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Unknown, Kayan-Borbor

Slit Gong, ca. 1940
Kayan-Borbor Musical Instrument; Made in Ramu River Region, Papua New Guinea
Wood, paint
16 x 81 1/2 x 14 in. (40.6 x 207 x 35.6 cm)

Gift of Dr. James G. Zimmer,  79.19

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About the Object

The spiritual lives of Melanesian communities are dominated by Men's Societies.  The ceremonial Men's House is the sacred dwelling place of the clan spirits, treasures, and of initiated men.  Traditionally, slit-gong drums were located at the center of the Men's House and functioned as musical instruments as well as a means of long-distance communication.  A range of tones and sounds could be produced depending on the style of the beating stick and the varying thickness of the sides of the drum.  In parts of New Guinea, the sounds produced by slit-gong drums were believed to be the voices of supernatural beings.  Hollowed from a massive single tree, the sides of this drum are carved with a mix of butterfly, frog and fish motifs that are so stylized they can be difficult to discern.
[Gallery label text, 2009]