Madang province has always been the heart of tourism, taking pride in its pristine rainforests and its breath-taking islands, but bamboo band?
Tourists leave Madang with an imprint of Madang’s unique music, yet how and when did Madang’s culture intertwine itself with the bamboo? The answer to that question was found when an old, humble yet experienced, man from Siar Village in Madang gave his story on the events that altered Madang’s traditional music till today.
The name itself would not ring any bells for anyone, yet Deb Atip is the founder of Madang’s first and oldest bamboo band.
As a young man Atip was accepted to be educated as a teacher in Balob Teacher’s College in Lae, Morobe. From the years 1966 to 1967 Atip trained as a teacher and took a year in-service with his classmates who were from Fiji, the Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands.
“Students from the Pacific came to PNG to train at the college, we all trained together to become teachers.”
Atip, a young and ambitious man, did not know that his dreams of becoming a teacher would send him far across the ocean.
Balob Teacher’s College, as explained by Atip, was short of lecturers during that time, the young Atip and his friends from the Pacific Islands were all sent to Honiara to finish their studies. It was there that Atip got drawn into something that amazed him.
“I was amazed at their percussion instrument, it was the first time for me to see something as wonderful as this.”
Atip was quickly mesmerised by the sound of this hollow tubular structured plant.
“I might have looked silly, but I watched and watched till my ears became sore.”
Remembering his village’s traditional kundu, Atip quickly tried to understand the way the bamboo was prepared and played. He recalled waiting for the men to finish playing just so he could ask them a simple question, “how do you play that?”
The young curious man from Siar Village in Madang armed with a notebook and a pencil approached the men who were playing the bamboo band.
“They looked like famous people to me, I was nervous.”
The bamboo band members from Honiara were all too pleasant and helpful to the young Madang man.
“They gave me the measurements and a quick lesson, and then they told me something that I didn’t expect.”
The men from Honiara smiled at Atip and asked him, “Why don’t you establish this in your village?” The question sunk like an anchor in Atip’s thoughts.
The thought of bringing the bamboo back to challenge his village’s traditional kundu seemed like an imaginary idea for Atip. “My ancestors used the Kundu, how can the people from my village accept something new like a bamboo. We use it for our house materials not as an instrument.”
The bamboo band members from Honiara urged him, and told him that it could be used like a kundu.
“The bamboo can be like my village’s kundu, they urged me to bring the idea back with me.”
The thought lingered and he brought the idea back to his village in Madang.
Arriving in his village in the late 1960s Atip told stories of this new instrument which he had learned from his visit to Honiara.
“I was surprised to see that the people from my village were eager to learn this new instrument.”
Atip gathered a couple of men from his village and they started preparing bamboos.
The sound from the bamboos echoed and travelled across the small lagoon at Siar Village, attracting the whole village who followed this mysterious new sound.
“They thought it was the kundu, but it sounded different from the kundu.”
The young men that all gathered and played in front of the village soon became Siar Village’s first Patfun Bamboo Band.
Patfun, the name as defined by Atip, is translated as the rock or the land that Siar Village is located on.
“It is the foundation, which is why we decided to use that name.”
Patfun became the admiration of many villages as the young bamboo band travelled, taught and wooed villagers along the Bel district of Madang to learn the art of bamboo playing.
“It is not ours to be greedy over; we have to teach others. I think that was what those kind bamboo players from Honiara would have wanted.”
In 1975 Atip became a judge for a string band competition.
“They said that since I was the founder they would like for me to judge this competition and…. I was humbled by this invitation,” said with a smile trying his best to draw back an emotional side to his character. “It is something that I will always be proud of, it is ours now and it will be Madang’s forever. Let the bamboo band live on!”
With this comment it was clear that Atip revealed his passion for the musical instrument. He described it as a child being adopted from another country and to watch the musical instrument blossom in Madang was like watching a child growing up.
Humbled and covered in his passion for the instrument, Atip denies any praise for being the founder of Madang’s bamboo band. “I don’t like to get praised for anything, it is ours and it has made an old man a very happy man to watch and to hear the bamboo being carried by the ocean to and from the islands that surround Madang.”
Atip, now aged in his late 60s, still thanks the men from Honiara for being generous with sharing their knowledge with him.
“They deserve all the praise and they wanted us to never stop playing so I urge all the youths to keep playing this unique instrument.”
- Melanesian Tourist Services.