Guide to Agung

An Agung is a percussion instrument used by the ethnic groups in the Philippines. These ethnic groups, including the Maguindanao, Sama-Bajau, Maranao, and Tausug people,use the Agung as a support instrument for the kulintang ensemble, a row of small gongs that functionmelodically. The instrument Agung is a set of wide-rimmed gongs that were suspended vertically.

Aside from the ethnic groups mentioned above, the Agung is also presented as a part of the agung orchestra in some groups found in Mindoro, Panay, Mindanao, Palawan, Sabah, and Sarawak Malaysia, as well as in Sulawesi and Kalimantan, Indonesia.

According to the scholars, the Agung came from Indonesia. In fact, the word agung is derived from an Indonesian and Javanese word ‘ageng.’ Furthermore, a British explorer named Thomas Forrest had brought forth supporting evidence regarding the origin of the said instrument. In 1770, Forrest wrote that Filipinos were fond of gongs that have round knobs that came from Java, an island in Indonesia.

What Does the Agung Look Like?

The Agung is a large kettle-shaped gong that produces a bass sound. This type of instrument usually weighs about thirteen to sixteen pounds. Although there were agungs that weigh twenty to thirty pounds, there is also an agung instrument that weighs only five pounds. The weight of an agung mainly depends on the metal used in making these instruments. Some metals used were usually brass, iron, or bronze.

Furthermore, the agung’s diameter was roughly about twenty-two to twenty-four inches (560 mm to 610 mm) in length. Meanwhile, their width is about twelve to thirteen inches, including the agung’s knob.

These types of instruments were hung vertically and were tied by a rope, fastened in the ceiling, in the beam of a house, or in any structures that have a strong foundation. As it was mentioned, the Agung is a set of kettle-like gongs. The first gong is the largest among the two. It is also the low-pitched agung that is called the pangandungan in Maguindanao and p’nanggisa-an in Maranao. On the other hand, the second gong is smaller and higher-pitched. This gong is called the panentekan in Maguindanao and p’malsan in Maranao. It is usually played on the left while the bigger gong was played on the right.

How is the Agung Played?

The Agung is a gong instrument that is usually played while standing beside the instrument. After that, the player holds the edge of the instrument between their thumb and other fingers using the left hand while striking the knob using the right hand. The mallet used in hitting the agung was called Balu, which is made out of a short stick padded with tough rubber at one end.

The number of mallets used in performance depends on the techniques used by the player. For most of the occasions, only one mallet is used. However, the player could use two mallets in each hand in performing other techniques. In addition to these techniques, an agung performer could even do a more interesting performance by playing an agung in reverse order of pitches. Also, a technique called patuy and most of the performances that require two mallets were usually reserved for exhibitions and competitions.

How is the Agung Use?

Interestingly, aside from being an ensemble of kulintang, the instrument Agung is also used by young males to interact with young, unmarried women. Since the Maranao and Maguindanao people strictly adhere to the Islamic customs, opposite sexes were prohibited to date or have a casual conversation. Consequently, by performing, opposite sexes were able to create a connection. However, the rhythmic mode of the Sinulog a kamamatuan and duyog, allowed the agung players to serenade the young and unmarried women.

Moreover, agung is also used in solo contests and competitions. During the contest, players usually perform two or more playing techniques that were previously mentioned above. Aside from that, the agung instrument was also used for signaling others of the impending dangers. It is also used in announcing the time as well as other important occasions. For instance, the sultan would ring the agung in announcing the onset of a meeting and during the fasting month of Ramadhan.