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Khen sound of H’Mong people

Wed, 29 Apr 2015 . Last updated Thu, 25 Jun 2015 09:06

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The khen is played in most of the activities of the H’Mong people. Khen sound of H’Mong people is a unique feature in this mountainous area, leaving unforgettable impressions on visitors once setting foot here.

Nearly 200km from Hanoi to the northwest along National Highway 6, Moc Chau is considered the most beautiful plateau in the northern mountainous region of Vietnam. The beautiful Moc Chau is home to many ethnic groups like H’Mong, Tay, Nung, Dao, Thai…Every group has its own traditions and unique cultural identity. The H’Mong people, like other ethnic groups living in the Northwest, live mainly on agriculture and cultivation of different crops. The agriculture-based life has formed diverse culture for the H’Mong people.

The H’Mong people often live on such highest peaks that they can easily touch clouds. They tie to the mountains and forests for their whole lives. And the thing they always bring with them is “khen” (pan-pipe), a distinctive musical instrument of the H’Mong people. The “khen” sound is like the echo of the mountains, the rivers in harmony with the rhythm of life. The “khen” is not only a kind of musical instrument, but also the soul, the cultural product of the community.

No one knows when the “khen” of the H’Mong people appeared. The legend of the H’Mong people has it that: a family had 6 brothers, who were good at singing and playing flutes. When they were still single, the sound of the flutes they played was so appealing. Later, the brothers got married, so they could not play the flute together any more the sound was not as good as before. The six brothers invented a musical instrument capable of producing more melodic chords. And that is the “khen” of the H’mong people today.

It takes many stages to make a “khen”. The body is made of pinewood or “kim giao” wood. The wooden body is dried and its outer surface polished. Then, the artisan will use a sharp knife to cut the holes where the tubes are joined. The next step is making the tubes from small bamboos. The tubes of different lengths broached to be smooth and beautiful. To make the tubes able to produce sound, a thin brass piece, called the reed, is used. Without experience, it is hard to make a reed. After the reed is filted to the tube, the artisan often checks its sound before joining the tube to the body of the “khen”.

There must be no gap between the tubes and the body. Over time, “khen” has been played on happy occasions of the family, clan, village…For the young generation, “khen” is the means for them to express their love. The “khen” sound shows the physical and spiritual strength of the H’Mong man before the girl he loves. So, right from a young age, the H’Mong boys begin to learn how play “khen” and dance. “Khen” is a unique musical instrument. It is also a prop in the dances. The “khen” sound is never interrupted during the dance.

The H’Mong men have taught the next generations to play “khen” and dance with “khen”. The market day is an occasion for them to show off their talent. The charming girl with shinning smile he meets in the market day steals his heart. If two people feel for each other, they will find a place to talk. Now, the “khen” sound carries what the boy wants to say to the girl. The sunshine, the wind, the waterfalls, the clouds make the H’Mong people liberal and sentimental. For a long time, the “khen” sound has become the tune of dating, the means carrying words of love of a boy to a girl. 

The girl quietly enjoys the enchanting “khen” sound. If she understands the message that the boy wants to convey through the sound, she will requite his love with a leaf horn. Leaf horn is a very simple musical instrument. It is made from a small tough leaf. The girl folds it in half and plays. The haunting sound from the leaf horn shows the harmony of the two souls. They are hand in hand feeling the sweetness of the newly found love.

The love market of the H’Mong people becomes the busiest at night. Every young couple goes to find a private corner. The boy plays “khen” and makes nice movements. The romantic melodies “Wait for me until the season of peach blossoms” will forever echo in the heart of many H’mong girls. Love of H’mong couples comes from the simple but incredibly romantic “khen” sound. The “khen” sound is the start of a pure love. They meet bare their hearts and make a promise.

Due to its important role, “khen” is always kept as a treasure and hug in the solemn place in their house. During Tet holidays, after they finish worshipping ancestors and decorating the house, the H’mong people play “khen” to welcome the new spring. For the H’Mong people, playing “khen” is a way of entertainment. They live with the sound of northwestern mountains. They seem to become younger. The “khen” sound helps boys reach the hearts of young girls.

As for the young people, “khen” is a musical instrument in community events. During Tet, the “khen” sound and dance movements create an inspiring sight. The strong but flexible movements to the accompaniment of “khen” are part of local unique culture. In the powerful “khen” sound, we can feel the sunshine, the wind, the free life of the H’Mong people. And the image of H’Mong guys playing “khen” on the mountain top is always a symbol of the Northwestern mountainous region.


Source: VTC10 - NETVIET

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