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Old PNG recordings to be reborn

An old reel-to-reel tape recorder. The recordings are getting fragile and digitisation gives them a new life

| Pacific Beat | ABC

MELBOURNE - Since the early 20th century, anthropologists have been flocking to the Pacific, and then returning home with rare recordings of songs, stories and histories.

But, decades later, these fragile original recordings are at risk of deteriorating—and the race is on to digitise them.

A team from the University of California in San Diego, USA, has secured a ‘recordings at risk award’ to do just that, and make sure these precious records are preserved for generations to come.

They will be transforming the 800 reels of tape collected by anthropologists working in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands into computer code able to be shared online.

Erik Mitchell is the lead librarian of the project, and says the team also hopes to give Pacific communities authority over their oral histories.

"Our goal is to make sure collections are preserved for future generations," he said.

"And to help communities have these collections available to them and to help us dictate or influence how they're used."

Cristela Garcia-Spitz, curator of the Melanesian collection at the University of California, also hopes that by digitising the audio more people can listen to these recordings.

"By reformatting it'll make it a lot easier to share these digital files," she told Pacific Beat.

One person who hopes to listen to these files is Wilson Orisi, from Kwaio in the Solomon Islands, where the Canadian anthropologist, Roger Keesing, collected some of his most celebrated work.

Mr Orisi met Keesing as a child, and he and his family have spent years trying to find the recordings and bring them home.

Reel"Our cultures are passed on orally, it's not recorded," Mr Orisi told Pacific Beat. "Quite a number of our elders have passed away and some of them have never passed on that knowledge."

Mr Orisi says the recordings could hold important information about Kwaio's genealogy and families' land rights.

"Our people have been waiting for this information for quite a long time."


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