Sepulchre Statues in the Central Highlands

Located in the cultural space of the Gongs in the Central Highlands, which was recognized as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, sepulchre statues are evaluated as unique masterpieces of the art and spiritual culture of the ethnic groups in the area.

According to the belief of the ethnic groups of Bahnar and Jarai in the Central Highlands, the statues are used for bidding farewell to the dead to A Tau (the Ghost). The statues are decorated around sepulchres, serving as a bridge to link the living and the dead. The statues are made with different postures depicting actions of human from birth until death, such as statues hiding their faces, mother carrying a child in her arms, statues pounding rice and familiar animals. Therefore, those lively statues reintroduce the daily life of the community. 

Artisans create unique works from tree trunks.

Sepulchre statues are displayed at the Mang Den National Eco-tourism Complex in Kon Tum Province.
Sepulchre statues bring a mysterious beauty to the Mang Den National Eco-tourism Complex. .

The familiar image of Gui (rattan basket)…

…and daily activities of the ethnic people are reflected through spulchre statues.


Monkey eats corn in the field”.


Diverse emotion on faces of the statues.

A statue shows the community culture in the  Central Highlands.

Artisan Kpa Phi (in Sa Thay District, Kon Tum Province)
and his work.
Materials for sculpting the statues are valuable types of wood such as Burma Padauk (Pterocarpus macrocarpus) and Ca chit (Shorea roxburghii) which are durable despite being exposed to rain and sunlight for a long time. Before sculpting statues, artisans have to worship the genies of the Rong house (traditional communal house of people in the Central Highlands) and the water wharf to ask for their permission.

Regarding the art of sculpting, sepulchre statues are cylindrical, however, the way of sculpting statues using simple tools such as axes and hooks helps create unique shapes and reveal the mien of characters. Although the statues are made simply, viewers still easily perceive the soul of each statue.

The distinctive feature is that the statues are different than the others and there is only one version for a statue which has its own posture and feeling. These statues are created without any designs and drawings and each artisan has his own technique which is handed down orally.

To preserve and promote the unique art of the ethnic groups in the Central Highlands, the provinces in the area have made joint efforts to organize training courses to hand down techniques on sculpting sepulchre statues for the next generation.

Story: Nguyen Vu Thanh Dat – Photos: Nguyen Luan