The Symbol of a Dong Village: the drum-tower
A drum-tower is a unique building style of Dong, wide spread in Dong areas of Guizhou and Guangxi Provinces. A village or a large family join up to build one drum-tower, as a Dong folk song says, "Before the stockade, build Sa Altar and drum-tower first." Whenever they build a new village, they would build a grand drum-tower first, and then Diaojiaolou Wooden Houses (pile dwellings) around it. Therefore, nowadays there is a grand and eye-catching drum-tower standing in the centre of each Dong village. Large or rich villages may even build four to five drum-towers. Looking at a Dong village, one can see drum-towers, standing high and upright among the Diaojiaolou Wooden houses.
Drum-tower is a wooden construction type, of multiple eaves and pillars--four, six, eight or more pillars. Its craftwork is complex. Four huge and solid old fir logs are the main supporters up to the very top. Around them are 4 - 12 secondary pillars, varying from several meters to dozens of meters. The number of eaves layers varies from five, seven, nine, to eleven, thirteen or fifteen; all are odd numbers. The tower is composed of three parts. The ground part, mostly square although sometimes hexagonal, fenced with railings or not, where there are benches and fire pools, is the practically used part of the tower. The middle part consists of cascading roofs, growing wider and wider from top down. There are wing like angles on every floor, unique and exquisite, like white cranes spreading wings ready to fly. The upper part is an umbrella-like garret of three types: tetragonal, with eight pillars to the ground; hexagonal, twelve; octagonal, sixteen. On heads of the pillars are engraved and painted auspicious dragons and colorful phoenixes; on the outer side of the wall are painted pictures of folk stories; on the eaves angles are painted dragons, phoenixes and other birds flying; at the end of rafters are embedded small mirrors; the erect mast points up to the sky. There are no floors inside the drum-tower, hollow from the ground to the very top. On a higher place hangs a huge bull-skin drum, 3-4 meters long, used for sending a signal for congregation, from which the building gets its name. Such a huge project is very complicated structure. However, the main pillars and secondary pillars and crossbeams are all craftily, firmly and closely connected with each other by treenails, mortises, instead of iron nails. This shows the excellent construction crafts and unique aesthetic taste of the Dong people.
The Drum-tower is the highest construction in a Dong village, a symbol of the village and its culture. As the center of public activities of the village, it has many social functions. Traditionally, important activities are held in the drum-tower, such as general councils, setting village rules, settling disputes and lawsuits, etc. When there is an important issue, the drum is beaten to gather the villagers. When there is fire, thieves or bandits, it is also beaten to call for help. One village strikes the drum, the others respond, from village to village, and then people come to the source of drumming. When at festivals, groups of singers, stage players and Lusheng (a flute-like instrument) player from other villages have arrived, all the villagers, old or young, would gather in the drum-tower, to welcome and see off the guests, as well as dance, sing in an antiphonal manner, competing in playing the Lusheng, and dancing disguised like a tiger or dragon. Therefore, drum-tower plays a very important role in the social life of the Dong people. Nowadays, because of security has been maintained, the drum has lost its informational function. However, it is still a place of councils, festival congregations and communicative activities for young men and girls. In summer, people come here to enjoy the coolness; in summer, they sit around the fire pool, telling stories and singing ancient songs.
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