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Slit Gong

ca. 1940
16 x 81 1/2 x 14 in. (40.6 x 207 x 35.6 cm)

Unknown, Kayan-Borbor
Papua New Guinean

Object Type: Musical Instrument
Medium and Support: Wood, paint
Credit Line: Gift of Dr. James G. Zimmer
Accession Number: 1979.19
Location: Currently on view
Link to this 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]

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