Artisanship, Innovation and Indigenous Modernity in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea: Ataizo Mutahe's Vessel Flutes

Gabriel Solis


This article is a study of clay flutes made by Ataizo Mutahe for the tourist market in Goroka, Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea. Ataizo’s work is important because it disrupts commonplace assumptions about the nature of indigenous tradition and modernity in the production and use of musical instruments in PNG. While the flutes are hand crafted, using local materials and technologies, and are based on long-standing instrument designs in the region, they are a recent innovation and are made entirely for non-local use. This article argues that Ataizo’s flutes encapsulate an important model through which to see the distinctly local iterations of modernity and to see local artistic forms and practices (as well as introduced ones) as sources of musical modernity in PNG. In the process this article engages Marshall Sahlins’s work on indigenous modernity in the Pacific, arguing that his theory is too invested in a structuralist division between Western and Pacific cultures to see the ways that people in PNG use local resources to articulate an everyday modernity such as Ataizo’s.

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