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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

The Shell Trumpet

The Shell Trumpet

These were formed from a large shell, commonly known as the Triton shell, that was occasionally found on the coasts of the North Island. It is apparently Septa rubicunda. A small specimen that had been used as a trumpet was found in 1915 in a midden on Somes Island, in Wellington Harbour, by Sergt. Hard. The point had been cut off, ground even, and three holes pierced near the edge to accom modate lashings for securing the mouthpiece.

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These instruments were known as pu tara, pupakapaka, pu taratara, pu toto, pu tatara, kakara, pu moana, puhaureroa, potipoti, and occasionally it is said as kaeaea.

In Maori myth the first shell trumpets are said to have been made by Tupai, a younger brother of Tane, who made two that were named Puororangi (or Taururangi) and Te Rangiwhakarara.

Mr. Colenso describes the shell trumpet as follows:—"The trumpets were made of wood or shell; for this latter purpose the shell of the large Triton (T. australis) was used, its apex was neatly cut off, its mouth scraped, and the whole shell polished, and a mouthpiece of hard wood, suitably hollowed and carved, was ingeniously and firmly fixed on. Here I must notice a most curious plan which the old Maoris seem to have had for increasing, or altering, the power of the sound of their conch shell. An ancient trumpet of this kind (formerly belonging to the old chief, Ihaka Whanga, but now the property of Mr. S. Locke) has a thin piece of dark hardwood, of a broadly elliptic form, and measuring 5x3 inches, most dexterously fitted in to fill up a hole in the upper part of the body or large whorl of the shell; which piece of wood is also curved and ribbed, or scraped to resemble and closely match the transverse ridges of the shell; and additionally carved … ; besides being ornamented with strips of bird's skin and feathers; the plumage of the kakapo, or ground parrot…. The old Maoris informed Mr. Locke that only one sort of wood was used by them for such purposes, it being very sonorous, viz., kaiwhiria (Hedycaria dentata). Of this wood they formerly made their best loud-sounding drums, or gongs (pahu), which were sus pended in their principal forts. They also manufactured several other musical instruments from this wood, for the producing of delicate sounds to accompany their singing."

Polack contributes the following remarks:—"Shells or conches, to which are affixed, with some ingenuity, mouth pieces of carved wood, are also prized by the people. A strip of dog's skin is attached to them for portability. The noise is as rude as can well be imagined. These conches are sometimes used in war to collect a scattered party, but as they do not admit of modulation the name of musical instrument can scarcely be applied to them."

Mr White remarks that the wooden mouthpiece was made in two pieces, lashed together when affixed to the shell; the binding material often being aka kiekie. The shell itself was known as pupu tara, the word pupu being a generic term for certain forms of univalve shells.

The Maori always cut off the conical point of the shell and there secured the mouthpiece, but at Fiji, the Society Isles, and many other isles, a round hole was made in the side of the conical end, page 289 Fig. 99 A Shell Trumpet of Tahiti. Showing the form of mouthpiece used in many Pacific Islands From the Edge-Partington Album in which was inserted a piece of bamboo to serve as a mouthpiece. In a specimen in the Dominion Museum this hole is circular and ¾in. in diameter; being situated four inches from the point of the shell.

Ellis tells us that the sound of the Tahitian shell trumpets was more horrific than that of their drums. He proceeds:—"The largest shells were usually selected for this purpose, and were sometimes above a foot in length, and seven or eight inches in diameter at the mouth. In order to facilitate the blowing of this trumpet, they made a perforation, about an inch in diameter, near the apex of the shell. See Fig. 99 (p. 289). Into this they inserted a bamboo cane, about page 290three feet in length, which was secured by binding it to the shell with fine braid; the aperture was rendered air tight by cementing the outsides of it with a resinous gum from the breadfruit tree … The sound is extremely loud, but the most monotonous and dismal that it is possible to imagine."

When Cook lay off Tubuai isle in August, 1777, some natives approached the vessel in a canoe:—"One of them kept blowing a large conch shell, to which a reed, nearly two feet long, was fixed; at first with a continued tone of the same kind, but he afterwards converted it into a kind of musical instrument perpetually repeating two or three notes with the same strength."

