When mentioned, Kon Tum often evokes images of the picturesque Lake Village nestled along the upstream of the Đăk Bla River, resonating with the sound of gongs and bells echoing across the vast landscape, accompanied by the towering communal Rong houses. Yet, few are aware that amidst this mountainous city, the rustic cultural essence of village life, intertwined with ancient communal houses, still perseveres.

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In the customs of the lowland inhabitants, communal houses serve as places of worship for village deities or ancestral figures according to the feudal customs of bygone eras. These houses also act as the community's central hub, serving as venues for gatherings and village ceremonies. Thus, communal houses have become not only familiar spiritual sanctuaries but also the soulful refuge of Vietnamese rural dwellers.

Nestled within Kon Tum's urban landscape, ancient communal houses like Trung Lương, Võ Lâm, Lương Khế... remain integral parts of the city's verdant scenery. With a history spanning over 140 years, Trung Lương Communal House stands as one of Kon Tum's earliest communal houses, deeply intertwined with the lives and people of the ancient Trung Lương village.

Recollections of these communal houses bring to mind serene sunny afternoons beneath the shade of ancient trees, the melodious chirping of cicadas, tranquil lotus ponds, and the simple yet heartwarming moments of rural life.

Trung Lương Communal House, located in Quyết Thắng Ward, Kon Tum City, was constructed 140 years ago.

According to Mr. Quách Vĩnh Kinh (90 years old), Head of the Trung Lương Communal House Management Committee, in 1879, many people from Bình Định province migrated to Kon Tum to seek a livelihood. To establish a communal space, they began constructing this communal house. Initially, the house was built with bamboo, thatch, and leaves to worship the village guardian deity, Thành Hoàng Bổn Cẩn.

As the community flourished, with contributions from the locals, Trung Lương Communal House was rebuilt in 1917 using bricks and tiles, exhibiting a more dignified appearance. Over a century later, after several renovations, the architectural essence of the communal house has been preserved.

Beyond its cultural and spiritual significance, Trung Lương Communal House also houses artifacts of historical and cultural value, some dating back hundreds of years, such as a wooden pestle from 1879, a gong stand, a horizontal lacquered board, and two trays believed to be around 100 years old.

"After the liberation of the South and the reunification of the country in 1975, any repairs or renovations to Trung Lương Communal House required approval from the village assembly and subsequently from the state authorities. Both the state and the community pooled resources for construction. In 2007, Trung Lương Communal House was officially recognized by the provincial People's Committee as a Provincial Historical and Cultural Relic," Mr. Quách Vĩnh Kinh added.

Although appearing later than Trung Lương Communal House, Lương Khế Communal House (located in Thống Nhất Ward, Kon Tum City) also boasts a history of over 100 years.

The historical and cultural relic of Lương Khế Communal House, situated in Thống Nhất Ward, Kon Tum City.

According to the accounts of the elders and certain documents preserved at Lương Khế Communal House today, the first settlers arrived in Kon Tum around mid-1894. They originated from Bình Định province, specifically from Phủ Bình Khê and Phù Mỹ, and traveled along National Highway 19, crossing the An Khê and Mang Giang passes (in Gia Lai province), until they halted by the Đăk Bla River to establish a new village.

Intimately connected with the village of Lương Khế is its namesake communal house. Initially, the villagers erected a small shrine. Responding to the wishes of the early settlers, in 1913, they collectively built Lương Khế Communal House for the worship of the village guardian deity, the Hung Kings, and the ancestral spirits.

Although constructed later than Trung Lương and Lương Khế Communal Houses, Võ Lâm Communal House (located in Quyết Thắng Ward, Kon Tum City) still retains its distinctive "Đinh" architectural layout, comprising a forecourt, main hall, ancestor worship hall, and communal house.

According to the book "Kon Tum - Historical and Scenic Sites," Võ Lâm Communal House was built in 1935 on a 1,000m2 area. It served as a communal activity space and a place for ancestral worship, including deities and guardian spirits. Later, it became a place of worship for the village guardian deity, Võ Chuẩn. The name "Võ Lâm" originates from the Võ family name of Võ Chuẩn, to honor his contributions to land expansion. "Lâm" means forest, symbolizing Kon Tum's early days, surrounded by forests.

