Tag Archives: Melanesian music instruments

Living in the Trees – The Korowai People


A life of contentment in the rainforest. The Korowai People of West Papua in Melanesia.

Irian Jaya's Kombai and Korowai people live in houses built in the treetops.
Irian Jaya’s Kombai and Korowai people live in houses built in the treetops.

Living in the trees is natural for the Korowai and Kombai people in  the southern eastern Papua. These tribal Melanesians are one of the last people on the planet who survive purely on their natural environment. The Korowai’s are also referred to as the Kolufo and have become known to the world through pictures and documentaries as one of the most amazing architects of tree houses.

The tree house builders survive in the basin of the Brazzan River in large areas of deep rainforest and swampy lowland. They are hunter-gatherers and horticulturists who practice shift-cultivation and have a very rich and an extraordinary oral tradition. They live together in small communities.

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Image: BBC Documentary

The higher they built a house, the more prestigious it is. The reason behind this amazing architecture which often reaches up to 100 feet or more off the ground is to avoid floods, insects and diseases. It was also a way to spot tribal enemies as the Korowai themselves had practiced cannibalism in the past.

Sowayen climbing down a “yambim” or ironwood tree after knocking loose a nest of black ants that he uses for fish bait. The Korowai are superb climbers, and get up thick trees like this by gripping vines with their hands and splayed toes. It took him about a minute to get up this tree, and it took Neeld Messler, a rope expert, over an hour to rig this tree with ropes so the photographer could climb it safely. In the lower left corner Sayah is watching. One of their fishing methods is to put a piece of an ant nest in the water and wait for the fish to come and eat the drowning ants. The fisherman hides behind foliage on the river bank, and shoots the fish with a four-pointed arrow. This picture was taken as part of an expedition for GEO Magazine and National Geographic Magazine to document the way of life of the Korowai tribe. Most of the Korowai in these photos had never had prior contact with anyone outside of their language group, and have no material goods from the outside world. They live in tree houses built above the forest floor to protect themselves from outsiders. The Korowai believe that contact with outsiders will bring an end to their culture. Cannibalism has been part of their traditional system of criminal justice to avenge the death of their clansmen, but the practice is dying out and is outlawed by the Indonesian government. The Korowai believe that most natural deaths are caused by sorcery, and must be avenged by the death (and consumption) of the person responsible.
Sowayen climbing down a “yambim” or ironwood tree after knocking loose a nest of black ants that he uses for fish bait. The Korowai are superb climbers, and get up thick trees like this by gripping vines with their hands and splayed toes. This picture was taken as part of an expedition for GEO Magazine and National Geographic Magazine to document the way of life of the Korowai tribe.

The Korowai people build their houses high above the forest floor, and deep in the swampy lowland jungles of Papua.

In the BBC documentary below, you can watch from start to finish, how a Korowai tree house is built.

The Call of Garamut


The garamut is a slit gong made out of wood. The instrument is widely used in Melanesian cultures. Garamuts are used for traditional dancing and performances. It is also used to call and gather. Communities used the garamut to call meetings, call school children to classrooms and congregations to churches.

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Picture by Pioneer Bible Translators. Calling his congregation to church; one of the most common uses of garamuts.

In Papua New Guinea the instrument, depends on its size and how shallow the slit is, gives a distinctive sound. It can also be played very rhythmically and the sounds makes you want to dance.

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A garamut in Brooklyn Museum.

In the first video clip, I am delighted to show my own people dancing the siak, a slow motion dance in Salamaua, Morobe Province. A single and sometimes two garamuts would lead the siak accompanying kundu drums. Pay attention to the sound of the garamut – the largest wooden instrument in background.

The second video below is from Manus Province. For their performances, Manus dancing requires a collection of garamuts of various sizes and played together. The biggest drum (deepest) leads the rhythm and song.

