Reite people on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea describe a large ceremonial drum (a garamut) as a man. In its construction, a garamut is the focus of a process which brings forth a form of social relations, as well as the object itself. (…)The construction is based upon mythic knowledge. This shapes the mode in which persons as gendered agents, and with particular identities, are made to appear. A specific ‘aesthetic’ scheme is thus apparent. The emergence of the garamut cannot be seen as the end of the process. The object has effect within and upon the relations given form by its emergence. Formation is ongoing, with becoming built in.
– James Leach in “Drum and Voice: Aesthetics and Social Process on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea”,
in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 8:4, pp. 713 – 734.
This beautifully decorated garamut slit-drum, made from a hollowed tree trunk, not only serves as the main musical instrument for the indigenous population of Baluan Island, Papua New Guinea – as part of its rhythmic qualities, it also serves other communicative purposes, as it was traditionally used to convey practical messages of life and death, as well as mythical stories, within and between villages. As described in this article by Papua New Guinean anthropologist, Paul Yamngarpise Norman, sounds and codes played on the Garamut drum were interpreted through their variation in patterns – a skill that is becoming less and less widespread on the island.
As is the case with traditional customs in many other countries around the world, the skill of playing the Garamut drum is thus considered endangered, as the younger generations don’t spend time acquiring the knowledge involved in the practice. As Norman describes in the above mentioned article, Baluan youth, like everywhere else, are more caught up in beats pertaining to the genres of reggae, rap and heavy-metal music.
To hear the instrument played in the traditional way, watch this video:
And to see more examples of Garamut drum decorations, see this link!
/ Ciara Coogan
Photo: © 2014 Jacob Due, Photo/Media Department of Moesgaard Museum.
Byline portrait: © 2015 Line Beck, lbmfotografi.wix.com