Friday, July 17, 2009

Pipe dream becomes a reality for Ilaita Gigimat

Ilaita Gigimat warming up for the wedding in Lae
Ilaita Gigimat (left) in a bagpipes session with former members of the PNG Defence Force Pipes and Drums

Ilaita Gigimat (fourth from right) and his group doing a presentation at the 2007 Summer School for Pipers & Drummers in Christchurch, New Zealand

It was at the wedding in Lae two weeks ago of Dobbin Laka and Evelyn Faunt that the groom’s uncle Ilaita Gigimat blew a tune on his bagpipes at the Cassowary Road United Church.
Mr Gigimat, for those who came in late, is a former champion basketballer who represented PNG at the 1975 South Pacific Games in Guam and the 1979 SPG in Fiji.
He would have liked to have blown longer, having brought his beloved bagpipes all the way from Port Moresby for the occasion, however, time did not allow for this.
Bagpipes are normally associated with Scotsmen and kilts, and are also synonymous with the Pipes and Drums of the PNG Defence Force, but this 54-year-old New Ireland man has taken to the instrument like a duck to water.
He has even paid for his own travel to New Zealand in 2007 just to further his skills in playing the bagpipe.
This is what is called the National Summer School and brings together bagpipers from Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Gigimat has already registered two associations - PNG Pipe Band Association and Port Moresby City Pipes and Drums – and is regularly invited to play at weddings, parties and even funerals.
Later, as we chatted at the Lae International Hotel, Mr Gigimat told me of how he had had first taken to the instrument at the age of 50.
Everything has a beginning, and it all started in the late 1960s while he was growing up in his village on Nusalik Island, and the isles overlooking the sleepy town of Kavieng.
This period of pre-independence saw the establishment of some strategic development programmes for the Territory of PNG by the colonial administration.
One of the thriving government institutions in those days that captured the imagination of Papua New Guineans was the Pacific Islands Regiment.
Kavieng was one of the ports of call for the Regimental Pipes and Drums from the 1st and 2nd Battalions of Taurama and Moem Barracks, and it was then that the young Mr Gigimat was exposed to the sound of bagpipes.
He came to love the sound of this Scottish instrument, and from thereon, wished to be in the army and become a piper.
The best he could do was to join the Rabaul High School Cadet Unit.
But following the Caribou crash involving several cadets in Wau, Morobe province in 1972, he was advised by his elder brother not to continue in the cadet unit and his dreams were put on hold until several years later.
As fate would have it, during the Christmas of 1997, while Mr Gigimat and his wife were in Canberra, they met a Scotsman who put him in contact with Pipe Major Vic Groehert of the Canberra City Pipes and Drums.
Major Gorhert showed him how to play a wooden practice chanter, which is a replica of the bagpipes, on which the beginner starts to play.
To cut a long story short, after the Gigimats returned to PNG in early 1998, he was on the practice chanter for five years on his own.
It was in 2003 that he bought a secondhand set of pipes for K2, 000 from Andrew Johnson, who had his origins in Scotland.
So keen was Mr Gigimat to buy the instrument that he took out a K2, 000 loan for this purpose.
The pipes were sent to Brisbane for repair, thanks to the generosity of Moresby South MP Dame Carol Kidu, who paid for the cost of repair.
“I was a late starter but I pursued my interest,” Mr Gigimat recalls.
“And I’m still learning.
“The bagpipes is a very difficult instrument to play because it requires the full coordination of your body.
“My first attempt was in 2004.
“That was in Port Moresby.
“I was then working with Pangtel when I started playing.
“It was by sheer trial and error.
“When I was with Pangtel, I’d wait for everyone to leave work, so that I could lock up the place and play.”
Following the guidelines step by step, he was able to produce the sound on the bag, and although wavering at first, he learned to control and maintain the steady sound of the bagpipes.
This so amazed Mr Gigimat that he continued this for the next three weeks, eventually being able to play a simple tune called Amazing Grace.
At home, while the family was asleep, he’d take the bagpipe and close off the drones so that he could hear what it sounded like.
Mr Gigimat also met an ex PNGDF piper, Tony Tore, who taught him more about handling and blowing the bagpipes.
“I now knew that I could play,” he remembers.
“I had to continue to practice and practice.”
One day, a now-confident Mr Gigimat suggested to Mr Tore that they go to Taurama Barracks and use the band hut to try out a few tunes that he had already learned by memory.
He wanted to surprise his mentor that he could already play these tunes on the bagpipes, and at the band hut, suggested tunes that he’d already practiced silently the previous week: My Home, Going Home, Morag of Dunvegan and Liklik Boy.
So, in January 2005, Mr Gigimat could hear himself playing these tunes alongside one of the best pipers the PNGDF Pipes and Drums had ever produced.
He had graduated as a self-taught civilian piper and fulfilled his lifelong childhood dream of playing the Scottish bagpipes.
And what of the future?
“I think there’s a lot of future in pipes and drums,” Mr Gigimat says.
“I’m just trying to show that it’s possible to have a civilian pipe band, with the opportunity to provide tuition to those who want to learn.
“It’s a great opportunity, however, for the association to move forward, it needs a lot of funding from business houses and the government.
“Once you have funding, you can do anything, such as teaching young people the basics of playing pipes and drums.
“I’d be appreciative of any financial assistance, as well as support I can draw from ex member of the PNGDF Pipes and Drums.
“At this point in time, I haven’t received any assistance, but I haven’t given up.
“I’m also looking at the National Capital District Commission to take ownership of the band so that they can use it for their promotional purposes.”
Mr Gigimat can be contacted on email

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