Slit drum (Garamut) and drum stick

Production date
Pre 1967
Papua New Guinea
East Sepik
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Object detail

Wooden slit drum (garamut) with drum stick. Drum finials represent human figure on one end, and crocodile head on the other. Elaborate carved and incised decorations on body of drum. The eyes of the crocodile are defined with shell from the trochus snail, and the eyes of the man are defined by nassarius shells.
CH classification INDIGENOUS CULTURES Melanesian & South Sea Islander drum
Production date
Pre 1967
Drum body: L 692 x W 110 x D 133 mm
Drum stick: L 301 x W 27 mm
History and use
Slit drums, or garamut, are an important instrument in the Sepik River region of Papua New Guinea. Garamut are associated with men’s business and kept in men’s ritual houses for ceremonial events. In certain areas, there are taboos put in place to prevent women from playing or seeing the drums; in others, they are relatively visible and public objects, even if only played by the men.

The finials on this object are decorated with an anthropomorphic figure and a crocodile figure. The human figure represents an ancestor, whereas the crocodile is representative of the ‘water-spirit’ – the primordial crocodile that created the land, sea and everything in and upon it.

Seen as more than just an instrument, garamut are used to announce meetings and warnings and communicate with both individuals and neighbouring villages. They convey messages of life, death and even voice mythical stories to the community.

This object was part of a larger donation made to the Museum of Tropical Queensland in 2012, on behalf of the estate of Len and Catherine Lawler.
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