Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pacific Islands Radio - The Beautiful Music Of Micronesia

Welcome Everybody!

This is a listening guide to the many
listeners of our Internet Pacific Islands
Radio Stations.

I will focus on issues relating to Pacific
Island music and to embrace some of the
exciting changes taking place in the Internet
Radio Revolution, as well as updated information
on our Pacific Island Artists, Programming and


Welcome to beautiful Micronesia!

As mentioned previously, and after our
recent trip to spectacular and exotic
Melanesia, it is now my great pleasure to
be able to share with you a brief outline
of the traditional and contemporary music
(and dance) of fantastic Micronesia!

The people of Micronesia were the last
ethnic group to migrate into the Pacific
region, being preceded by many thousands
of years by the Melanesians and, some
thousands of years earlier, by the people of
Polynesia. Indeed, there is a growing amount
of evidence to suggest that the many islands
and atolls of Micronesia have been inhabited
for at least 3000 years, and that the ancient
origin of the migrants was Southeast

Much of the evidence to support this is
based on the study of the languages of the
Micronesian people. The Gilbertese
(Kiribati) language, for example, belongs to
the very large Austronesian language family
which evolved in Southeast Asia and began
to spread into the Pacific about 5000 years
ago. With the exception of some societies
in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea,
all languages in the Pacific, including the
Gilbertese language, belong to this family.

Also, of course, the study of plants in the
Pacific in recent years has revealed some
important evidence about the migrations
of people. With few exceptions, all useful
food and fibre plants found today in the
Pacific islands originated outside the Pacific.
For example, all the important plants used
by Gilbertese (I-Kiribati or Kiribati people),
the coconut, breadfruit, babai or taro, as
well as pandanus, are native to the Southeast
Asia/Indonesia area. Researchers can only
conclude that they must have been brought
to the islands by the early settlers.

The music and associated dance forms in
Micronesia are distinctive, yet, they are closely
related in many ways to that of their Polynesian
counterpart. With the exception of Truk (Chuuk)
in the central Caroline Group, which displays
traits of Melanesian and possibly Indonesian
influence, the music structure of all parts of
Micronesia is predominantly word-determined,
as is that of Polynesia. The origins of traditional
Micronesian music, however, are generally quite
obscure with the music having been handed
down by older folks to the younger children.

Composing traditional music involves a
considerable amount of ritualism and magic.
The composer does not compose the music
himself, but rather the song or songs are given
to the composers in a mythical setting - possibly
in a dream or a trance. The task of the composer
is then to follow the secret methodology that their
predecessors had passed on to them to produce
a song that is regarded as being magically blessed.

The second method of composing songs is one
which involves no magic and results from somebody
wishing to have a song made for him. In this case,
the person tells the story to be told to the composer
who listens intently and full of concentration. At a
later time, the composer may ask for further
information and the person requesting the song must
provide all the needed details.The most commonly
composed songs of this nature are love songs.These
are often about love for someone you will never
see again or a place that you have left behind. The
most popular ones, however, are about love between
a boy and a girl, a man and a woman or a husband
and a wife. The same process is also used for wedding
songs, competition songs, religious songs, war songs,
dance music and children's songs. The composer has
to know what song you want and he must be provided
with all the information to do it.

The third manner in which a song may be composed
is when, occasionally, a composer may wish to
compose an original song. In this case the composer
first works on firstly developing the tune by humming
it. When this is completed he will then think about
the words to go with the music until a very original
composition results.

Micronesian songs and chants have been composed
to cover many of the diverse and varied aspects
of life in Micronesia. These can include toddy
cutting songs, love songs, presentation of food,
songs for sick people, launching a canoe or putting
a small baby to sleep. In many cases the songs or
chants call on the spirits for assistance in some
situation or an endeavour about to be undertaken.
The following is one of the songs, reproduced below
without alteration, composed on Tamana Island, in
the Republic of Kiribati, for the people about to
be resettled in the Phoenix Group, Republic of

"We are about to sail to Orona,
Goodbye O people of our homeland;
We have got our lands,
In the new Group of Islands.

We shall step ashore at Orona,
We shall dig our wells;
We shall build our dwelling houses,
So that we may live well.

Stand up, O people of the Gilberts,
Grasp your working tools;
We shall stand up and clear
the undergrowth and plant coconut trees.

We are happy, for we shall now live.
Do not forget us, O people of our homeland."

