GILLESPIE, Kirsty Jane

PhD Australian National University 2007 Pages: 282 + CD

Steep Slopes : song creativity, continuity and change for the Duna of Papua New Guinea

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Abstract/Summary/Outline:

The Duna people of Papua New Guinea have experienced dramatic social change over the past fifty years, including their first contact with the western world, indoctrination into Christianity, and a considerable period of colonial administration. This thesis examines the songs of the Duna of the Lake Kopiago area of the Southern Highlands Province in the face of this social change. Music is one of the most powerful means of expression available to a people, and the study of Duna song reaps extraordinary insight into their experience.

Little research currently exists on musical practices in this region of Papua New Guinea, and even less of this research considers at length the rich activity of song composition that is influenced by western contact. Throughout my thesis I argue the value of these new songs alongside earlier forms of Duna music. I take a cross-disciplinary approach in my research, merging elements from the fields of ethnomusicology and anthropology. Many of my observations are based on primary data collected on several visits to Lake Kopiago taken during 2004-2007. I focus on the songs and experiences of individual Duna people, and acknowledge my own place as a researcher in these experiences.

Building on existing work on continuity in change, this thesis argues that Duna songs show continuity rather than a dichotomy of 'traditional'and 'modern', 'black' or 'white'. It argues that Duna songs that are influenced by western contact have essential elements in common with musical genres from the pre-colonial period. The songs presented in this thesis reveal exceptional indigenous agency and musical creativity.

This research complements existing studies of Papua New Guinean culture by informing of musical practices of the region. It challenges the manner in which music generally is conceived of and presented, which in turn will impact upon the way in which music is valued, documented and preserved for future generations of any culture.

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