The National, Friday 17th August 2012
ON AUGUST 8, the Institute of Papua New Guinea Stud¬ies (IPNGS) hosted the official launch of the book Sung Tales from the Papua New Guinea Highlands: Studies in Form, Meaning, and Sociocultural Context, edited by Alan Rumsey and Don Niles.
Most such events begin with some sort of performance by an appropriate singsing group. In this case, there was none. Instead, audio recordings of sung tales greeted visitors, followed by a video showing short excerpts of performances.
The launch was opened by the em¬cee for the event, Ms. Naomi Faik-Si¬met, dance researcher at the IPNGS. She introduced Dr. Don Niles, Acting Director and Senior Ethnomusicolo¬gist of IPNGS and co-editor and con¬tributor to the book. Niles explained that no singsing groups were invited to perform because the organisers wanted the focus of the event to be on the highly creative performers of sung tales.
While stories are told everywhere in Papua New Guinea, sung tales are entertainment stories, told at night by a solo performer, and using melodies that makes them sound quite different from normal speech. While usually told by men, women also perform. A sung tale can last from a few minutes to many hours. It appears that such sung tales only appear in parts of the Highlands.
The storytellers are poets who create their tales during the perfor¬mance. Their stories are frequently well known to listeners and can often be told in normal speech as well. Sung tales are a highly valued creative art form, and performers are paid at the conclusion of their perfor¬mances.
Research on such performances required the collaboration between experts in anthropology, linguistics, ethnomusicology, and folklore. An initial project funded by the Austra¬lian Research Council (2003-6) devel¬oped into a collaboration between researchers, authors, and performers from Papua New Guinea, Australia, USA, Germany, Malaysia, and New Zealand.
In addition to individual research, workshops were held in 2004 in Goroka and 2006 in Kefamo, Eastern Highlands Province.
Although the Austra¬lian Research Council project was only finan¬cially supported until 2006, there was a strong feeling amongst those involved that there be a printed publication of some sort. Prof. Alan Rumsey (Department of Anthropology at the School of Culture, His¬tory and Language of the College of Asia and the Pacific at Australian National University) so¬licited and edited contri¬butions for such a publi¬cation, and its publication by ANU E Press was approved in 2010. The book was launched in Australia ten months later at the end of 2011.
Perhaps as recognition of this international collaboration, particu¬larly between Papua New Guinea and Australia, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill presented a copy of the sung tales book to the Governor General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, when they met in Canberra in October last year.
Sung tales exist in a region stretch¬ing from the westernmost part of Hela province, through Enga province, and much of Southern Highlands province, to Western Highlands. An opening chapter by Niles and Rum¬sey introduces sung tales across this region.
Dr. Kirsty Gillespie (Research Fel¬low at the Centre for Social Respon¬sibility in Mining of the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland) spoke next at the launch, as a contributing author to the collec¬tion. Gillespie and Lila San Roque wrote on Duna sung tales, called pikono. Duna performances are also considered by Kenny Yuwi Kendoli and Michael Sollis. Huli sung tales, called bi te, are described in the book by Gabe C. J. Lomas and Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan.
Another author in attendance was Fr. Phillip Gibbs (Institute for Social Concern, Mt. Hagen), who contrib¬uted chapters on both Ipili and Enga sung tales. Terrance Borchard and Frances Ingemann also wrote about Ipili forms. Hans Reithofer discussed Angal (Mendi) sung tales.
Prof. Alan Rumsey also spoke as the other co-editor of the volume. Rumsey also wrote a chapter in the book on Ku Waru sung tales from Western Highlands, called tom yaya kange. Niles wrote on Ku Waru and Melpa forms, while Andrew Strath¬ern and Pamela J. Stewart conclude the book by considering Duna and Melpa sung tales, as well as appar¬ently similar forms found in ancient Rome.
Dr. Bernard Minol (Director, Centre for Human Resource Devel¬opment, University of Papua New Guinea) officially launched the book. Dr. Minol has long been an advocate of the importance of studying and promoting the traditional folklore of Papua New Guinea, so fully encour¬aged the publication of such materi¬als.
As with all publications by ANU E Press, its entire content is available for free on the web (http://epress.anu. edu.au/sung_tales_citation.html), and this includes all the audiovisual examples included. In Papua New Guinea, we frequently hear how vari¬ous creative works are being abused or pirated. In this case, the contents of this entire book are free to download by anyone. Authors receive no royal¬ties. The authors are thrilled that their research can be accessed by as many people as possible around the world.
Printed copies of Sung Tales of the Papua New Guinea Highlands with accompanying DVD of audiovisual examples are available for sale from the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies for K 80. For further informa¬tion, ring 325-4644.