An old tree bears witness at Leo, Niolam, the location for Schlaginhaufen’s recordings.
In 1907, Otto Schlaginhaufen left Germany with the Deutsche Marine-Expedition, destination the islands of the Bismarck Archipelago. By 1908 he had reached Lihir, his boat brought to shore at Leo, located at the southern-most tip of the island of Niolam.

It was here, he writes above, that he recorded the music of Leo, the original nineteen songs on wax cylinders now held in the Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv in Germany. One hundred years later, these recordings are a unique window into Lihir’s cultural past. While some of the song styles are rarely performed today, most of them are still known to the majority of Lihirians.

This CD brings together a small sample of those recordings of 1908 with performances from 2008, most of which were sung in response to hearing the wax cylinder recordings for the first time.




Lihirian traditional songs are often performed during times of ritual feasting, and most are group songs, incorporating dance movements and percussion accompaniment. Indeed, the styles of dancing, the type of accompaniment (e.g. garamut, kundu, and/or bamboo sticks and resonators), and the rhythms of this accompaniment alongside melodic and text styles all contribute to the definition of each song form.

Characteristically, Lihirian songs tell part, or all, of a story.  Many songs express intense emotion, especially when describing the death, often at sea, of a loved one (a common theme), and they are either conceived in dreams or composed. 

As the song texts are so important in understanding the meaning of the songs, the texts are provided in Lihirian and English here, with a brief explanation for each song. The final section of this CD consists of songs sung in a language no longer understood on the island, and thus translations cannot be provided. 

Kirsty Gillespie

Kastam at Matakues on Lihir Island 13-05-08
Kastam at Matakues on Lihir Island 13-05-08 with Garamut Drum in foreground.

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