Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kulele: the pulse and beat of tourism

We often take it for granted that traditional music, particularly those that fall into the category of ancient poetry and opera, are those favourite past times relished only by the old and elderly – something to keep them occupied while the young go about attending to the chores of gardening, fishing and hunting.

But if we look carefully at the structure of virtually all the civilized cultures of the world including our own, we will notice that ancient poetry and opera form the very backbone of the fabrics that make up human society or community. These little ingredients enable a human society or community to exist, to be recognized and identified as a culture. They become the thing that distinguishes one communal set up from another.

Yet we tend to ignore them.

For over four decades, the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies has been doing otherwise. Through the hard work of research and careful record preservation by men such as Don Niles, we begin to value and appreciate how much traditional music means to us. Mr. Niles went about his work collecting as many traditional musical items as he could, including collections of transcriptions done by researchers in languages such as German and various others. There have been and still are today numerous dissertations written on this subject alone.

And still, we Papua New Guineans, proud as we always take ourselves to be, sit back and snigger, “Traditional music? Sene anedia? What relevance does that have to us?” Boy oh boy, have we missed so much in our very lifetime!

The preservation of such musical material has been done by IPNGS not only through tape recorders, DVDs and CDs and similar digital apparatus but also through that remarkable publication called Kulele, a journal consisting of occasional papers on musical ethnography and ethnomusicology, not excepting various dance formats and theatre set ups. Contributors to this journal consist of a crowd that is international as much as local in flavour, all of which deals with the traditional music of Papua New Guinea and the rest of the Pacific. Each contribution is highly valuable as it delves deep into the structure and composition of an item, and in most instances contains records of special notations in music quite apart from the Western ones. That is, like asking not how do we copy and read the 5th sonata in the Western sense but rather what would be the character equivalents if we were to record or jot down our music using our own systems of symbols. This may sound a little difficult to grasp, but if we read each volume of Kulele, we will realize how significant all this exercise can be. In his preface and introduction to this publication, Don Niles discusses at length examples of such “substitute musical systems” provided by the researchers Hugo Zemp and Christian Kaufmann from out of their work on the Kwoma people of the East Sepik Province.

An encouraging thing to note about this publication is its enthusiasm in maintaining its own sense of survival and continuity. Good old IPNGS! As with any other cultural department or institution funds are those rare luxuries to come by. We ask and ask, and after two or three decades someone cares to listen. Subsequently, Kulele itself has had its share of soliciting funds year after year without much success, and it is only recently that IPNGS managed to eke out just enough to come out with a 4th issue in 40 or so years! Each volume so far took about ten years to produce. That is sad.
But at the book launch celebrating the survival of Kulele on Wednesday 17th November, things began to look a little brighter. That 4th volume was officially launched by Marianna Ellingson, Director-General of the Office of Tourism, Arts and Culture. She was able to promise IPNGS that her organization, aside from existing as a policy-making body or part of that network, would ensure that publications like Kulele were supported. She went on to stress that culture and all its ingredients such as musical ethnography and ethnomusicology, including myths and legends, dances and traditional operas, and literature (!), formed the back bone of those things we have and which provide a potentially viable tourist market. Publications such as Kulele become the pulse and beat of tourism in our country.

Ms Ellingson’s remark implies that we are not quite exempt from vigorous competition observed at global level regrading tourism. But ours, she pointed out, could boast of a certain advantage other countries do not readily have, and that is diversity. This idea of diversity then draws the potential tourist crowd which would want to, for example, and at one time or another, know what Kulele itself is all about.

Kulele? The name sounds like ukulele. But listen. Listen to how Don Niles explains it. Kulele is that very handsome dancer who appears at night and dances so well the maidens become speechless with admiration. Soon, a little before day break, one decides to follow Kulele and there she sees how the young man puts his dancing gear away and dons his old Sipoma skin to return to the village. The secret is thus discovered, she marries the young man, but not before learning that her Kulele is none other than Sipoma, the kid next door.

Contents of Kulele 4

Don Niles, as editor, sums up each contributor’s concerns as follows:

Bruce Hooley and Vida Chenoweth of Summer Institute of Linguistics consider various aspects of Buang music. Naomi Faik-Simet (IPNGS) discusses a traditional Gulf mask dance and weather cultural festivals do maintain such forms. Nigel Champion (University of Auckland, New Zealand) explores some of the inequities that remain in the Pacific despite the revolution in digital technologies. Champion was involved in training the institute’s (IPNGS) music technician, Balthazar Moriguba in 2008 so it also appropriate that Moriguba discusses his work in audio visual digitisation and its relation to the preservation of Papua New Guinea’s rich heritage in sound. Hugo Zemp and Christian Kaufmann present a detailed consideration of garamut signals in the Kwoma area of the East Sepik. Edward Gende (IPNGS) discusses how messages are sent in an area that lacks garamuts, in this case using the owa call language used by Kuman speakers in Chimbu. Neil Coulter (SIL) concludes the volume by reviewing two books on music in Papua New Guinea.

Visit the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies today, at Angau Drive, Boroko. See for yourself the enormous amount of cultural wealth that our country has and which is preserved faithfully by this little place. Otherwise, email:
Photos, top, from left: Edward Genede, Naomi Faik-Simet, Marianna Ellingson and Don Niles.
Mid-page, title of publication.
Bottom, Don Niles and Marianna Ellingson at the book launch with women dancers from the Paia Kange Cultural Group of Mt Hagen.

