The Spirited Gongs of the Philippines

The exotic sounds of gongs enchant many tourists who travel to the Philippines. Unchanged by the modern ways, a wide variety of gongs are used until the present day.

The exotic sounds of gongs enchant many tourists who travel to the Philippines. These metal instruments, usually made of brass, are used by Filipinos as means of entertainment or as an important part of worship, ceremonies and various religious rituals practiced even centuries ago. Unchanged by the modern ways, a wide variety of gongs are used until the present day.

Gongs from the North

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Widely used among the Igorots is the gangsa. This is made of metal such as copper and brass, sometimes with a mixture of gold. It is flat-topped with a straight rim. Various sizes are used for a gangsa ensemble, a group of five or six players who perform their rhythms to accompany dancers. The gongs are beaten with the hands or with a padded stick and may be carried hung from a string or placed on the lap. Exciting rhythms are produced by the gangsa.

Gongs from the South

Southern Philippines is a region replete with the beauty and mysticism of the past. Gong playing is part of the centuries-old culture of many groups of Filipinos in this region. Several types of gongs are found in this part of the country. Among these are the Manobo and the Maguindanaon gongs.

In the mountains of Cotabato, Agusan, Davao, and Bukidnon where the Manobo reside, gongs resound in patterns of rhythm and melody. These gongs have a small node, called boss, on top. Some Manobo gong ensembles may have five gongs played by five players. Others consist of eight or ten gongs of different sizes which are suspended on a frame. Two or three players play their patterns on their respective gongs. The ten-gong ensemble is called the ahong.

A different type of gong ensemble may be heard among the Maguindanaon. Large groups of these Muslim Filipinos dwell in many parts of Minadano particularly around the Cotabato river area. There are four types of gongs all with a boss on top. These are the kulintang, gandingan, agong, and babandil.

The kulintang consists of eight gongs of varied sizes placed in a row on a stand. The player uses two wooden beaters to strike melody patterns on five gongs.

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Two pairs of narrow-rimmed gongs of different sizes suspended on a frame make up the gandingan. The gongs are struck by a player to produce melodic-rhythmic patterns.

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The agong is the largest and deepest-rimmed gong of the ensemble, thus producing a low pitch. It is struck with a padded stick. The ensemble may have one or two agongs.

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The babandil has a narrow rim and a smaller boss. Rhythmic patterns are produced by striking the rim.

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The palabunibunyan is a complete gong ensemble which includes the dabakan, the only instrument which is not a gong. The dabakan is a drum made from a hollowed tree trunk and with goat skin being used for the head of the drum. Feasts, official functions, and family celebrations are usually accompanied by the palabunibunyan playing.

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