Between 1898 and 1938, over 1,600 wax cylinders were recorded in what is today Papua New Guinea. Recordists came from the colonial powers (Germany, Britain, Australia) and beyond, with the cylinders themselves being deposited in archives in those countries, but also in Austria, Finland, Hungary, and France, often according to the nationality of the recordist. Recordists were ethnographers, missionaries, linguists, government officers, and other adventurers, many with an association with Erich von Hornbostel at the Berlin Phonogramm Archive.

Since the establishment of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies in 1974, staff have been trying to obtain copies of these cylinders for its Audiovisual Archive: it is strongly felt that such materials should be available in the country in which they have most meaning. And, where possible, attempts have been made to reconnect communities today with such early recordings made in their regions.

Locating and obtaining copies of cylinders has been greatly successful, so that copies of almost all these cylinder recordings are held in the IPNGS Audiovisual Archive. According to the project concerned and available funding, the reconnection work continues in a variety of ways, such as through published recordings or research focused on particular collections.

This presentation will consider this considerable history of wax-cylinder recording activity in Papua New Guinea, the various uses that have been made of such recordings internationally, reactions to hearing the cylinders locally, and possible future directions.