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  • Nā Kkai Takū: Takū's Musical Fables
  • Denis Crowdy
Nā Kkai Takū: Takū's Musical Fables, collected by Richard M Moyle. English translations by Natan Nake and Tekaso Laroteone. Apwitihire: Studies in Papua New Guinea Musics, 7. Boroko, PNG: Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, 2002. ISBN 9980-68-043-1; xxix + 147 pages, tables, figures, maps, photographs, written in Takū and English, notes, bibliography. K15.00 plus postage.

This volume is an anthology of fables that incorporate short songs, known as kkai, from the island of Takū, a Polynesian outlier at the very edge of Papua New Guinea—some 200 kilometers east of Bougainville. Richard Moyle, director of the Archive of Mäori and Pacific Music at the University of Auckland, undertook fieldwork on Takū from 1994 to 2001. This book stems from a request made by the chief of the island who approached Moyle in 1994 and asked for "a tangible means of documenting . . . performance traditions" (xviii), aimed at the needs of those leaving the island for school or employment.

Moyle recorded a number of kkai, and two research assistants from the island, Natan Nake (who died during the course of the work), and his replacement, Tekaso Laroteone, translated the fables into English. It is a collaborative work, a response to a request for practical assistance, and represents a working example of returning research material to the field, a concept so often defined more by surrounding rhetoric than actuality. Takū's location as part of the troubled North Solomons province led to a pledge from the Bougainville Revolutionary Army to relocate the population when (if) that island gains political independence. The island is also sinking, leading Moyle to suggest, "This first compilation of fables therefore may also be the last" (xxv), reinforcing a thread of cultural ecology underlying the genesis of the volume.

Don Niles, head of the Music Department at the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies (IPNGS), in his editor's introduction, provides an overview of similar narrative structures in Papua New Guinea. He then points out that one of the early goals of the institute was to publish works [End Page 200] in the vernacular, and although a number of languages featured in an early list of IPNGS publications, that has not been the case in the last twenty years or so; thus Moyle's volume "decisively counters this neglect" (xii).

Moyle's preface follows with general details of location, history of contact, population decimation, and recovery. He points out the importance of fables presented as narratives containing short songs among West Polynesian and Polynesian outlier peoples and deals briefly with connections to neighboring islands and the influence of songs and stories of "foreign origin" (xx). The plots tend to move "from domestic normality to the introduction of disharmony and subsequent crisis . . . concluding with a resolution of the crisis, often by physical means" (xxi). He explores the Takū myth-world, offering relevant comparisons with Samoan and Tongan counterparts.

The fables themselves are presented in a series of mirrored pages, with Takū on the left and an English translation on the right. Roman, unindented text indicates third-person narration, and indented italic text indicates first-person narration. The text is interspersed with notated musical examples and song lyrics. At the end of each story is a brief explanation of the plot and associated moral issues. The result is a satisfying reading experience that should cater to all varieties of Takū and English readers; indeed the precision of the English translation in mirroring the format of the Takū is remarkable.

The notes on the back cover describe the volume as a "modest anthology." While it may be modest in length (yet complete, as it represents the current repertoire), it is the practical incarnation of some significant underlying methodological ideas, chiefly the need to act and react ethically with people in the field. The fables are not discussed as part of a wider theoretical perspective; and this is consistent with the origins and resultant aims of the book—utility prioritized over theory. It will, however, serve as extremely useful for people researching storytelling, fables, and the ongoing development of song and story repertoire in a changing...