As we mentioned last week, we are spending a lot of time organizing our trip to Asia. But, January seems ages away! So, we decided to jump at the opportunity to send some of the team on a three-week trip to Oceania. According to the United Nations, Oceania includes fourteen countries. We’ll be visiting three. This trip’s roster includes Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and French Polynesia. We’re we checking out locations, and taking a closer look at the unique percussion culture in these countries. The islands are famous for many things, but one is the use of percussion for communication. This week we’ll talk about the slit-gong drum. Also know as the tongue drum, the steel tongue drum, and the garamut.
We should take a moment to give a shout out to our team. Something really special about each of our crew members is their dedication to the projects we’re working on. One example is the flexibility of changing time zones so often. Vanuatu is a minimum 20 hour flight from Vancouver Island. However, when travelling from Canada, there are always transfers, and often long layovers. We had a few short-ish layovers coupled with a few transfers. We arrived in Vanuatu a day ahead, 19 hours in the future! The crew had a quick rest, and were ready to scout locations and experience this new place.
We’ll share updates on the activities we are participating in over the next few weeks. For now we’re going to lend some insight into the slit-gong.
Physically the slit-gong is one of the largest idiophones in the world. The tallest on record stands approximately 4.5m tall and comes from Vanuatu. These idiophones come in many sizes, and feature 1-3 slits. The size of the resonating chamber, length, and width of the slit(s) create a unique sound. The exterior of the resonating chamber is struck with a mallet or a stick to create the rhythm. The drums are usually played by men of high rank. They are considered to be people, and are part of the village. Sometimes, depending on region, the drums feature an intricate totem carving.
Although the people from each island’s methods and traditions vary greatly from one to another the common use is communication. The slit-gong is traditionally positioned along rivers and valleys to help the sound to travel long distances. Different rhythms are used to communicate messages. A certain rhythm for celebration, and another to warn members of imminent danger, among others.
These drums are used in many countries around the world but the peoples of Oceania have a special relationship with these idiophones. We’re feeling very fortunate to be spending this time here as we wrap things up for 2018.