Dong Villages: Drum Towers Draw People Together

Culture

Dong Villages: Drum Towers Draw People Together

by Live in Guizhou


PUBLISHED Nov 16, 2021 • 4MIN READ

Drum towers are an identifying feature of Dong villages. Wherever there is a stockaded Dong village, there is a drum tower. A drum tower is an entirely wooden structure built in the shape of a cedar tree. The drum tower is the tallest building in every Dong village, and is named thus due to the presence of a drum within its confines.

It is the traditional communal gathering place for every major celebration event or meeting. Usually, it is also a place where local villagers enjoy time meeting and interacting together and celebrating common festivals. Dong people’s culture is so closely related with drum towers that every major social activity is held under this roof, thus turning the drum tower into the embodiment of their culture. Dong culture has also been called the drum tower culture.

Inside each drum tower, four four-legged rectangular benches surround what is called the fire pond or fire pit in the middle inlaid with bluestone. There are four thick main pillars on each side of the fire pit that extend up to the roof, and 12 supporting pillars, representing four seasons and 12 months. The successive levels of the building structure scale up in a manner so as to leave the center open. The large open space around the drum tower is the public meeting area for the Dong people residing in the village.

The drum tower spiritually signifies prosperity, good luck, and unity; it is the symbol of the Dong ethnicity, their village and family name. Drum towers have quietly recorded each moment of the Dong people’s lives, from relaxed and sweet moments when young people are expressing their love in song for one another, to serious occasions when the elders of the village make major decisions. Wedding ceremonies and funerals are also held here, making it the place of collective joy, celebration, and sorrow for the village. Nevertheless, the original purpose of the drum tower in ancient history was to sound the alarm in case of an approaching invading enemy and call for help from surrounding villages.

The most festive period of the year here is the Sama festival. Sama is the name of a heroine in the ancient matriarchal society of the Dong people. On the day of the festival, the environment is very lively, and Dong people come together to remember this heroine and pray for a prosperous future and good harvests.

On both sides of the Zhaoxing River, stilt houses covered with small green tiles can be seen here and there arranged in no particular order. The climate here is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The Dong people have lived by the quiet river for many generations. Between houses occasionally lies an old guesthouse with a wooden placard bearing the inn’s name hung over the front entrance, making it quite eye-catching. Life along both sides of the river is quieter than that around the drum tower. (Source:China Today)