Sarawak’s Bisayah Gong Orchestra is known for its unique and soulful music. The full ensemble comprises 19 metalophone instruments which are played by a minimum of 8 musicians. Sizes, shapes and therefore tones vary widely. They include a Dumbak (wooden drum made from hollow-log covered both ends with animal’s skin, usually monitor lizard or goat skin); a one-piece brass gong called taritik; 2 brass gongs called babandil; 4 brass instruments called Agong (gong anak and Indu); 2 Tawak (Ngabuah and Paningkul); 8 Kalantangan; and one Anak Tawak.
In the bygone era, the Bisayah treasured the brass gong as the family heirloom and passed it down from generation to generation. Most importantly, the brass gong was used as a means of communication within the community and those villages up- and down-stream of the Limbang River. The tunes and instruments played commemorated occasions such as marriages, the birth of a child, emergencies, healing ceremonies and funerals. Today the music has largely lost its ritual function and many of the instruments are no longer even manufactured. Group Director Peter Sawal is working to revive the dying tradition and to teach artisans how to craft the gongs once again.
The musicians all come from a village called Kampung Pengkala Madang in Limbang, Sarawak.