Isaac Kapun / Iatmul people, Yenchen Village, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea / Kulinginbu (garamut drum) 2003 / Carved garamut wood / 50 x 174 x 36.5cm / Purchased 2012. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Isaac Kapun

Isaac Kapun
Kulinginbu (garamut drum) 2003

On Display: Regional Touring Exhibition

The Iatmul people of the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea are renowned for their intricately carved garamut or slit gong drums. While often used for musical purposes during ceremony, the distinctive rhythms plays on the garamut are translated into works that represent a person, clan or location, and transmit messages up to 20 kilometres away.

Carved from a felled tree the slit drum, or garamut, is the most important instrument in the Sepik River region. It is engraved and painted in different stages, and kept in the men’s ritual house for ceremonies such as male initiations. This drum still has remnants of its original red, white, and black pigments, while carvings on the drum’s body show what appear to be two fish surrounded by intricate curvilinear designs. The finials of the garamut are ornamented with figures characteristic of the Sepik region with their long, hooked noses and tiered headdresses. These figures represent important ancestors and demonstrate clan affiliation.

The people of the Sepik area understand the drum’s sound as its “voice.” This voice can carry long distances to announce meetings, call individuals, issue warnings, and even contact neighbouring villages. Communication occurs through a complex series of rhythms and tones beat out with a wooden stick by an initiated man. More than just an instrument, this drum is central to the lives the entire community.