The interpretation of Micronesian music in
the form of dance movements results in a dance
form which is exciting, emotive and totally
absorbing. The dance forms emphasise the use
of mainly hands and arms to interpret the literal
meaning of the music. Traditional and authentic
dances on the main islands include stick dancing
integral to Pohnpei, Chuuk, Kosrae and Yap -
Federated States of Micronesia.

Standing and sitting dances are featured
throughout much of Micronesia, including the
Republic of the Marshall Islands, Republic of
Kiribati, Palau, Saipan, Guam, Kosrae, Chuuk
and Yap.The Yapese are particularly well known
for their wonderful skills in stick dancing which
is performed by men, women and children together,
while some other dance forms are performed
either by women or men and boys, although never
both together.

In some islands, such as Yap and the Republic
of Kiribati, there is also a concern for rank in
the placement of dancers, as well as the emphasis
on rehearsed execution of songs and movements.
The men participate in various dancing competitions,
which are segregated by caste or rank; the lower
castes have some distinct dances, such as a woman's
standing dance, but can only dance when authorized
by a person of a higher caste. Chuuk shares many
similar dance styles with Yap due to their similar
cultural heritage. Chuuk's most mysterious and
rarest dance is called the "Moonlight Dance". This
is one of the few times when both men and women
dance together. This particular dance can only
happen during a full moon with permission of the
village chief. Traditionally speaking, this was a way
for young males and females to get together. This
form of social engagement is also a feature of the
Trobriand islands (Melanesia) at the time of the
yam festival. In this respect, we can say that there
are certain similarities between many aspects of
the music and dance of the different ethnic groups
throughout the Pacific region while they still
remain distinctively Micronesian, Melanesian and

The musical instruments of Micronesia are few,
mainly due to the lack of material on the coral
atolls of Micronesia to produce the magnificent
wooden drums used throughout Melanesia and
Polynesia.The shell trumpet and nose flute are
the most common, though standard flutes and
jews harps are also found. A common idiophone
in Micronesia is a stick that is carried by men in
certain dances. The performers strike each
other's sticks in the course of the choreography.
Membranophones are not very common, though
the hourglass single-headed drum, like those
played in Papua New Guinea, is found as far
north as the Marshall Islands. In keeping with
the ecology of atoll life, the skins of these
drums are made from a shark's belly or parts
of the sting ray. Indeed, many atolls of the
Micronesian Pacific are without any indigenous
musical instruments whatsoever and, often
utilise many hands beating on mostly a wooden
box to accompany the music and dance.

The above brief outline comprises our first
discussion on the beautiful music and dance
of wonderful Micronesia. In our next edition,
it would be my great pleasure to discuss further
aspects of Micronesian music (and dance), as
well as examining, in broad detail, the beautiful
relationships between the music of Melanesia,
Micronesia and Polynesia. Pacific Island music
is something that is forever fascinating. Among
many other things, it is vibrant, melodious,
exciting, soothing, absorbing and constantly
evolving, while at the same time, remaining
authentic to its diverse and complex origins.
These are some of the issues I would like to
discuss and share with you a little further
in my next blog.



The Lamo Serai Boyz have recorded a
truly amazing collection of wonderful
electronic melodies based on traditional
and popular Micronesian songs from their
home island, Lamotrek, Yap, Federated
States of Micronesia, as well as other
islands in the Caroline archipelago. Their
music is available through Triton Films.
All the musical recordings were created
with state of the art Yamaha DSR 1000
keyboards and professionaly mixed with
vocals in the Lamotrekese language at
C-Star Studio in Yap, with post-production
at Triton Films.

No accoustic guitars were used. Such
artistry and talent, from a group of
island boys, growing up in a small
community, numbering no more than 300
persons, and more than 600 miles from
the nearest 120 volt outlet in Yap,
must be heard to be believed!

Anyone who has visited the restaurants
and bars of Micronesia will be instantly
transported back to the islands when
they hear the music of the Lamo Serai
Boyz. Their music encapsulates memories
of balmy nights and spectral lights
floating on a tropical pulse of swaying
bodies and lively conversation ... all
enveloped by wonderful melodies, both
lyrical and energetic. This CD is
certainly worth listening to for those
who enjoy that special authentic and
enchanting Micronesian music.
* * * * * * * * * *
Thank you all. For further information,
please check out the following four

I wish you all the very best. Have a great day!

1 comment:

  1. It is not easy to get to an official site for Pohnpei, so here goes, what do you think about Germans paying damages for what they did one hundred years ago?

    Link to article in German

    On a very much lighter note, here is my music blog, where I have scanned guitar tablatures and other sheet music I composed: