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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.