About the Art

Slit Gongs

Watch a scene from Hidden Treasures

The towering slit gongs of northern Vanuatu are among the largest freestanding musical instruments on earth. Found primarily on Ambrym, Malakula, and neighboring islands, the slit gongs are traditionally used in ceremonies. They are carved from the trunks of large breadfruit trees, and then hollowed out to create a resonating chamber with a narrow slit-shaped aperture.Slit Gong

Vanuatu’s fractured terrain has produced a kaleidoscope of cultures and more than 100 indigenous languages. The ni-Vanuatu world is still inhabited by spirits and demons, despite the missionaries’ best efforts to expel them. Anything tabu is sacred or holy, and the word is in common use–on signs it can mean simply “no entry”. Traditional dances and ceremonies still play a major role in villagers’ lives, with participants acting out the roles of mythical figures or their ancestors. The Nimangki system, or “grade taking”, is important to many islanders in the north. Participants publicly give away wealth through a series of ceremonies, including a full-blooded slaughtering of pigs.