SOMA048 / Spirit Cry Flutes and Bamboo Jews Harps from Papua New Guinea: Eastern Highlands and Madang. Recorded by Ragnar Johnson and Jessica Mayer



The third part of Ideologic Organ Music’s trilogy of field recordings of sacred flute music from Papua New Guinea, recorded by Ragnar Johnson and Jessica Mayer in the 1970s. A book titled “A Papua New Guinea Journey” consisting of Ragnar Johnson’s account of the circumstances behind the recordings will be published simultaneously with this music release.

“The recording of a male initiation ceremony with sacred flutes, bullroarers and ‘crying baby’ leaves was only possible after fifteen months residence during anthropological research. From the same Ommura villages in the Eastern Highlands there are bamboo jews harps, yam fertility flutes and singing. Nama (‘bird’) sacred flutes were recorded in a Gahuku Gama village in the town of Goroka. There are Mo-mo bamboo resonating tubes and singing from the Finisterre Range of Madang. From the Ramu Coast region of Madang there are: Waudang flutes, garamut slit gongs and singing from Manam Island, Maner flutes from Awar village and Siam and Guna flutes and garamuts from Nubia Sissimungum Village. These previously unreleased recordings were made in 1976 and 1979.” –Ragnar Johnson, London 2021


01 Habaio 1:50 
02 Naio 7:40 
03 Kureh 4:03 
04 Uko 3:10 
05 Tourori 2:11 
06 Anno 0:59 
07 Kureh 2 1:51 
08 Pwahabai 2:23

09 Ommura Iyavati 24:31

10 Uko and Queh-queh 4:08
11 Vuvira Ihi 1:07 
12 Vuvira 1:13 
13 Ora-ihi 0:56 
14 Suwaira Ihi 1:08 
15 Nama 4:09 
16 Mo-mo 5:41 
17 Waudang 5:56

18 Maner 1 3:14 
19 Maner 2 8:29 
20 Siam 1 3:00 
21 Siam 2 4:38 
22 Guna 4:08

Recordings, notes, and photographs by Ragnar Johnson
and Jessica Mayer.
1979 recordings and Mo-mos by Ragnar Johnson.

Tape to digital transfer and mastering by Dave Hunt at
Dave Hunt Audio, London.
Cut by Rashad Becker at Dubplates and Mastering, Berlin. 

We would like to thank the performers and people of the Ommura villages of Samura, Sonura, and Moussouri and the neighbouring villages of Kurunumbaira and Asara and the performers and people
of the villages of Awar, Bo’da, Damaindeh Bau, Nubia Sissimungum and Okizuhara (Goroka)for making this record possible.
Copies of the master tapes are in the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, Port Moresby. Ragnar Johnson thanks the Canadian I.D.R.C. for having supported his anthropological research resulting in a doctorate from Oxford University.

Thanks to Dave Hunt for the tape to digital transfer and mastering,
to Stephen O’Malley and to David Toop and Steve Beresford for assistance.


Ragnar Johnson's liner notes for the release

This music comes from the Eastern Highlands and Madang provinces of Papua New Guinea. The recordings of the Ommura Iyavati male initiation ceremony, the different bamboo jews harps, yam fertility flutes and singing were the result of fifteen months residence for anthropological research 1975- 1976 and a one month return in 1979. The Iyavati male initiation ceremony with its spirit cries of bamboo transverse  blown and water flutes, bullroarers and ‘crying baby’ leaves was recorded at night outside the men’s house with the sounds of instruction and singing from inside the men’s house audible in the background. Nama ‘bird’ transverse blown paired bamboo flutes were recorded in a Gahuku Gama village inside the town of Goroka in the Eastern Highlands. The Mo-mo resonating tubes and singing were recorded at Damaindeh Bau on the Markham Valley edge of the Finisterre Range. The other Madang recordings of long paired bamboo flutes and garamut wooden  slit gongs come from the Ramu coast region. There are Waudang flutes, garamuts and singing from Manam Island, Maner flutes from Awar and Siam and Guna flutes and garamuts from Nubia Sissimungum.

