The genres of sung tales that are the subject of this volume are one of the most striking aspects of the cultural scene in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. Composed and performed by specialist bards, they are a highly valued art form. From a comparative viewpoint they are remarkable both for their scale and complexity, and for the range of variation that is found among regional genres and individual styles. Though their existence has previously been noted by researchers working in the Highlands, and some recordings made of them, most of these genres have not been studied in detail until quite recently, mainly because of the challenging range of disciplinary expertise that is required—in anthropology, linguistics, and ethnomusicology.
This volume presents a set of interrelated studies by researchers in all of those fields, and by a Papua New Guinea Highlander who has assisted with the research based on his lifelong familiarity with one of the regional genres. The studies presented here (all of them previously unpublished and written especially for this volume) are of groundbreaking significance not only for specialists in Melanesia or the Pacific, but also for readers with a more general interest in comparative poetics, mythology, musicology, or verbal art.
Gabriele Solis, writing for the Fall 2013 issue of Ethnomusicology, describes lan Rumsey and Don Niles’ book Sung Tales from the Papua New Guinea Highlands as “extensive” (p521) and praises it for “its commitment to viewing relationships between Highland communities” (p521) and hopes the book “may stimulate further research in the area”. (p521)
Alexis Th. von Poser (of the Ethnological Museum, Berlin) reviewed Alan Rumsey and Don Niles’ book Sung Tales from the Papua New Guinea Highlands in the December 2012 issue of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute:
“[T]hrough the novel way of presenting different views on such an interesting topic as the sung tales, this edited volume should be considered more than just a specialist publication for a small group of readers. So much of a culture is combined in the tales through their contents, interaction of characters, humour, and metaphors that they allow a deep and initmate view into another people. I can highly recommend to everyone this poetic approach to an interesting region.”
Handman praises the book’s “in-depth presentation of the many facets of sung tales in the Highlands. This includes analyses of the ways in which sung tales are changing in contemporary Papua New Guinean usage.” (p197)
Handman also writes: “One particularly useful feature of the online format is the supplementary material. This consists mostly of audio files, allowing the reader to listen to segments of the performances being analyzed. Armed with the rich array of material documented and analyzed here, future researchers will be able to continue to develop analyses of the ways in which sung tales and musical-poetic performances work in Highlands Papua New Guinea.” (p197)
(Courtney Handman, review of Sung Tales from the Papua New Guinea Highlands, Anthropological Linguistics: Volume 54, Number 2, 2012, pp.196-197.)
“Sung tales sets a high standard for edited volumes by skilfully interweaving several key aspects of contemporary ethnographic writing, collaborative research, interdisciplinary methods, prominent featuring of local voices, and a response to globalisation…each chapter references others, creating an engaging conversation among all of the contributors–in fact, one of the best examples I have read of collaborative ethnographic research.” (p91)
Coulter praises the book as a first-rate example of collaborative research, and encourages it to be read by researches from many disciplines:
“Sung tales is a valuable contribution to Papua New Guinea research and deserves to be widely read by Pacific studies scholars. It should serve as a model for future collaborative projects on performance topics in the Pacific. It also earns a place alongside studies of other poetic and narrative genres from other parts of the world. It would be worthwhile reading for tertiary courses in any of the included disciplines.” (p92)
(Coulter, Neil R., review of Sung Tales from the Papua New Guinea Highlands, Anthropological Forum: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Comparative Sociology: Volume 24, Issue 1, 2014, pp.90-93.)