Nandong smong and tsunami lullabies: Song and music as an effective communication tool in disaster risk reduction

Stephen Sutton , Douglas Paton, Petra Buergelt, Saut Sagala, Ella Mailianda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Growing international appreciation of the increasing risk posed by natural hazard events acknowledges the effects that climate change and increasingly vulnerable populations will have on future costs and casualties of disasters. As concerns about the impacts of natural hazard events increase, researchers and practitioners are interested in identifying effective processes to build individual and community resilience. To date, despite resources, time and effort being made by governments and NGOs to encourage disaster risk reduction (DRR) programs at national, regional and local levels, most communities remain poorly prepared, and improvements have only been incremental.

One way to gain insight into systems that may improve local community resilience is to examine (rare) examples where communities have avoided the worst impacts of a natural disaster through implementation of recognizable DRR strategies. One example is Simeulue Island in Indonesia. Simeulue was only 43 km from the epicenter of the earthquake that initiated the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004. The 15 m tsunami waves destroyed all but two of the islands 171 schools, 60 bridges, 41 medical centers and left 85% of the population homeless; but only 7 out of the 80,000 inhabitants died [1]. Music and song have been identified as an important part of Simeulue's DRR success [2-4]. This paper discusses the nature of the songs of Simeulue and considers the socio-cognitive processes whereby music was co-opted to entrain risk information about tsunami and their avoidance into the Simeulue community's Sense of Coherence (‘SOC’). The findings indicate that the people of Simeulue applied techniques now understood to optimize learning. While highly effective, they rely on rudimentary human skills and have consequently been overlooked or ignored in most formal DRR contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102527
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


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