chinese people saw that in the Dong villages there was also a type of tower, sometimes with a drum inside, they call them Drum Towers, but their function is completely different. In fact, most of the Drum Towers of the Dong no longer have drums.

The towers of the Dong play a very important religious and social role in the life of their villages. These towers are the material representations of the spirit of the community, their most important meeting place, and the single most important cultural element in Dong culture. Some authors refer to Dong culture as the "Culture of the Towers of the Drum".

These towers play a very important symbolic role in the life of the Dong. They are associated with prosperity, although in some cases they are considered a kind of deity that can also cause damage to people. Usually, beneath the towers there is a great square, where meetings of the whole village are carried out, where their most important festivals take place, and where they celebrate the performances of their famous Dong Opera or lusheng (a typical musical instrument of that region) gatherings. But this square beneath the tower also plays an important role in the village's everyday life, for it is where the old men meet, and also serves as a field for children's games.

The Drum Towers represent the soul of the community of the village. Their power overcomes that of people. For that reason, nobody wants to live under them. The decisions that are made in assembly by those who meet inside the tower are the irrevocable voice of the community. Even the shape of the towers may on occasion be seen as a reflection of the spirit of the locals. It is said that, in the north of Guangxi, a village had a majestic tower of nine floors, with a peak that ended in the shape of a bull's horn. The young men of this village used to fight with the young of the nearby villages. To put an end to the belligerent mood of the young, the elders of the village decided to shorten the Tower of the Drum, from nine to five floors, and to change its pointed form. In this way they achieved peace in the region.

In the Dong language, to refer to the people of a particular village, they use the term used for their tower, and when a village suffers a disaster or a fire, the first building that should be reconstructed it is the Drum Tower.

As most of the Drum Towers are disappearing among the Dong of the North, their cultural differences with the Dong of the South are becoming wider day by day.

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