Reconnecting Indigenous communities with historic audio records of the sung and spoken cultures of Australia and Oceania

True Echoes is a research project that aims to reconnect a rich archive of early sound recordings of Oceanic cultures with the communities from which they originate.

True Echoes uses digitised wax cylinder recordings from the British Library Sound Archive. The recordings, created using phonographs, date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and represent some of the earliest uses of sound in anthropological research.

The wax cylinder collections include recordings made in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia between 1898 and 1918. The earliest recordings were made in the Torres Strait Islands and New Guinea in 1898 by members of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Strait.

These rare recordings are hugely significant as the earliest documentation of oral traditions from Oceanic communities. They include music, stories, speeches and many different types of songs, from hunting songs to hymns, and from lullabies to funeral dirges.

True Echoes is working with cultural and research institutions in the region and in the UK to enhance the visibility and accessibility of these collections, ensuring that they are catalogued in ways that are accessible to the communities whose heritage they represent. True Echoes is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

This website aims to showcase the recordings and the research that has been undertaken on their history. We have started with the smallest and youngest collection, the five cylinders collected by Bronislaw Malinowski in the Trobriand Islands between 1915 and 1918, and we will add further collections as the research continues.

Explore True Echoes

1915 – 1918 Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea

This collection comprises five wax cylinders that were recorded by Bronislaw Malinowski in the Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea. Malinowski spent two periods of fieldwork there from July 1915 to March 1916 and from December 1917 to October 1918.

Learn more about the collections that form the True Echoes project. More collections will be added to this website as they are researched throughout 2021–2022.

Learn about the participants and contributors who were recorded during the research trips that form the collections on the True Echoes website. 

True Echoes is working in partnership with a number of Oceanic cultural institutions, which represent the countries from which the recordings originate.

Outputs

The project team will disseminate findings and engage with researchers, archivists, community groups and other public audiences in the UK, Australia and across Oceania through knowledge exchange placements, articles, films, radio programmes, talks and conferences.

Contact

If you have a question or would like to know more about True Echoes, please get in touch and we will respond as quickly as possible. 

Our email address is: true.echoes@bl.uk

You can also write to us at the following address:
Sound Archive, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB, United Kingdom