Accepted Paper:

Replication and transformation in a sung narrative genre of Highland Papua New Guinea  


Alan Rumsey (ANU)

Paper Short Abstract:

Across a large area of Highland PNG, there are traditions of ballad-like sung narratives. I focus on one of them, describing a case in which a certain renowned performer had modeled his style on that of another, while transforming the plots of his tales. I consider whether or not this was regarded as ‘appropriation’ and why.

Paper long abstract:

Across a large area of Highland PNG, there are traditions of ballad-like sung narratives. Composed and performed by specialist bards, these are a highly valued cultural resource. From a comparative viewpoint they are remarkable both for their scale and complexity and for the range of variation that is found among regional genres and individual styles. I will focus on one such genre, tom yaya kange, as performed in the Ku Waru region of the Western Highlands, and in particular on the work of one bard, Paulus Konts. Widely regarded as the most skillful tom yaya practitioner in the region, Konts presents an interesting case of 'replication', as his compositional techniques and performance style are closely modeled on those of another bard, Paul Pepa, from whom Konts learned his craft via radio transmissions of Pepa's performances that he heard in the early 1980s through a local government broadcasting service. But Konts transformed the genre by relocating the plots of Pepa's traditional tales into the contemporary world of Highland PNG, with himself as their half-comical hero. At a workshop on chanted tales that I convened in Goroka 2004, Pepa and Konts met each other for the first time. Drawing on what I learned from the conversation between them and among other bards on that occasion, I will attempt to convey a sense of how they viewed the relationship between Pepa's work and Konts's, and assess whether and to what extent they saw it as a case of 'appropriation' and why.

Panel P08
The dilemma of replication