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Images from The Beede Gallery

Pair of Bamboo Flutes (Mambu), Palembei Village, East Sepik Province
Papua New Guinea, Late 19th Century

Click on images below to see larger images

Front View

NMM 2324-2325.  Pair of bamboo flutes, Palembei Village, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea

NMM 2324-2325. Pair of bamboo flutes (mambu), Palembei Village, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea, late 19th century. Transverse flutes constructed from bamboo with carved wooden stoppers in the form of rhino-bird heads. Wrapped with rattan above the embouchure hole and at the bottom. Players place their index fingers on the sides of their mouths, partially cover the large embouchure hole, and overblow to create multiple pitches. These sacred flutes originate among the Iatmul people and represent the male and female voices of their crocodile ancestors. Played in pairs during male initiation ceremonies, when boys undergo a rite of passage in which their skin is cut in order to produce scars resembling crocodile skin. Length of 2324: about 83"; length of 2325: about 78". Board of Trustees, 1977.



Side View, #1

Side view #1

Symbolically, the pairing of the mambu flutes represents the duality of thought prevalent in many New Guinea cultures, while the male/female distinction reflects the distinct gender roles observed in many of these societies. Musically, the use of paired flutes of different lengths (with fundamentals about a major second apart) allows two players to produce a broader range of pitches than can be played on only one instrument.


Side View, #2

Side view #2


Back View

Back view

These flutes were originally played by men from the Palembei Village along the Middle Sepik (now the East Sepik Province). When they left to work on a plantation in a village on the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain, the men took the flutes with them to play for ceremonial dances.


Rhino Bird Stopper on NMM 2324

Rhino bird stopper on NMM 2324 Side view of rhino bird on NMM 2324 Side view #2 of rhino bird on NMM 2324 Alternate view of rhino bird on NMM 2324

Rhino Bird Stopper on NMM 2325

Rhino bird stopper on NMM 2325 Another side view of rhino bird on NMM 2325

The bird figures prominently in Iatmul culture and is the totemic ancestor for certain clans. In fact, the Iatmul term for flute is waavi, which translates, "bird." Small shells originally decorated the birds' eyes and nostrils on this pair of flutes.


Painting Detail

Painting on NMM 2324

NMM 2324

Painting on NMM 2325

NMM 2325

The entire body of each flute is painted in alternating sections of black and orange pigment, with narrow bands in white and orange.


Embouchure Holes

Embouchure hole on NMM 2324
Embouchure hole on NMM 2325

NMM 2324

NMM 2325


Nodes

Node on NMM 2324
Node on NMM 2325

NMM 2324

NMM 2325

The upper end of the flute, just above the embouchure hole, is closed at one of the bamboo tube's natural nodes. Two additional nodes can be found on the flutes, one of which closes the instrument at the distal end.


Rattan Wrapping on NMM 2324

Rattan wrapping on NMM 2324 Wrapping on NMM 2324 Rattan wrapping on NMM 2324

Rattan Wrapping on NMM 2325

Rattan wrapping on NMM 2325 Wrapping on NMM 2325 Rattan wrapping on NMM 2325


Lit.:  André P. Larson, The National Music Museum: A Pictorial Souvenir (Vermillion: National Music Museum, 1988), p. 27.

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