Bronze drums classification

Two main families of bronze drums existed in Southeast Asia, one continental including south of present China and all Indochina and one insular including southern seas Archipelagos, the relations between the two zones being discussed afterward.Drums of each category could be made in different sizes, including “mini-ones” or “miniatures”, to be put in tombs or to decorate home-altars or to be simple gift.


Continental bronze drums types (Mainland Southeast Asia)

The categories suggested by Franz Heger in 1902 remain the reference even if since then more sophisticated, i.e. controversial, other proposals were made. Among them, at the end of 20th CE, was a Chinese one with 36 categories and a Vietnamese one with six subtypes and 24 styles... neither one manageable in fact. Using the large umbrella of Heger will also avoid to carry any nationalist connotation. Heger distinguished four types of drums: his classification is defined in short below with corresponding schemas used as the basic reference in this book.


Heger I

This old type of drum is characterized by a “mushroom” shaped resonance case, which is sharply divided into three parts. The tympanum is sculpted but without or only late high relief additions like frogs; decoration is arranged in concentric bands surrounding a central star with possibly figures of (often feathered) men, birds or animals, houses or boats. The mantle is fairly straight with semi-circular handles joining the bulbous portion under the tympanum. Lower down, the resonance case had large bands or panels with comparable figures of decoration.

Heger II

The drum outline is less pronounced than in Type I.The handles are generally smaller and often (semi) circular. The tympanum projects a little over the resonance case. The central star is filiform and has generally fewer points than the standard Type I. The decorations zones around contain smaller figures than in Type I and there are usually high relief animals on each quadrant of the tympan. Look “rustic”, often bigger when compared with Heger I.

Heger III

This type of drum is quite distinct from the two above. The lines on the conic mantle are more graceful and less abrupt and the swelling of the upper portion is less pronounced. The decoration of the tympanum which overlaps the resonance case by about two centimeters are smaller and consist mainly of birds, fishes, rosettes and other geometric decoration, with four equidistant high-reliefs snail(s) or frog(s) which can copulate by two to four. At the base could be vegetal designs in relief and/or three-dimensional elephants or snail or shells going down the drum.

Heger IV

This type of drum was a much squatter version with sometimes a kind of simple high-relief bud in the centre of the tympanum instead of a star. No frogs generally, when existing the central “star” had often twelve rays and geometric designs not far from Heger I.

Insular bronze drums types (Islands Southeast Asia)

From the first millenary CE, Indonesia long produced evidence of a new category of drums — not repertoried by F. Heger - called “Pejeng” from an eponymous village, and Moko.


Pejeng drums

Pejeng bronze drum
Pejeng bronze drum

Pejeng drums had a typical “hourglass-like” with three clear lengthened divisions on the mantle wearing pairs of human faces on the upper part with handles and circular geometric motives. On the tympanum figured central knobs or flower or star surrounded or not by concentric desig

“Moko face” decoration of the drum
“Moko face” decoration of the drum

Moko drums

Moko drums, from the same “hourglass family”, are by contrast smallest. Looking Pejeng style, their tympanum is sometimes decorated with a big central star (or flower instead) and designs but their ornament can fully differ from one piece to another, for example the number of handles or their designs’ motives. Originally in bronze they were recently made in brass (copper + zinc) less costly and easier to produce.

Important note: In presence of so many types of drums, in such huge territories and without precise techniques to date them, it is understandable that a lot of question marks and hypotheses were examined. Unfortunately many people including scholars did not wait for sufficient proof before building scenarios based on pure nationalism and often unfair antagonism, their excuse being sometimes to try to save their jobs.
Deliberately in this book we will ignore these fights, at least their dark sides.That means, for example, that we will often refer to Red River Basin and not to South (pre)China or North (pre)Vietnam for creations or discoveries. Other case: the official reference to modern (colonial based)frontiers makes no sense when an old drum is found near the right or the left bank of Mekong river bordering nowadays Myanmar or Laos or Thailand or Cambodia or Vietnam …of course it was the same culture and territory.
So doing will be the best way to ensure objectivity, if not “hygiene” at times said, country by country and globally.
Dimensions will be given in centimeters (cm) for diameter (D) and height (H). It will be spoken of <cluster> for the main areas of drums’ birth place.