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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

Their Flutes were Extremely Primitive, and the — Nose-flute was Exceptional and obstructed — Musical Development

Their Flutes were Extremely Primitive, and the
Nose-flute was Exceptional and obstructed
Musical Development

(19) It is the same when we turn to the only other type of musical instrument that Polynesia hadthe wind, or blowing instrument. There is the extreme of simplicity and lack of variety of effect; and New Zealand has it in its greatest bareness. There are the fife, the flageolet or flute, and the trumpet of various kinds. Of these the flute was the instrument most capable of development in the range of notes. But here a unique custom barred the way. It was played, not with the mouth, but with one of the nostrils, the left in Tahiti, the right in New Zealand. Now, in order to give range, both hands were needed as stops for the holes. But the need of one hand to stop one of the nostrils precluded this. The result was that the largest number of notes in a Polynesian flute was five, and as a rule one of these was below for the thumb. How could the scale be other than pentatonic at its utmost range, where the chief musical instrument was confined to five holes or notes? And in New Zealand there was more often than not only one hole in the centre, and the variety of note was obtained by the greater or less extent of this that was covered.

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(20) The route of this inefficient device for bringing the breath to bear on a music-tube was Java, Borneo, Celebes; for the nose-flute is found in all three islands. Had this not pointed so definitely to South Asia as its source, one would have been inclined to assign the origin of the use of the nose-flute to some climate, like the northern or sub-Arctic, where the bitterness compelled the habitual closing of the mouth. That it came into Polynesia with a very ancient migration from Indonesia we may be sure; for it did not find its way to Madagascar, although the peculiar stringed instruments of Malaysia went thither. It was not used in religious, but in amatory music throughout the islands a sign that it did not belong to the last conquerors, but to the aboriginals; and, though in the islands bamboo was preferred for it, in New Zealand, in the absence of that universal provider of Indonesia, boneand especially the leg-bone of an enemywas used for it in preference to wood and other material.