Alfons van Nunen

Alfons van Nunen was born on 8 November 1922 in Tilburg and died on 18 December 2013 in Warmond. He was a missionary, teacher, librarian, archivist and anthropologist. He entered the Franciscan order on 7 September 1940. He was ordained as a priest on 16 March 1947. He studied anthropology in Sydney, Australia to prepare for his mission in West Papua. He arrived there in 1953 after receiving his bachelor’s degree. He was stationed in Epouto near the Wissel lakes, then transferred to Enagotadi in 1955 in the same area. He conducted research in nearby Kugapa among the Moni where he was stationed in 1957 and 1958 and wrote his doctoral thesis “The community of Kugapa”, with which he graduated in 1966 as a Master of Arts at the Anthropology Department of the University of Sydney. He already wrote the master thesis during his leave in the Netherlands in 1959, but due to the transfer of West Papua to Indonesia, he was only able to graduate in Sydney in 1966. After his leave, he was placed in Hollandia where he became a school administrator and was attached to the minor seminary, later the Theological School in Abepura, where he built up a large library and archive. He was also a member of the Catholic center and pastor of Sentani in the 1970s. He returned to the Netherlands in 2004 for health reasons and went to live in Warmond.

In his thesis he mentions that for the research, he had access to a tape recorder with which he recorded songs, stories and events. On pages 7 and 8 of his thesis he writes: “Mention must be made of the fact that I had a spring-driven tape-recorder at my disposal, which proved to be a great attraction to the people. Many of them wanted to have their speech recorded and the performance of various songs on the tape was extremely popular. Texts as well as songs on the recorder often contained ideas or just simple words which opened new fields for investigation. Sometimes, however, it was clear that people tried to use the apparatus for their own ends in this sense that they attempted to have unfriendly messages recorded to other people whom they did not like to approach directly. In these attempts they did not succeed as the tape in such cases was not played back in the presence of others, but merely kept for private analysis by the author.” His main Moni informant was Soadekigi Zongonau who is also on one of his tapes and about whom Van Nunen says:” who assisted also most of all at the drawing up of genealogies and in the wording of tribal tradition”. Soadekigi had already had contact with and worked with a number of Dutch explorers and authorities since 1935: Bijlmer, Castor and J.V. de Bruyn. Some members of his family were murdered during the Second World War when large parts of West Papua were occupied by the Japanese, in a local war instigated by the Japanese, because of his connections with de Bruyn who was hiding in the area and waging a small-scale guerrilla warfare against the Japanese occupation of West Papua. All in all, it made Soadekigi Zongonau quite willing to enter into contact with people who were seen as representative of the Dutch authorities, in this case Alfons van Nunen. In his thesis he also writes that Soadekigi Zongonau related the history of the two Zongonau lineages on the tape-recorder. He started out from what is known as the Situgumina legend. His masterthesis “The community of kugapa” was reprinted in the magazine Irian of the Institute for Anthropology University of Cenderawasih of June 1973 volume 2, no. 2, but van Nunen was not happy with the way it was edited and he preferred the original version.

A copy of some of his recordings was made quite early by the Ethnomusicological Center Jaap Kunst of the University of Amsterdam, perhaps even by the Tropenmuseum when Jaap Kunst was still alive. In any case, this tape is still part of the Jaap Kunst sound collection of the University of Amsterdam today; it contains recordings of the Yaqaj by the Catholic missionary Boelaars and recordings which van Nunen made among the Moni in Kugapa, with the Moni in Dogindoga area, the Ugunduni (Amungme) of the Tsingga valley, and with the Kapauku (Ekagi or Mee) of the Wissel Lakes. In 1963 a copy of this tape was exchanged with Dieter Christensen of the Berlin Museum of Ethnology, and eventually it led to the publication of part of a song from this tape on the six-part CD box set “Musik aus dem Bergland West-Neuguineas” published by Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preuβischer Kulturbesitz in 1993. This was edited and for a large part recorded by Arthur Simon with mainly music from the Eipo and from the Ok region but also music of the Jali, some songs of the Dani, the Moni and some Christian songs. Alfons van Nunen and the Moni performers knew nothing of it. Notwithstanding, this was the first and for a long time the only publication and thus a publicly audible song from what is present in the Dutch archives of West Papua recordings. Later it was followed by the CDs Muo Remé and Dema in 2002 and 2008.

Some extracts from Alfons van Nunen’s recordings have also been used for the soundtrack of the video movies ‘Paideka. Een man van Steen’ directed by Ineke de Vries and ‘Franciscus van Papua’ by Nico Boink, a cousin of Alfons van Nunen.
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Band 84

Moni Tape

No box, on a BASF spool, 10.2 cm, speed 9.5 cm/sec. It is in a reasonable condition. The tape was recorded by Alfons van Nunen OFM in Genjem and in Kugapa in 1957.
Side A starts with songs with tifa accompaniment from Genjem; the sound quality is mediocre. It ends at 8’10 followed by silence, and after 11 minutes it continues with Moni songs partly accompanied by handclapping and beating sticks, and with talking in between. Sometimes the recording of a song has ended abruptly. Side B is a recording of people talking with one dominating voice. They talk about Zamo a kind of festivity which is organised once or twice every year.

Side A is 20’28 and Side B is 9’14

Band 85

Zamo tape


The tape was recorded by Alfons van Nunen OFM in Kugapa on 21-2-1958. It is in a red Schneider magnetbandspule 11 box with a brandless spool, 10.3 cm/sec, speed 9.5 cm/sec. On side A there is a recording of a Zamo tegaia in Kugapa, a kind of singing party with Lukas and Januarius in which one can hear also a mouth harp. Also, the singing is accompanied by beating sticks. It ends with a story by Soadekigi. This side was probably recorded in the vicarage of Kugapa. Side B starts with a conservation, followed by a story by Soadekigi, then after 5’46 a mouthharp followed by a songs accompanied by beating sticks and with people talking. This would again be part of a Zamo tegaia happening outside.

Side A is 16’20 and Side B is 16’34

Band 86

Leo Boers

The tape was recorded by Alfons van Nunen OFM in Kugapa in 1956 or 1957. It  is in a red Schneider magnetbandspule 11 box and on a brandless spool, 10.3 cm/sec, speed 9.5 cm/sec. Partly three channels have been used. It could be that one of the two channels of Side B is a remnant of an earlier recording which was not wiped out well enough.  The tape is in a bad state, the emulsion is partly loose and gone, especially at the beginning of Side A. Side A starts with male choir singing in English followed by some talking in Dutch about the preparation of a Church meeting in Enarotali, but already soon it continues with gossiping about a colleague priest. Side B1 starts with singing and talking. On the box is indicated that it should be the Guru’s and the school of Kugapa. After 4 minutes string instruments, guitar and ukulele accompany the songs. There are quite a few drop outs and also slipping of the tape while recording. B2 has some sounds of nature, voices of people talking with at the same time radio recordings of music, sounds of a bad reception and after 8’41 Dutch speaking voices of adults and children,  interrupted quite often.

Side A is 11’17, Side B1 is 11’07 and Side B2 is 11’06

If you want to listen to side A or Side B2 of this tape email to Pace at the above email addresses.