The National, Friday 7th September, 2012
MOTU-Koitabu villages within and on the fringes of the nation’s capital are an unfortunate people, grappling with the effects of great turmoil imposed on their society and culture through urbanisation.
This theory is commonly known, discussed and evident in these villages that have lost or done away with most traditional practices handed down by their ancestors.
Discovering a place, a person or group in any of these villages who still maintain a traditional activity is indeed a treasure.
Last weekend, I experienced such a moment when I met up with two old men from Porebada village digging a tunnel into a cedar log to make kundu drums or ‘gaba’, in the Motu language.
The two are brothers Walo Kovea, 76 and Sisia Kovea, in his late 60s who is a retired United church pastor. wDespite their age, they worked with concentration and focus, tirelessly chipping small wood pieces off the giant cedar log.
They displayed management, corporation, long-suffering and of being goal-oriented posed an awesome array of order and organisation.
My curiosity about what they were doing led to an interview with the two men.
It never occurred to me, however, that the interview was going to reveal a deeper truth some time later. What started as a mere conversation gave rise to a thirst for knowledge.
I learnt to appreciate the promulgated status of the gaba in the day-to-day livelihood and the social welfare of the traditional Motu – Koitabu society.
The gaba has a significant status, ranging from the governance of the society, the determination of chieftainship, recognition of manhood, communication, art and entertainment, and certain other key institutions vital to the existence of the society.
From the Koitabuan outlook of their Abisiri clan, the duo claimed that the gaba meant a lot to them. It is the centre and heart of life. Every time one would hit a gaba, the essence of the note, the deep echoing sound, the rhythm and beat remind him of the innermost essence of the heartbeat of the life of the society.
Traditionally, every male in the society must own one-to contribute to the beat, the rhythm, the welfare and existence of the society. The beat produced by an individual, as he is aware, is only a part of the wide network and he is obliged to do so if the society is to be sustained.
The interview continued, quite interestingly, the informants being more pre-dominant with professionalism and precedence every time. The old brothers told me with growing ascendency that owning a gaba was only the pre-requisite of determination of manhood.
When asked what it takes to own one, a not-so-surprising reply came about that I now would summarise as “chieftainship is craftsmanship”. Or, more simply rather, “leadership is craftsmanship”.
Great wisdom and moral are inherent at the background.
It is a tradition in the Motu-Koitabu society, according to them, that the clan chief or the eldest in a certain lineage take the lead in the engagement of art and craft-carving, chipping, smoothening and shaping of the gaba.
He becomes the engineer of the artwork in ensuring that the general structure of the kundu drum takes the right proportion in its miniature form, to resemble its widely and traditionally accepted image of being the centre and heart of social life.
From the perspective of their proverbs and traditional beliefs passed on through generations, this is necessary so it can producs the rich essence of
note, beat, rhythm and sound in its multidimensional totalityto correspond to the heartbeat of the social life.