The Musical Water Maidens


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Huntington Post Photo

It is not often that you find musicians using nature to aid in their musical performances. In the Melanesian culture, a rare tradition passed down from generation to generation of women still lives on.  Lakes, rivers or the sea water is used as a percussion in this tradition, to provide the music with singing. In recent years, this beautiful tradition has been shared with the world through international tours and festival performances. The performers of the Vanuatu Women’s Water Music group (two pictured) hail from the remote northern tropical islands of Vanuatu. They travel the world performing the Na Mag and Ne Lang dances as a prelude to the mystical water music, dressed in their traditional costumes of Gaua and Mere Lava made from flowers and leaves, coconuts and pandanus. Their performance is truly mesmerizing as they reimagine the old with contemporary expressions of Matto – bringing together traditional beats and rhythms with ukulele-led melodies and soaring vocal harmonies.

“And in an age when most bands are dominated by just a handful of instruments — drums, bass and guitar — I encounter a new way of making music every year at the RWMF. In 2011, women from a village in Vanuatu turned the lake of the cultural village into their instrument, cupping their hands under the water to make booming percussion sounds”, wrote Michael Switow when reviewing the women’s performance at the Rainforest World Music Festival.

To listen to one of their songs, click here

http://youtu.be/vUUVEvffzSI

Wantok Musik Foundation

Pidil: A Small but Powerful Instrument


Published on Sep 17, 2014 by komnairima

I love interesting sounds, particularly  unusual musical instruments from Papua New Guinea. Here is the Pidil, a rare instrument belonging to the Gunantuna of The Blanche Bay Area of New Britain. I have read that this instrument is played by men during ritual ceremonies to attract young women into the bush. We can guess what that means. 

I do not have any more information on the object except for the sound of it which is on the YouTube link below. The brown, almost finely polished seed, (it’s naturally like that), is common in PNG in coastal areas. In my province we remove the inside and hollow the seed before we use it as a decoration on string bags (bilum). We also  string a bunch of the seeds together to make it another musical instrument, that sounds like a shaker. The women and men carry the bunch and shake them to create the sounds that accompany the kundu drums, singing and dancing.

Rabaul is the famous centre of New Britain. It is known for the Japanese occupation during the world  war and also for its volcanoes. Since January 1942 the Japanese had held Rabaul on Blanche Bay, the flooded crater of an extinct volcano which gives deep water almost to the shore. The regional area and the province itself is rich in culture and heritage. The Pidil in New Britain has a longer story behind it. I dare not ask, I am a woman, but, someone from this area may offer us some follow-up story for this blog in the future. For now, click on the link to listen to its sound.

Musical instruments from Melanesia and wider Pacific


 