An illustration in Porter's Voyage to the Pacific, shows a war conch or shell trumpet, much resembling the Maori item, save that the hole has been formed in the side near the apex, the latter being left intact. A bunch of what looks like hair is attached to the large end of the shell, and a sling cord is attached for con venience of carrying.

Samoan chiefs used these trumpets as did the Maori, to announce their approach to a village, when travelling.

According to a paper by J. W. Jackson, noted in Nature of March 2nd, 1916, shell trumpets were formerly used over a vast area extending from the Mediterranean to India and right across the Pacific Ocean to America.

Forster mentions seeing one at Queen Charlotte Sound in 1773, of which he says:—"Another trumpet was made of a large whelk (Murex tritonis), mounted with wood, and pierced at the point where the mouth is applied; a hideous bellowing was all the sound that could be procured out of this instrument."

The Maori prized these trumpets, and the shells were but rarely found. They were passed down from one generation to another, and were given special names. Te Umu-kohukohu was the name of an old one belonging to the Rua-tahuna natives. It was, I believe, presented to one of our governors some years ago. Another old specimen, named Te Awa a Te Atua is in the Mair collection, Auck land Museum.

In Monneron's Journal of De Surville's voyage (published in McNab's Historical Records of New Zealand, Vol. 2) we find a brief note as follows:—"We saw amongst the New Zealanders some musical instruments; one is made of shell, to which is adjusted a a round tube 3 in. or 4 in. long; they draw from it sounds similar to those of the bagpipes. It is without doubt the instrument of which Abel Tasman speaks. The other instrument is about 1½ in. long, hollow and with only one hole. They draw from it five or six sounds page 291similar and as sweet as those of the piccolo. These natives evidently have a taste for music." This remark concerning an instrument 1½ in. long and having but one stop is of doubtful accuracy.

In late times the Maori has occasionally used cows horns for signalling purposes. To some extent they were used as speaking trumpets, as in calling to neighbouring hamlets to assemble at a certain place.

The shell trumpet is an instrument that has been used from remote times. It has been employed in Britain, across Europe, and as far as India, China, Japan, Malaysia, the Pacific Isles, and the two Americas. The Triton shell trumpet was used by the Greeks in war and peace for signalling purposes. In Mediterranean lands the apex of the shell seems to have been removed, as was done with the sacred chank of India (Turbinella pyrum), which was employed as a trumpet in connection with Hindu and Buddhist religious ceremonies, including harvest rites.

The Japanese were wont to fit a brass mouthpiece to the shell trumpet. In Borneo the apex was removed, as in New Zealand, but a Celebes specimen has the hole at the side of one of the upper whorls. Eastward of Celebes this side aperture is noted in many isles, and seems to be pretty general in Melanesia and Polynesia, though at Efate, New Hebrides, the apex was removed. In Brown's Races of Mankind the shell trumpet of Peru is alluded to as a pu tatu, a name that has a Polynesian aspect.

Fig. 100 Two Shell Trumpets in Auckland Museum. See p. 293 W. R. Reynolds, Photo

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Fig. 101 Two complete Shell Trumpets as formerly carried by chiefs. A. In Christ-church Museum. B. In Dominion Museum. See p. 293.

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In a work entitled The Sacred Chank of India, by Jas. Hornell, it is shown that the conch or shell trumpet has been much employed in India, even in pre-Aryan times. Not only was it used as a war trumpet, but also for ceremonial purposes. "From the earliest times the conch has also been used in India to call the people to their sacrifices and other religious rites, and as an instrument of invocation to call the attention of the gods to the ceremonies to be performed."

Fig. 100 (p. 291) shows two Maori shell trumpets both of which are in the Auckland Museum. Here we see carefully fashioned wooden mouthpieces secured by lashings to the shells, the apices of the whorls having been cut off. Some form of gummy substance seems to have been employed in at least some cases in order to make a tight join.

Two good specimens of these shell horns or trumpets are illustrated in Fig. 101 (p. 292). The feathers attached to the cord of specimen A are said to be those of the kakapo or ground parrot (Stringops habroptilus). This specimen is in the Christchurch Museum. Specimen B is in the Dominion Museum. Both are fitted with the carefully fashioned and fitted wooden mouthpieces so much appreciated by the Maori, the carved designs of which have been carefully executed.