The Ncaas (pronounced 'chaang') is the traditional jaw harp of the Hmong, an indigenous people living in the mountainous regions of southern China, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. They are best known for their colourful and ornamental clothing, opium cultivation and their role in the Vietnam War. Even today, countless metal remains from the American bombardments can still be found in the Laotian earth. These prove to be an important raw material for the Hmong. Collected and processed, the formerly deadly bullet casings and bombs become the small Ncaas.
They seem to have a long tradition, because they serve the Hmong with their melodies to pass on their history, their myths and personal experiences. Since the Hmong use a tonal language, the meaning of the words can be transmitted with the jaw harp. It is said that the best mouth harp players have either had the worst experiences or are the best storytellers. The Ncaas even plays a role in love matters. Young men, who like to visit their chosen ones at night, play this lips jaw harp, on the one hand to confess their love through the sung poetry and on the other hand, so that they are identified in the village as peaceful visitors and are not confused with a hostile thief.
Ncaas can be found in many tourist markets today, but this Ncaas come directly from Lao Hmong villages and are traditionally handcrafted. The split tongues with two to five prongs are not only a rarity, but also provide for the particularly fine overtone spectrum. They react very well to modulations by larynx or tongue and resonate for a long time. Each Ncaas is filigree and lovingly crafted.
Some of the jaw harp covers are not decorated. Traditionally for the Hmong it is common to design the case individually, because the Ncaas is considered a very personal instrument.