Wooden Drum of Wa Ethnic Minority

Wooden Drum: A Magical Instrument to Connecting with God for Wa People

“Kong Lang… Kong Lang…”, at nightfall, bold drum is played in the area where Wa people live in. People at all ages, men and women, together around a flaming fire, jump and sing in the hair-swaying dance on the square. On May 2, a wooden dance performance was shown in the Ximeng Longtan Lake Scenic Area. Accompanied by the sound of drums, people felt the magic culture charm from Wa people.


Wa people believe that “everything is given by the god and everything is decided by the god. Shelter from the god can only be given to us if we serve the god.” Thus Wa people see the “sacrificial offering for connecting with the god” as a very important rite in their folk custom. Wooden drums are regarded as a sacrificial tool to connect with the god, thus it has an important position in the life of Wa people, and later it derives the “Wooden Drum Dance”.

You will see wooden drums in the life of Wa people in the region of Ximeng, Pu’er and Cangyuan, Lincang, Yunnan.

Wooden Drum is called “Kong Lang Kong” in the Wa language. According to the records in the creation epic “Si Gang Li” in Wa history, in the ancient times, the A’wa Mountain was suffered from a flood disaster, and the flood swallowed up all living creatures on the land, then the god of creation Shemuyiji threw a piece of wooden trough in the flood and saved the A’wa people. From then on, the ancient Wa people revered the wooden trough as the mother of them, and they put the soul of Shenmuyiji in a wooden-made container, which was the prototype of the wooden drums.

As the change of the eras, the wooden drum used in the ritual activities to pray for the peace of people and good harvest, has become one of the musical instruments of the Wa people in daily song and dance entertainment, leaving its primitive religious colour gradually faded out.

“Wooden Drum Dance”, being generally referred to as a joint name of a series of folk dances of the Wa people, is one of the dance performances in A’wa people’s daily life, mainly including Wooden Drum Dance, Sword Dance, Hair-Swaying Dance etc., and the wooden drum is the main accompaniment musical instrument for these dances. “Wooden Drum Dance” then accordingly became a part of the Wa culture.


Making of “Magical Instrument”

Wooden drum is the crystallization of the wisdom of the Wa ancients. According to introduction, a wooden drum is generally made from an entire section of bulky log, and hard wood trees such as Malaoying trees and red leave trees are preferred.

The maker will dig a narrow and long sound hole in the middle part of the log and then dig from both ends to the middle to form the drum belly deep in middle and shallow at both ends. The drum surface is made of cowhide, with 20 wooden handles under and surround the drum. Inside the drum are flat and long sound hole with drum tongue and drum teeth. At both ends there is a sound trough narrow in middle and wide at both ends and a square sound window. Two drum strikes (at the length between 0.4 m and 0.43 m) are used for beating the drum.

It is reported that wooden drums are divided into two categories: the male ones and the female ones. The former, with a low syllable and thick timbre, is made from Malaoying tree. The latter, with a high syllable and clear timbre, is made from red leave tree. The making processes of the male ones and the female ones are roughly the same, except the size of the female ones are a bit smaller than the male ones.

The wooden drum embodies the connotation of Wa culture, which is very important for the heritage and study of Wa people’s traditional culture. The area where Wa people live in will also strengthen the protection of wooden drums to inherit the Wa culture contained in the wooden drums.