Instruments of the Dimen Dong

Dimen Dong, Liping, Guizhou
Editing: Jackson Harvey
Camera: Shiyu Wang, Albert Tong, David Barnes, Abby Sternberg, Max Lenik, Ed Fry, Sara Legg, Jillian Reagan
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

With a history of 2,500 years and numbering some 2.6 million today, the Dong people live primarily in Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, and Hunan provinces. They are renowned for their polyphonic choir singing, called ga lao in the Dong language. The remoteness of their villages accounts for the remarkable preservation of their music and culture. At the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, musician Wu Qianchun (吳前春) from the Dimen Dong Folk Chorus in Guizhou Province explains some of the most common musical instruments used by the Dong people. These include the big lute used in storytelling, the miniature lute used to play songs of respect for elders, and the guogei, a two-stringed instrument tuned to a perfect fifth. At the Dimen Dong Cultural Eco-Museum, elders carry on their cultural heritage by teaching children in the village to play some of their traditional songs on these musical instruments.

Questions for Discussion

  • Describe the performers you see and hear in the video. What type of clothing are they wearing? What does their music sound like? Does it remind you of anything you have heard before?
  • Visit the website of the Dimen Dong Cultural Eco-Museum to learn more about the Dong people. What is unique about Dong cultural traditions?
  • Dong regions are regarded as an “ocean of poem and song” because music is such an important part of daily life. What musical and storytelling traditions exist in the United States that could be compared to those of the Dong region?