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June 14, 2021
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Aging Bagpipers say the new generation has to take over

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Under the roof of an old abandoned building, we find two bagpipers who were preparing for the Independence celebrations.

Both are ex-servicemen. Retired Army Corporal, Bulom Billy from Finschhafen, is the older of the pair having joined the service in 1967 as a teenager.

His fellow bagpiper, CS Corporal, Luke Alaupa from Okapa, used to bagpipe instructor in the Correctional Service.

As a light drizzle ends, we asked them to walk over to the parade ground at Igam Barraks for pictures to be taken. Both men carry their precious instruments to the clearing as we proceed to take a few pictures.

For over 40 years, both men have played the bagpipe on Independence day. In 1975, ex-corporal Billy, was one of the few Papua New Guinean Army bagpipers who played during the Independence celebrations.

“I had been in the Army for eight year before Independence came,” he says, “then when the queen came, I played during her banquet”.

Billy joined what was then the Northern Command of the Australian Army as an infantryman. He was then trained as a medic. But it was the bagpiping skills that the army gave that he still carries with him.

“The infantry was good. But one thing about the infantry was that you did weapons training repeatedly and I eventually became bored. When they asked if I wanted to learn to play music, I said YES!”

Both men were taught to read music in the service, but CS Ex-corporal, Luke Alaupa, is the ore technical of the pair.

“My favorite are marching tunes,” he says. “We play in 6/8 time signature. I don’t just play. I play from my heart and from my whole being inside.”

Alaupa studied and played the bagpipes for over 15 years under three separate instructors. Then when his expatriate instructors left after Independence, he became the CS band instructor.

As the drizzle returns, we stand under the shed as they take out their instruments again. Alaupa, points to the tartan, the traditional Scottish cloth that covers the bag.

“These designs are old. It’s how they identified their people and their clans. My design is different from his.

During his career, Alupa also worked with a church group in the Western Highlands. Today, the group still play the bagpipes and are passing on the skills to others.

While each had had their successes, both men agree that a new generation of bagpipers need to step up to the task. At Igam Army Barracks, there are no resident bagpipers.

The Engineering Battalion relies on the ex-corporal and five other aging ex-servicemen to lead the charge during ceremonies.

“It makes me sad that we don’t have new people taking up the pipes,” says Billy. “We can still play but we are getting older every year. A lot of my mates are gone.”

He pauses.

“We need funding and good instructors,” Alaupa adds to the conversation. “Me and my mate here, we’re happy to teach but the teaching aids are expensive. It will cost at least K150,000 to buy equipment and bagpipes. We already have a place.”

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