Preserving the cultural essence of ancient communal houses is vital. The existence of these houses today, with their historical and cultural significance, plays a crucial role in the historical development of Kon Tum's mountainous region.

These ancient communal houses represent the cultural integration of the Kinh people within the diverse cultural landscape of ethnic communities in Kon Tum province. Recognizing their importance, the provincial People's Committee has consecutively recognized Trung Lương, Võ Lâm, and Lương Khế Communal Houses as Provincial Historical and Cultural Relics.

Aside from material cultural heritage preservation, intangible cultural heritage, such as ritual ceremonies at these communal houses, continues to be upheld and safeguarded by the local community.

Among these ceremonies, the Spring Festival stands out as one of the largest annual rituals, organized by villages at communal houses. It features culturally rich and diverse ritual practices with profound folk beliefs.

The deity worship ceremony at Võ Lâm Communal House, located in Quyết Thắng Ward, Kon Tum City.

The Spring Festival celebrations at the aforementioned ancient communal houses in the mountainous city of Kon Tum typically span from the 9th to the 15th of the lunar month, annually. The choice of these dates for the Spring Festival is rooted in agricultural practices, as this period marks the completion of the winter-spring crop harvest, offering a window of leisure before the commencement of the new agricultural season.

Although the dates of the festivities vary, the ritual ceremonies conducted at these ancient communal houses share fundamental similarities. The Spring Festival rituals usually commence from 10:00 PM on the preceding day and last until 1:00 AM the following day. These rituals include ceremonies to worship deities, ancestral spirits, and offerings to honor ancestors.

Preparations for the Spring Festival ceremonies at these communal houses begin days in advance. The entire communal house and its premises are cleaned and adorned with ceremonial flags. Offerings for the ceremony, aside from incense, candles, tea, fruits, and alcohol, may also include livestock, ensuring that all offerings are of high quality.

During the Spring Festival ceremonies, amidst solemn rituals and the fragrance of incense, the presiding ritual master, clad in ceremonial attire, leads the proceedings, while representatives of the village assist in the rituals.

The first ceremony typically involves welcoming the deity, signifying the deity's visitation to the village and observing the communal life of the villagers, followed by the main deity worship ceremony. The primary responsibility during the ceremony rests with the ritual master, assisted by ritual assistants. All ritual actions follow the commands of two ritual masters positioned on either side of the main altar.

As the ceremony begins, the ritual master offers the first offerings at the altar, followed by alternating offerings from the management committee. After three beats of the wooden drum and three strikes of the gong, ceremonial music fills the air, and the offering of incense, alcohol pouring, and tea serving commences. Following the offering of incense and alcohol, the ritual committee kneels down to recite ceremonial texts amidst the solemn ambiance of the ritual music.

Following the deity worship ceremony are ceremonies to honor ancestors and ancestral spirits. While these ceremonies are relatively simpler, they are equally dignified.

The conclusion of the rituals marks the commencement of communal festivities. Over time, traditional performances by village troupes during the festivities have been replaced by gatherings of local residents and distant relatives, who come together at the communal house courtyard to share meals and exchange stories of joy and sorrow in life.

Mr. Nguyễn Thái Sơn, Head of the Võ Lâm Communal House Management Committee, shares that the purpose of the Spring Festival is to seek blessings for the village's peace and prosperity. Each village conducts deity worship to honor the contributions of their ancestors and predecessors, paving the way for future generations to inherit. Thus, every year, villages continue to organize these ceremonies.

While the 7th lunar month is not a significant festival period, the management committees of the aforementioned communal houses still conduct rituals to pray for favorable weather conditions and national prosperity.

Alongside cultural landmarks and festivals of ethnic minority communities such as Ba Na, Xơ Đăng, and Giẻ Triêng in the "mountain city," the existence of these ancient communal houses and the continuation of communal house worship ceremonies and Spring Festival celebrations among the Kinh people hold special significance. They serve to educate and preserve traditions and history while reinforcing the sacred bond among all members of the community.

Above all, amidst the vibrant atmosphere of a young urban center, these ancient communal houses in the heart of Kon Tum's mountainous city stand as serene sanctuaries, providing a place of tranquility and nostalgia for those born in the village, offering a place of remembrance when they venture far from home.