Museum Loan Network: Pacific Instruments Collection

For over a century, The Field Museum of Natural History has amassed a world-class permanent collection of over 55,000 objects that represent the varied cultures of the Pacific. The Field Museum’s Pacific Musical Instrument Collection includes over 1,000 specimens from a number of different localities, the majority of which (4/5 of the collection) come from Papua New Guinea. Also represented in the collection are musical instruments from Vanuatu,IrianJaya / West Papua, Indonesia, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands, Palau, Micronesia, and the Austral Islands.The musical instruments in the Pacific collection represent all 4 classifications of musical instruments:Aerophones (wind instruments),Chordophones (string instruments),Idiophones (percussion instruments), andMembranophones (drums with membranes). The 384aerophones in the collection include a number of bamboo flutes, panpipes, whistles, shell and wooden trumpets, and a variety of woodenbullroarers. The 11 chordophones in the collection include a few musical bows and tubezithers. The 249idiophones in the collection include large wooden slit drums, friction blocks, rattles made from shells and nutshells, and a number of bamboo mouth harps. The 381membranophones in the collection include an impressive number of 330kundu, or hourglass-shaped drums, usually topped with a reptile-skin head, from Papua New Guinea.As with many of The Field Museum’s collections, the first musical instruments in the Pacific Collection, 21 in number, were acquired in 1893 for the Chicago World Columbian Exposition. The largest addition to the Pacific Musical Instrument Collection (approximately 335 specimens) came to the Museum in 1913 when curator A.B. Lewis returned from the South Pacific. Having joined The Field Museum’s Department of Anthropology in 1908 as Assistant Curator of African and Melanesian Ethnology, Albert B. Lewis immediately went to Melanesia to lead the Joseph N. Field South Pacific Expedition. The four-year long expedition netted some 12,000 objects of Pacific material culture that Lewis spent most of the rest of his career cataloguing. A complete analysis of the expedition was recently published by The Field Museum’s Adjunct Curator Robert Welsch (1998; An American Anthropologist in Melanesia: A.B. Lewis and the Joseph N. Field South Pacific Expedition, 1909-1913. University of Hawai’i Press). An early proponent of systematic anthropological research, A. B. Lewis left behind a richly documented ethnographic collection. The most recent additions to the Pacific Musical Instrument collection include the donation by Eugene Giles of a rare pottery drum with reptile-skin head from Morobe, Papua New Guinea and an impressive collection of instruments, 55 in total, donated by ethnomusicologist Dr. Vida Chenoweth, who between the years of 1959 and 1975 amassed a collection of 700 artifacts in the Usarufa community in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Museum Loan Network: Pacific Instruments Collection
For over a century,The Field Museum of Natural History has amassed a world-class permanent collection of over 55,000 objects that represent the varied cultures of the Pacific. The Field Museum’s Pacific Musical Instrument Collection includes over 1,000 specimens from a number of different localities, the majority of which (4/5 of the collection) come from Papua New Guinea. Also represented in the collection are musical instruments from Vanuatu, Irian Jaya / West Papua, Indonesia, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands, Palau, Micronesia, and the Austral Islands.

The musical instruments in the Pacific collection represent all 4 classifications of musical instruments: Aerophones (wind instruments),

Chordophones (string instruments), Idiophones (percussion instruments), and Membranophones (drums with membranes). The 384 aerophones in the collection include a number of bamboo flutes, panpipes, whistles, shell and wooden trumpets, and a variety of wooden bullroarers. The 11 chordophones in the collection include a few musical bows and tube zithers. The 249 idiophones in the collection include large wooden slit drums, friction blocks, rattles made from shells and nutshells, and a number of bamboo mouth harps. The 381 membranophones in the collection include an impressive number of 330 kundu, or hourglass-shaped drums, usually topped with a reptile-skin head, from Papua New Guinea.

As with many of The Field Museum’s collections, the first musical instruments in the Pacific Collection, 21 in number, were acquired in 1893 for the Chicago World Columbian Exposition. The largest addition to the Pacific Musical Instrument Collection (approximately 335 specimens) came to the Museum in 1913 when curator A.B. Lewis returned from the South Pacific. Having joined The Field Museum’s Department of Anthropology in 1908 as Assistant Curator of African and Melanesian Ethnology, Albert B. Lewis immediately went to Melanesia to lead the Joseph N. Field South Pacific Expedition. The four-year long expedition netted some 12,000 objects of Pacific material culture that Lewis spent most of the rest of his career cataloguing. A complete analysis of the expedition was recently published by The Field Museum’s Adjunct Curator Robert Welsch (1998; An American Anthropologist in Melanesia: A.B. Lewis and the Joseph N. Field South Pacific Expedition, 1909-1913. University of Hawai’i Press). An early proponent of systematic anthropological research, A. B. Lewis left behind a richly documented ethnographic collection. The most recent additions to the Pacific Musical Instrument collection include the donation by Eugene Giles of a rare pottery drum with reptile-skin head from Morobe, Papua New Guinea and an impressive collection of instruments, 55 in total, donated by ethnomusicologist Dr. Vida Chenoweth, who between the years of 1959 and 1975 amassed a collection of 700 artifacts in the Usarufa community in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

http://www.fieldmuseum.org/science/microsites/museum-loan-network/museum-loan-network-grant-collections/museum-loan-network-0

See how some of these instruments are used by Melanesians in the links below.