All photos courtesy of Ketsin Robert, Office of Tourism, Arts and Culture.                                                  

Friday, November 12, 2010

They are assets, not liablities

Where the ocean meets the sky... Rod Stewart

Our children are assets, not liabilities.

The moment they know the way that leads them to their destiny.

That is what Rylene Potuku Gubag believed in and made sure of during the last 27 years of her life as a secretary of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at UPNG. During those years she had watched thousands of young Papua New Guineans enrol, strive through their courses and graduate at the Waigani campus. To her, all this traffic of young generations, year after year, became a thrilling experience and this she shared with her colleagues, her husband and children.

As her husband, Kevin, explained as part of the family’s eulogy at the funeral service on Tuesday: “To Rylene, life was made up of enrolment forms, school fee receipts, exams, GPAs and university degrees, plus going out to the world to get jobs.”

The very life that Rylene led deserves more than commendation, more than praise and words of gratitude. It is a story about commitment to work, seeing things through despite difficulties. Even on crutches she took time out to catch buses to Able Computing, Daltron or Theodist to get quotations for staff and various stationary items for the school. She did not depend on the University’s transport system to do all that. Whenever a typing needed to be done before deadlines, she looked as if she were taking her time about it, but comes 4.06pm and she’s knocking on your door to deliver the finished work. Even in great pain from the effects of her diabetes a smile never left her face when she delivered a lecturer’s finished work while supporting herself on crutches.

Her colleagues, mainly those at the main office of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences referred to her as Ray, Mama Ray or “Sugar Babe”. She was inspirational, according Ali Vele. She had a passion for hard work and was a lovable person. But above all she lived and worked for her children. They were her assets.

She was very professional in her approach to work, Ali Vele maintains as a fellow typist and secretary. And she was very Manus in how she tackled each job. If things got into a snag she eased a tensed situation through a joke and everyone was back to work, smiling or laughing.

Ali Vele continued at Tuesday’s funeral service, in the presence of university administrative and academic staff: “an unforgettable thing about Rylene was her motherly and loving nature. She loved bringing cooked food from her house to share with everyone. Her favourite was boiled bananas (with skin) and tinned fish or meat. She made sure all had a share of that food. Rose, Hipak, Idau, Jenny, Natalie, Fa’afo Pat and I never missed out on what she brought. She treated us more like her younger sisters and children than colleagues.

“Besides, her concern was for all to share. Not only with us but also with those she considered as important – our cleaners. Nipo, our cleaner, was always invited. Eh lusim sampela bilo Nipo or Tokim Nipo kam yumi kaikai wantaem. She indeed had a big heart that extended out from her favourite corner where the photocopy machine is and further out to the lecturers’ rooms in the other buildings. She invited all – whoever happened to be around where we were at lunch time.

“Her straightforwardness and serious attitude to work was something we admired. This speaks volumes. When things were not done in time as expected, she would openly and bluntly tell us what we needed to know. Many times we would not agree with her approach but come the given time when the work would be delivered and it was done... You all have witnessed her on crutches limping to and fro, trying as much as possible, to perform her duties as expected. This is when I stopped and reflected on her life and learnt that she had commitment and love for her work and her children. She really loved her children so much she would not let her disability prevent her from seeing her children become successful and excel in life. Even without transport she staggered to work every day hiring a taxi to work and back or sometimes hitch a ride with Sophie Naime. Sophie will appreciate this. Who would do that just to make ends meet satisfactorily? Rylene taught us this commitment and perseverance. We live here at the UPNG and are not disabled and are able to work every day but Rylene showed us – real commitment even without a vehicle and without strong legs to continue on with life.

“She also had a love for spiritual discussion especially during times when she was down. She had asked me for prayer support and a Bible. I shared with her on several occasions and gave her a Bible which I believe she cherished and depended upon during hard times...

“Her last words to me kept echoing in my ears as I wrote this tribute. As I read her last words to you all I feel a thorn in my throat and heart. I commented that she should go on leave (on medical grounds) and take a break from work until she felt a lot better and could adjust her life again from family and work commitments. Her last and honest response to me humbled my pride and brought me a new perspective I was blind to see. ‘Sugar Babe, I should have gone on leave a long time ago, but see, I have children who still need my support and I want to give them the best even when I am on crutches.’”

Those words from Ali Vele.

Rylene Potuku Gubag originally came from Mbuke Island, the titan south west area, about 3 hours by dinghy from Lorengau town, of the Manus Province. She passed away last Friday and is survived by husband Kevin and five children, one of whom will be graduating with flying colours in Environmental Science at UPNG next year.

Rylene’s body was scheduled to be taken home by a family member and the paramount chief of her tribe and clan, Luke Polangou, this morning (Friday 12th November 2010). She was a fine woman. Whether academics, members of the administrative staff or renowned professors and lecturers, she taught us three great things with her life:

                             Believing in ourselves
                             And knowing that God cares

The School of Humanities and Social Sciences now joins Ali Vele in saying thank you to Rylene in the manner of John 10:27-28 and with these words: aioni, bamahuta, emau, raramani-ekila.