The Ommura lived in the Yonura villages of Samura, Sonura and Moussouri which were next to the Obura Patrol Post and in the neigbouring villages of Kurunumbaira and Asara. The1975 Government Census listed a population of 1,140 inhabitants of whom 437 lived in Yonura. The Ommura, the collective name for the inhabitants of these villages, spoke a dialect classified as Southern Tairora. The Obura Patrol Post, established in 1965, was 32 miles from the town of Kainantu in the Dogara Census Division of the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The altitude was 4,000 to 5,300 feet on the valley floors and up to 8,000 feet on the mountain ridges. The arrival of steel tools, traded along the Markham Valley, into what was previously a stone age technology, preceded the establishment of the patrol post by about fifteen years. The first government patrol to reach the Ommura area was in the early 1950s and the area was regularly patrolled by the 1960s. Inter-village warfare was endemic.

The Ommura were slash and burn cultivators growing sweet potatoes, yams, taro, bananas, sugar cane, various beans, pit-pit, maize, squashes and greens. Arabica coffee was introduced as a cash crop in the early 1970s and young men were sent as plantation labourers to New Ireland.

Every Ommura patri-lineage (okyera) had a mountain demarcating a traditional area of lineage residence and a mythical lineage ancestor (uri). Ommura social life revolved around the staging of various kinds of ceremonies. There were fertility ceremonies to promote the growth of yams, sweet potatoes and pigs. Major events in individuals lives were marked by the enactment of the life cycle ceremonies of birth, male or female initiation, marriage and death. All Ommura ceremonies involved payment of some kind varying in amount from large payments between lineage groups for life cycle ceremonies consisting of traditional valuables, earth oven cooked pig meat and food, and money to small payments of food. 

The Ommura practised three types of curing ceremony; Ua-ha in which the illness was chased away by armed men, Vu-ha in which the afflicted were fed a mixture of pork and medicinal herbs and their illnesses were transferred into a device made of sugar cane and washed away by flowing water and Asochia where diviners chewed hallucinogenic tree bark (Galbulimima Belgraveana) to see the cause of the illness and then treat it.

The  Ommura performed the following male and female initiations: Nihi Rara the piercing of the nasal septum for male and female children; Kam Karura performed in the women’s house for girls, Ummara and Iyavati performed in the men’s house for boys and the male and female pre-marriage ceremonies performed respectively in the men’s house and woman’s house.
These initiations were enacted to discipline youth into their respective male and female roles with bleeding the nose and beatings with taroah stinging nettles to promote heath. Male and female initiates were instructed to practice the same food taboos and were educated by means of gender specific secret stories and songs. Burlesque mimes of the opposite sex occurred in both and at the end the initiates were decorated in new clothes, ornaments and paint. A feast of pig meat and vegetables had to be given by the father at the end of an initiation ceremony together with a payment to the eldest mother’s brother for his participation.

Nose bleeding was performed to remove the dangerous accumulation of blood that became lodged inside the bridge of the nose at conception in the womb. To strengthen the penis young males had the urethra of the penis bled sometime between the final stage of male initiation and marriage. During the Iyavati initiation the male initiates were beaten with taroah stinging nettles, secret taroah songs were sung and exaggerated mimes of aggressive male sexual behaviour involving the use of taroah were enacted with much chanting of the male ’Wo-Wo’ war cry. Initiates were told what acts and foods were forbidden to them and given instructions regarding permissible sexual relations and their duties to assist their relatives and future wife. Iyavati initiates wore a pair of pigs tusks points upwards through a hole in the nasal septum.

Marriage was centred around the bride price which was given to the wife’s father by the husband, his paternal kin, mother’s brother and relatives. During the marriage ceremony, grooms were warned about the disastrous consequences of contact with female menstrual pollution and brides were warned not to poison a husband in this way.
Peace was made between enemy villages by an exchange of cooked pigs in a ceremony called Obu. A death compensation ‘head’ payment
in traditional valuables or a woman in marriage was the only act that eliminated the need for a payback killing in retribution for a death in war. Inter-village trade was carried out between two individuals rather than groups from different villages, frequently with partners from the lower altitude Bush Markham villages.