Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

The Drum and Percussive Instruments were their — Favourite aids to Singing, and again reveal the — Primitive Character of their Culture

The Drum and Percussive Instruments were their
Favourite aids to Singing, and again reveal the
Primitive Character of their Culture

(17) The Polynesians were in fact limited by their highly primitive musical instruments, which probably only imitated the music they heard in nature. The first natural sound to attract the human ear was doubtless thunder and similar loud and abrupt repercussions. Hence the most widely spread and earliest of all instruments is the drum or gong. In this the Maoris have retained the most elementary form page 212that of a suspended wooden slab, and it takes a very subordinate place in their culture compared with its place in the islands. There it rises into great importance, not only in the music and the dance, but in religious ceremony; it becomes a highly ceremonial instrument, like a chief's axe or baton. In New Zealand it was used only in war and siege. The sentry kept thumping it during the night to show that he was on the watch. The simplicity both of its structure and of its use, and its absence from religious ceremonies, seem to show that it was aboriginal. That it originated partly in maritime pursuits is apparent in the canoe shape often given to it.

(18) Another percussive instrument was the pakuru, as elementary in its construction and in the music it produced as the gong. It consisted of an inch-thick stick held by the teeth and the left hand, and a striker held in the right. The variation in the notes arose from the movements of the lips. It was evidently meant, like the guitar, for serenades and other amatory music. The idea of a musical instrument of percussive elements was far more elaborated in the islands. The ihara of Tahiti was much like those of all the rest; it is described by Ellis as a single joint of a large bamboo, with a long slit in it, laid on the ground and beaten with sticks; its sounds were hard and discordant, and it was never used in worship, but only for amusement, whilst the pahu or drums were used in the temples as well as in war and dancing and dramatic performances. The Tongans and Samoans elaborated the idea. The latter arranged bamboos like a pan-pipe in a mat bag and beat upon them; they also struck bamboos closed at one end, and of different lengths, at intervals on the ground in order to produce a gradation of notes. The Tongans developed this method still more, as described by Cook in the account of his third voyage. But the Maoris preferred, as the accompaniment of their page 213great dances, the primeval means of percussion supplied by their own bodies. Their favourites were striking the bosom with one hand, whilst the other was made to twinkle and quiver aloft, and to bring the bare sole of the foot down with thunderous effect on the ground. The islanders had their favourites too. In the east they struck the bent left arm with the right hand; in Samoa they clapped their hands; and in Tonga the women snapped or cracked their fingers like castanets. But the limit of notes in all this percussive music was primeval in its narrowness, in New Zealand most primeval of all.