Endangered Archives

EAP115: Collection and digitisation of old music in pre-literate Micronesian society

Fr Francis Hezel, Micronesian Seminar
2007 award - Major project
£11,343 for 18 months

Archival partner: Micronesian Seminar, University of Hawaii

Project Overview

In an oral society such as Micronesia, music conveys considerable information on the past even as it reflects changing cultural patterns. Traditional chants evoked memories of the historical events that inspired them. Tales that some cultures might tell in story form, Pacific islanders will often sing or dance. Elegies, sung at the funerals of notable persons, were testimonies to the achievements of the deceased. Love songs were often tales of love and courtship between particular couples. Even church songs often called to mind the context in which they were created and first sung.

The evolution of the music itself, from nose flute and chant to reggae or rap, is of considerable interest in that it reflects at a basic level the social transformation that is occurring throughout the culture.

The archival material consists of audio tapes, many of them old 7-inch reel-to-reel tapes, scattered throughout the region on the shelves of offices, local radio stations and private homes. After years of neglect, the tapes are often damaged in places. This project will attempt to collect this material and/or digitize and archive it, and make it available to Micronesians as the valuable historical resource that it is.

The project will collect and digitise recorded chants and music from throughout the region (each of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Marianas and Guam). All the chants and music will be listed and the lists available on the Micronesian Seminar website so that visitors and researchers can search for musical pieces of interest to them. Copies of the recordings will be deposited with the donor, with local archives, the Micronesian Seminar library, the University of Hawaii Library and the British Library.

By the end of the project period, it is anticipated to have digitised perhaps 4,000 to 6,000 items from all the islands of Micronesia.

Project Outcome

Listen online to 7,069 recordings

By the end of the project, music has been gathered from the government radio stations in Majuro, Marshall Islands; Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap, Federated States of Micronesia; and Koror, Palau. These tapes number over 9,000 tracks.

Besides the taped music from radio stations, many tapes were gathered from other sources. Two church sources in Chuuk, the Liebenzell Mission and the Catholic Church media studio, provided about 1,500 hymns and religious songs to the collection. Approximately 800 tracks of songs and chants from Mokil, one of the outliers of Pohnpei State were collected. In Majuro hundreds of songs dating from the 1950s were copied, that were in the personal collection of a long-time resident of the island.

The rough breakdown of the musical tracks by island group is as follows: Chuuk 2,800, Pohnpei 2,500, Kosrae 340, Yap 940, Palau 350, Marshalls 2,150, Guam 130, Marianas 100.

The cooperation received from those with access to music in other parts of Micronesia was excellent. Radio stations and individuals who contributed to this project have been provided with CD copies of any music that has been converted from tape. Hence, institutions who have supported this work have their own digital files that can be used for their own archival purposes.

The entire collection of digitised music is housed in the Micronesian Seminar facility on Pohnpei, FSM, together with the library and collection of still and moving visual materials. A copy of all the materials collected has been deposited with the University of Hawaii, Pacific Collections, where they will be permanently archived. A third copy of the materials has been sent to the British Library.

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