Arunachal Pradesh,  Culture

Gong Diaries – The Grandma from the Bugun Tribe who Plays the Mouth Harp

Storyteller – Shaleena Phinya, Himal Prakriti Fellow
Village – Singchung, District – West Kameng
Arunachal Pradesh

Read this story in Hindi

Through this video, Shalina Phinya tells the story of the 102-year-old grandma, Akhimi Phinya – the only woman mouth harp or gong player in the Singchung village. On talking to her, Akhimi shares her story of being born and brought up in the Singchung village and how she made the village her home.

The gong, a musical instrument made of bamboo and played with the mouth, was used in times bygone by lovers as a medium to express their love for each other. Akhimi says that when a boy liked a girl, he would make a comb or a gong with his own hands and gift it to the girl as a symbol of his love. Akhimi recalls that her husband too gifted her a bamboo gong and comb when they got married. In those times, lovers would have a sort of competition among themselves to woo each other, in which dance and music played a significant role. Both the lover and the beloved used to play the musical instrument and dance together. Akhimi says that gong was played in important events, such as weddings and childbirth, but it was not played in cultural programs. 

When asked why she does not teach other people in the village how to play the gong, Akhimi replies –

 “I have been playing it skillfully from a very young age and since then, many people have approached me to learn to play this instrument, but none of them has succeeded in playing it well. Now people don’t come to learn.  I sit here alone and play the gong even today.”

Akhimi’s neighbor, the young Jimbu Murphew, who is fond of writing songs, says that he will compose a song to the tune of the gong and save this musical instrument from going into oblivion and being lost to the village of Singchung.

Meet the storyteller

Shaleena Phinya
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Shaleena Phinya is a wildlife storyteller from the Singchung Bugun Tribe from Arunachal Pradesh. Her medium is film and she makes videos in the local dialect to preserve her culture. She prefers using audio-visual mediums because it is the most relatable for her generation. She has been a fellow with The Green Hub.

शालीना फ़िन्या अरुणाचल प्रदेश की सिंगचुंग बुगुन जनजाति की एक वन्यजीव कहानीकार हैं। उनका माध्यम फिल्म है और वह अपनी संस्कृति को संरक्षित करने के लिए स्थानीय बोली में वीडियो बनाती हैं। वह ऑडियो-विज़ुअल माध्यमों का उपयोग करना पसंद करती हैं क्योंकि यह उनकी पीढ़ी के लिए सबसे अधिक प्रासंगिक है। वह द ग्रीन हब की फेलो रह चुकी है।

Voices of Rural India
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Voices of Rural India is a not-for-profit digital initiative to host curated stories by rural storytellers, in their own voices.

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