This photograph, taken from the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA)’s book on living traditions in the Philippines, is of a trainee artisan as he pounds a brass plate into the shape of a gangsa, a round, smooth-surfaced handheld gong used by the Cordillera peoples in the Benguet region of Luzon.
The gangsa has been used in Benguet social events for centuries, with instances of the gong being used in Western exhibitions of the Philippines during the early 20th century (see References for examples of this). Multiple metals have been used to create these gongs throughout the history of the region, such as bronze, and iron, though today they are usually created from brass due to greater sound quality. According to the artisans of Mankayan, Benguet, the gongs are created through the aid of a hammer and anvil, heated up, then pounded and bent using a metal cylinder to create a particular sound, often depending on its placement in an ensemble. When complete, it is then polished and given a handle, usually tied to the gong through a rope and made out of wood, metal, or bone before being used typically by Benguet men. The practice of creating these gongs cannot be replicated by machine, as the tuning process and pounding of the metal into a particular sound requires years of training, which has led to certain gongs being treated as heirlooms by families in the region, but also the practice of creating them slowly dying out as the years have passed. Efforts have been made however in conjunction with the Philippine government to bring in outsiders from Benguet to learn the skills of creating these gongs to keep the tradition alive.
Credits / copyrights
Everyday Culture: Our Schools of Living Traditions by National Commission for Culture and the Arts (2022)
Katunog Indigenous Philippine Indigenous Sounds Database – Gangsa
Linden-Museum Stuttgart Collections Online – Gangsa
Gangsa refers to a small gong, usually used as part of cultural dances and celebrations. A complete set of gansa traditionally includes seven gongs that increase in size. The term itself is used to refer to another metallic musical instrument in Indonesia, used for their traditional Gamelan ensemble performances.