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Bảo tàng lịch sử Quốc gia

Vietnam National Museum of History

10/01/2019 15:52 3864
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Artifacts recognized as National Treasure must be precious and unique. Like human, they can tell us much more stories.

 Artifacts recognized as National Treasure must be precious and unique. Like human, they can tell us much more stories.

Hoang Ha bronze drum is considered vice-miss among Dong Son bronze drums. This is very beauty drum which is inferior in beauty and celebrity only to Ngoc Lu bronze drum. The drum body is divided into 3 segments, it has a face diameter of 78.5 cm, a height of 61.5 cm, the 16 pointed star and 15 round ornaments are engraved on the face of the drum which are ornaments of 14 stylistic birds with long beaks, legs and broadened tails; stylistic humans bearing spears, axes and pipes in the backdrop of living celebration;  2 stilt houses, one with birds standing on curved roof, inside the house a scene of 2 men beating leather drum and a couple playing clapping game, in another house a scene of 4 men beating bronze drums, near of them a couple mills rice; 2 symmetric houses stilt houses against center with birds standing on curved roofs.
It seems ancient masters wanted to signify the festive atmosphere that was like the celebration of Vietnamese Highland ethnic minorities today.


Hoang Ha bronze drum

Ornament of human rowing boat and bird with its prey in beak


Lowland in the south of Hanoi was not inhabited until the Dong Son era, afterwards people from high land came to live and the Hoang Ha bronze drum was found there

 Ornaments on drum’s body are: 6 boats with the patterns of men beating drum, men wearing feather hats and spears, men carrying paddles. Each boat has 2 storeys, in upper storey the pattern of man aiming bow, in lower storey the pattern of drums and a man one hand grabbing another naked man by the hair, another hand rising spear like the scene of killing captive for sacrifice. Between boats the pattern of birds and under boats the pattern of moving fishes. In the drum’s body also the pattern of stylistic warriors with feather decoration carrying axes.

Related to Dong Son culture, the ornaments of Hoang Ha bronze drum are describing real scenes of life. Every type of ornaments has a certain meaning which scholars at home and abroad interpreted in different ways. The understanding of art is always ambiguous in the past and now.

The man who first considered Hoang Ha bronze drum as a calendar tool of ancient Vietnamese is the Vietnamese researcher Bui Huy Hong. In his opinion the drum could be used for determining of equinoxes or winter and summer solstices according to ornaments on drum’s face. He provided an experiment more than 40 years ago: set the drums on horizontal surface and vertical stake of 345 mm high in the center of the drum’s face (stake for measuring sunlight shadow in present time), he learned that the equinoxes will occur when the shadow of the stake end in midday lays on the middle of ornament arc of the drum. He considered the drum is a sun watch and calendar from Hung king’s time.

This interpretation by Bui Huy Hong caused many discussions among scholars.  We don’t exactly know whether the ancient people used the drum as a calendar, but apparently this is one of the attempts to decode the ornaments of the drum. Ancient Vietnamese created these ornaments not just for beauty, scholars believed that the 16 pointed star is the sun and warriors carrying armaments around the star participate in a festive ritual perhaps it was a ritual of sacrifice of a bull or a buffalo as described in another Dong Son bronze drum the scene of tightly tied bull and man raising axe. In the Hoang Ha drum is also the scene of sacrifice of a captive on boat which is believed to be associated with the rain-giving ritual, a popular ritual in many regions of ancient Vietnam.

Hoang Ha bronze drum also helps the researchers to comprehend the location of present Hanoi more tha 2000 years ago. The drum was found in the depth of 1.5 m ground July 13 1937 while digging irrigation channel in Noi commune, Hoang Ha ward, Phu Xuyen district. The most significant fact is the drum was found in the earth which evidences that the owners of the drum was local people, they used and buried the drum themselves and the drum was not brought here from another place by strangers, this assumption is confirmed by the fragment of drum mould which was found not long ago.

The discovery of Hoang Ha bronze drum in Phu Xuyen discrict helps the archeologists learn more about this land. About 5000 years ago the area of present-day Hanoi was under the sea level and was covered with water, 4000 years ago the sea was gone and flatland was gradually appeared, people from highland came to live there. Some of the ancient communities left their relics in the ground as stone and bronze implements. However not everywhere the ancient people could establish their homes, in low land areas of the current 4 suburban districts of Hanoi of Phú Xuyên, Thanh Oai, Ứng Hòa, Mỹ Đức they could not build their homes, no relict before Dong Son era was found which confirms the presence of human there at those times. Only 2000 years ago these lowlands were risen higher by alluvial so that people could come to live caused demographic boom there, they were thus the author of Hoang Ha bronze drums. Perhaps the drum was used in celebration events and was buried as burial belonging to the dead. Hoang ha bronze drum in Phu Xuyen ground serves as an evidence of Dong Son culture, whose people, in their own sweat, colonized and turned the lowland south of Hanoi into a rich rice field, as seen today.

Colonization of flatland by ancient Vietnamese lasted thousands of years after the era of Hoang Ha drum. Phu Xuyen lowland and Ha Nam lowland where Hoang Ha and Ngoc Lu bronze drums were found are most difficult to cultivate agriculture even today, however people there could survive and create masterpieces as bronze drums which contribute to Vietnam cultural heritage as National treasures.

Associated professor: Trịnh Sinh

Translator: Nguyen Thai Hung