THE kundu is an ancient message drum that tells the stories and histories of communities – which makes it a perfect symbol for a documentary company.
For the documentary production company I have founded, Kundu Productions, it has an even more special significance.
That’s because the kundu drum is from Papua New Guinea, the land of my birth and a country whose earliest known history, culture and customs were chronicled by my pioneer great grandparents.
My great grandfather, the Denmark-born Richard Parkinson, was a prolific anthropologist and author whose most classic tome ‘Thirty Years in the South Seas’ is the quintessential record of early New Guinea. His collaborator and interpreter for this and many other works was his wife Phebe Parkinson.
From the 1880s, the Parkinsons helped tell unknown stories to the world by collecting and donating thousands of artefacts to the great global museums – items still held in Paris, Berlin, Lausanne, Leipzig, Dresden, Sydney, Chicago and London.
Among them, of course, are kundu drums. Carved from hollow wood with stretched lizard skin music membranes, kundus were an early communication medium. For centuries they have provided the voice of ancestors, special meanings and messages.
Their various drumbeats passed news from village to village of births and deaths, danger, war and weddings.
As an accompaniment to songs, dances and festivals to this day they help retain, interpret and translate for modern Papua New Guineans the lore and customs of their ancestors.
There’s no more enduring form of communication than the beat of drums. Even the colloquial Australian expression, “I’ll give you the drum”, means to impart knowledge while ABC TV calls its discussion panel show, ‘The Drum’.
Given my heritage and ancestral connection to such notable documenters of history, the Parkinsons, the kundu was a fitting symbol for our company.
The kundu has told fascinating stories for centuries and we plan to continue documenting life and history any place or country we can.
Max Uechtritz has spent 32 years as a media executive, program maker and international correspondent across public and commercial broadcasting, print and digital media. His previous positions include program director of Al Jazeera English and director of ABC News & Current Affairs.
Photo: Keith Jackson and Bomai Witne with a kundu presented to Keith by Goroka writers