Bronze gong drum

Karen klo (Khamu yaan, rpal)

Karen klo used in ceremony near Wat Chan

consists of a hollow cylinder one or two feet high with curving sides with one end covered by a flat plate of thinly beaten bronze. Normally it is suspended and often carried on poles; the plate is struck with a heavy stick. It is customarily decorated with small tree frogs, an engraved star and concentric circles in which are birds, fishes, other animals and symbols.  A large number of frogs on the striking surface indicates a gong of high value.

Historical records show it in use as early as the 4th century BC in China, later in Vietnam and they have for many years been used by the Karen. Mien people also use it in China, primarily on three occasions: to summon the souls of the ancestors for the New Year; when somebody of more than five years of age becomes ill; or when a person dies.

The Khamu yaan is traditionally stored in the forest and played to call the spirits of the ancestors at funerals, buffalo sacrifices and house-building ceremonies.

Khamu yaan Luang Namtha museum

Karen ceremony (photograph Victoria Vorreiter)

The Karen regard it traditionally as calling the ancestor spirits to important occasions as well as inducing rain. They are now played only when there is a major Karen ceremony, often to accompany formal dancing.  They are held in great regard and never played outside a formal occasion.

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