BRONZE DRUMS OF SOUTH-EAST ASIA
CAMBODIA– CHINA – LAOS– INDONESIA (Bali) –MALAYSIA –
MYANMAR (Burma) – THAILAND –VIETNAM
Jacques de Guerny
The Bronze Age was born when technical progress to make alloys from copper and to produce sufficiently high temperatures were successfully achieved, first in the Middle East and then in China during the second and the first millennia bce*
and soon in southern Asia. This progression occurred at the end of the so-called last Neolithic age with the beginning of sedentary agriculture and stronger hierarchies governing villages rich enough to implement innovations.
The first bronze products were only copies of the most useful tools existing in stone or bone or wood: axes, arrows, hooks, kettles…In a second step, bronze artefacts involved “higher” goals, going from profane jewelry, bracelets, collars, rings, up to possibly religious purposes with the birth of a kind of “ceremonial bronze family” of sculpted urns or bells or gongs or drums. Dedicated to Southeast Asia, bronze drums were globally composed of a circular top so-said tympanum or tympan covering a near-cylindrical hollow base or mantle with a lot of synonymous words depending on the regions or times. (Fig.1)
Bronze appeared ideal to make stronger and more durable drums, bestowing prestige on their owners and their devotees often with totemic sculpted images such as frogs to possibly beg for rain or other designs. By so doing, humans gave drums new missions, not only to emit sounds, maybe impressive like thunder to intimidate the enemy or to catch the favourable attention of any spirits, but also as a reminder of crucial values. Possibly they became a kind of go-between from humans to Gods-tools to communicate with the other worlds and primarily ancestors with drums or part of them put in tombs to escort the deceased. Consequently, their study must not only record technical evolution from their origins, to be discussed, but also ethical aspects, usages, and trade-never forgetting their evident beauty.
To try to find final opinions, and avoid too many errors in absence of writings, archaeology must be helped by other disciplines such as geography, history, along with linguistics and sociology of the regions under examination (Fig. 2)
“ Be that as it may, drums were part of the final sophistication of the Bronze Age in Asia, avatar of one of the oldest musical instruments ever created and popular until now in human lives and beliefs, Therefore, fascinated, I decided to investigate the “Bronze Drum Case” not only to consider the existing studies but to visit all specific countries involved, with the help of the best scholars and local people. My purpose was not to write a new thesis but to relate, as objectively as possible with simple words, a wonderful but until now little known story if not odyssey. To give to the readers and maybe visitors some keys to understand and hopefully join me to become a Bronze Drums’ lover.” (J. de G.)
*bce = Before common
1 Era (before Jesus-Christ) and
*ce = Common Era (after J.C.)