Khen - Traditional Musical Instruments of the Hmong ethnic group

Nga Do
The khen is played in most of the activities of the H’Mong people. Khen sound of H’Mong people is a unique feature in this mountainous area, leaving unforgettable impressions on visitors once setting foot here. For the Hmong people, the khen sound is a dispensable thing in their life. The “khen” of Hmong has unique features making the Hmong identity. Its sound not only wins the hearts of most Hmong people, but also captivates those who once enjoyed.

The Khen is a polyphonic instrument in the shape of a set of bamboo pipes of varying sizes that are arranged in two rows. Each pipe is fitted with a reed made of a thin strip of copper. The section of the pipes with the reed lies inside the wooden air-chamber. The part of the pipe lying outside it shows a finger-hole. The pipe into which the player blows lies at right angles with the pipes with finger holes. The sound of the khen is not very clear but quite strong, nonetheless; the deepest notes are rather dull.

The Mong play the khen on various occasions, including funerals where it is accompanied by drums. When the khen is played by one person the soloist accompanies the music with dancing in which much vigorous knee-bending, body-turning, kicking, etc., is performed.

The Hmong ethnic group in Vietnam has 5 branches: the white Hmong, the Mong Hoa, the Red Hmong and the Blue Hmong people. The Hmong people usually reside on the hills at the attitude of 800 meters – 1500 meters above the sea level. They have a liberal life and love nature. The village of the Hmong people is always filed with the sweet sound of “khen” as the melody of the life in the mountainous area. Houses of the Hmong people look like bird nests on the slopes. The road to the village is meandering. The hard weather has created their strong personality. They have together grown corn in the poor soil. The corn grows from their sweat.

They bring “khen” to the fields with them to dispel the tiredness among the wild mountains. The “khen” sound is like human voice. The life of the Hmong people is calculated by the corn seasons. They live on the nature, so that they have enough food to eat when they have a bumper crop, sometimes they have a poor crop. The “khen” is always by their side in any circumstance. The “khen” sound echoes by the fire warming their heart.

The “khen” sound is the sound of mountains and forests, expressing the liberal soul of the Hmong people. It has long been the means carrying words of love of Hmong boys and girls. That sound has penetrated into veins of the Hmong people. It is a part of their soul. Keeping the “khen” sound means keeping the identity of their ethnic group. The Hmong people have a saying: those who can play “khen” are allowed to drink wine. That is show the important position of “khen” in their life. Every Hmong man, old or young, always brings “khen” along with them. Through the “khen” sound, we can know the physical strength and the spiritual life of the player. The Hmong people are proud of their “khen” and “khen” dance.

To immerse yourself in the Khmer melody with the unique dance of the Hmong, a trip to Northwest Vietnam in addition to discover the unique cultural features you will enjoy the charm of some species of flowers this March:

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