Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Giant Drums of the Tropical Islands of Vanuatu Walk in the Night.

RJ Note: The events on this small island in the South Pacific have a knack for generating news articles that catch my eyes. The first article was on pigs and the woman in politics on the island, and now disappearing drums. This is an interesting read. Kind of makes me want to leave our own paradise in Fayette County and head over to this tropical island for a visit.

In the records of the police station in the tropical islands of Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, you will find an interesting story of giant drums that walked out into the darkness of the night, never to be seen again.

Vanuatu is home to a collection of sacred art which has been traditionally kept secret from the outside world. "Art that could easily be mistaken for any piece of modern artwork," stated David Baker, curator of the Annandale Gallery, Sydney, Australia, which recently hosted a Vanuatu exhibition. Ancient artifacts that set the art world agog.

Towering over the heads of the guests was a four foot Tam Tam, or wooden carved drum, one of the largest free standing musical instruments in the world. The face of the drum stylized to symbolize an ancestor. The eyes representing the morning star, of a society which has kept its traditional secrets well away from the eyes of a curious world. The slit up the middle of the drum allowing the ancestor to speak, when the lip of the drum is beaten with a small wooden club.

These unique ancient drums played a significant role in the customs and traditions, during sacred ceremonies, such as funerals, traditional dances, and initiations. Carefully coordinated actions by a group of drummers, beating the lip of the gongs with a small wooden club, would be part of an informal village orchestra. They would perform rhythmical ensembles of huge diversity and complexity.

The gongs were also a method of communicating with neighboring villages. Intricate messages could be sent over long distances, using a unique gong language. They could even contact neighboring islands, if the atmospherics were favorable. However, the art of the intricate language of the gong is almost lost among the younger generation. Tourists frequently carry home the smaller carved versions of the larger musical instrument, unaware of their deep cultural significance.

While Tam Tams with one and two faces are a common site in the tropical islands of Vanuatu, only one particular group of islanders, in the province of Malampa, on the remote island of Ambrym, have the intellectual property- rights to carve them. For the opening of Le Meridien, an international resort in Port Vila, on the main island of Vanuatu, it was decided that two five headed Tam Tams would be purchased to adorn the imposing entrance to the resort. A lot of money was paid and the day arrived when the massive drums were proudly put in place.

The two wooden drums that towered high overhead were instantly admired by the people. Then disaster struck. The money had been handed over to a person who had no traditional right to carve the instruments. All hell broke loose. The family who had the sole right of carving these ancient artifacts were extremely upset.

Days passing by and it looked as if it had all been a storm in a teacup. That is until one misty night. The Tams Tams mysteriously disappeared, in spite of patrolling security guards. Urgent queries went out to find out who had removed the Tam Tams and where they were located. Many people were interviewed. The police were even called but, all to no avail. No matter who was asked, there was only one answer given. "With the aid of the spirits of the night, the Tams Tams had walked away."

The disappearing Tams Tams have never been seen from that day to this. The managers of Le Meridien had to buy a new Tam Tam, but from the rightful traditional carvers this time.
Could anyone reading this story, please report if they come across any giant wooden Tam Tams walking the streets on misty nights. Please contact Paramount Chief of 'Tam Tam Five Heads Anyonymous'. Maybe the drums will be singing the 1970's song, "These feet are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do, one of these days these feet are gonna walk all over you."

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