Category Archives: Australia and Pacific islands

Helicopters in music encyclopedias

Helicopter-PNG

The cross-volume search capacity of our new database RILM Music Encyclopedias offers some quirky surprises—for example, this resource currently includes nine different music-related articles with references to helicopters. These include entries on Madonna, Mickey Rooney, and the following excerpt from the article “Highland region of Papua New Guinea” in The Garland encyclopedia of world music:

“The texts [of girls’ coming-of age songs] address topics broadly sorted in four sets: daily routine, recalling netted bags (made by all women), sores (irritated by flies), and pleasure over good food (grown or gathered); unusual events, like sighting a helicopter, European missionaries’ arrival, and death in a hospital; desires, including the romantic, with meanings often hidden in metaphor, but also the adventuresome, like wanting to ride in a vehicle; and the coming-of-age performance itself speaking of dancing together, laughing together, and becoming adults.”

Above, an organization that searches for new species in Papua New Guinea by helicopter—perhaps the subject of the sighting; below, a performance by the Girl Guides Association of Papua New Guinea.

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Ngariwanajirri (Strong kids song)

Ngariwanajirri

The Strong Women from the Tiwi Islands (northern Australia) are concerned that young Tiwi people are straddling two cultures, losing their language and their Tiwi identity.

To address this problem, the women and their grandchildren have composed a song that emphasizes connection to the ancestors, to country, to language, and to the elders. With lyrics in English, traditional Tiwi song language, and the contemporary spoken language, and with a hip-hop dance-mix sampling an ethnographic recording made in 1912, Ngariwanajirri (Strong kids song) is an example of new music helping to preserve tradition.

This according to “Ngariwanajirri, the Tiwi Strong kids song: Using repatriated song recordings in a contemporary music project” by Genevieve Campbell (Yearbook for traditional music XLIV [2012] 1–23).

Below, a music video of Ngariwanajirri; the song changes dramatically around 2:00.

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Not a universal language

The first meeting and interchange between Māori and Europeans was a musical one. As the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and his party sailed toward the coast of Aotearoa (now New Zealand) on a December evening in 1642, they saw canoes approaching them and heard the men in the prows singing and blowing on a trumpet-like instrument. Two of the Dutch sailors were ordered to play welcoming tunes on their own trumpets; the exchange continued until darkness fell and the Māori paddled away.

A few days later the Dutch launched a small rowboat holding seven unarmed sailors. The Māori immediately sent canoes to attack it, and killed four of the sailors; the others swam to safety, and the canoes were driven away by Dutch gunfire.

This tragic turn of events was eventually explained: The first Māori party intended to challenge the strangers and invite them to fight. They had probably been performing a haka—a ritual war chant—and their horn was likely a pūtātara (above), a signaling device that may be used for hostile confrontations. The groups’ misinterpretations of each other’s music making led to a fatal misunderstanding.

This according to “Music historiography in New Zealand” by Martin Lodge, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Below, a performance by a haka team.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Ethnomusicology, featured, Instruments