The Lithophone or Dan Da as it is commonly known in Vietnam is a very basic musical instrument. It is actually a series of resonant stones which make a special sound when they are struck. The stones are of differing shapes and sizes but of course, they are special stones. They come from the mountains just south of Central Vietnam or in the eastern part of South Vietnam. It was discovered by a Frenchman in 1949, Georges Condominas in Dak Lak. There were 11 stones in this most ancient of musical instruments. This find is exhibited in a museum in French; they were the colonial masters who were finally defeated by Ho Chi Minh’s forces 5 years later at Dien Bien Phu.
Subsequently a few more lithophones were found in Song Be and Khanh Hoa. On examination, they were at least 4,000 years old, and possibly up to 10,000 years old. More and more continued to be found and by 1990 there were 200 lithophone slabs from Khanh Hoa, Dong Nai, Ninh Thuan, Binh Phuoc, Lam Dong, Dak Lak and Phu Yen Provinces. They varied in size from three to fifteen stones. Some can be found exhibited so if you are visiting a museum during your travels in Vietnam, you may well see one.
It took skill to fashion the stones into a shape where they would produce a melodious sound. Even today, they can be played by using a wooden mallet.
The stones are regarded as sacred by some groups and are still played on special occasions, especially when villagers are contacting their gods. Other groups use the stone for non-musical things, usually related to crop protection. Vietnam tour packages can be designed to meet the specific interests of clients; if your interest is music, ask about the Dan Da.
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