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Games and Pastimes of the Maori


page 214

Stringed instruments practically unknown to Maori. Remarks by early writers. Polynesian appreciation of the drum. The pu torino, a form of flageolet. The pu hoho. Flutes. The tuteure. The koauau. How the stops were spaced. Flutes fashioned from human bones. Phallic flutes. Flutes played in ceremonial performances. The rehu. The whio or whistle. Nose flutes. The nguru. Widespread use of nose flutes. Pan pipes of Polynesia. The pu kaea or wooden trumpet, and its tohe. The gourd instrument. The shell trumpet. The bullroarer. The "whizzer". Instruments of percussion. The pahu or gong. The drum of Polynesia. The pakuru. Clappers. The roria, a primitive form of jews harp. The ku and tirango, the first rude efforts to produce stringed instruments.

An inquiry into the subject of the instrumental music of the Maori brings us at once face to face with the fact that he possessed practically no stringed instruments. Had the Maori folk been a bow using people, it is quite possible that they would have evolved some form of stringed instrument. As it is, the majority of them are wind instruments, the balance being instruments of percussion of the rudest kind. We are told that instruments of percussion are the most simple, and were probably the first invented, and that wind instruments were a later invention, the most primitive of which gave but a single note.

Labillardiere has remarked that savages, in general, are not very sensible to the tones of stringed instruments. Earle discovered that the northern Maori expressed the greatest dislike to the violin [or to his mode of playing], hence he found it extremely useful when he wished to get rid of native visitors. It had, however, a very different effect upon some natives of Tikopia Island, before whom he played— "The effect it had instantly upon them was ludicrous in the extreme. They sprang up, and began dancing most furiously, at the same time so waving their heads about as to keep their long hair extended at its fullest length: as I played faster, they quickened their pace. A lively Scotch reel seemed to render them nearly frantic…. I have observed (generally speaking) that savages are not much affected by music, but these Tikopians were excited to a most extraordinary degree."

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Thomson maintained that the Maori had not risen to the level of appreciating the higher forms of music:—"Their hearing is acute, and their perception of musical time accurate, but the simplest melodies are alone agreeable; delightful music falls upon their ears without exciting emotion, while a noisy drum keeping time gives pleasure…… Their eyes see objects distinctly, but the subject of a picture, or the blending of colours, is conceived with difficulty." These remarks are correct. It was assuredly diverting to see the old type of Maori examining a picture, photograph, or even a map.

Our first note on Maori instruments is to be found in Tasman's Journal, wherein he says:—"They also blew several times on an instrument of which the sound was like that of a Moorish trumpet." This must have been either a shell trumpet or the long wooden trumpet.

The following remarks were made by Cook in his account of the Tongans:—"As to our musical instruments, they held none of them in the least esteem, except the drum, and even that they did not think equal to their own. Our French horns, in particular, seemed to be held in great contempt, for neither here nor at any of the islands would they pay the smallest attention to them."

When visited by a party of Maoris at Dusky Sound in 1773, Captain Cook—'caused the bagpipes and fife to play, and the drum to beat. The two first they did not regard, but the latter caused some little attention in them.'

When the frigate Blonde visited Mauke, 'the galley fire and the players on wind instruments in the band seemed to surprise and delight them more than anything.' Again, Nicholas wrote of the Maori in 1815:—"Mr Kendall having brought from England an excellent barrel organ, tried the effect of music upon his savage auditors; and it was highly diverting to see them thrusting in their grisly visages, and gaping with astonishment while they listened attentively to the unusual sounds. Two or three of them seemed particularly delighted, unbending their dark and tattooed features into the liveliest ecstasy." Wilkes said of the Samoans that they were particularly delighted with the bass drum. Forster tells us that 'our Highlander performed on the bagpipes to the infinite satisfaction of all the Tahitians, who listened to him with a mixture of admiration and delight.'

Of the Maori, Cook wrote on his first voyage:—"Diversions and musical instruments they have but few; the latter consists of two or three sorts of trumpets and a small pipe or whistle, and the former in singing and dancing. Their songs are harmonious enough, but very doleful to a European ear. In most of their dances they page 216appear like madmen, jumping and stamping with their feet, making strange contortions with every part of the body, and a hideous noise at the same time."

Most of the early writers on the Maori, in speaking of their musical instruments, mention the flute and trumpet. The terms fife and flageolet were occasionally employed, applied apparently to the pu torino, while Cook's pipe or whistle was evidently the koauau. These flutes are said to have had from two to five holes. Another statement met with is that they were played by blowing into one of the holes, or into one of the ends.

The following remarks are from Dr. Marshall's work, and date back to 1834:—"The blast of a trumpet had announced the arrival of our visitors, and the same martial sound accompanied their departure. The New Zealanders have a variety of musical instruments in use among them, including the pan-pipes [?] the flute, the fife, the whistle and the trumpet. One, which was made a present to me, consisted of a large conch shell, with a mouth-piece fitted to the spiral end, and ingeniously carved. The trumpet, whose flourish was made to do honour to Pomare and his body-guard, was upwards of six feet long, formed of several pieces curiously sewed together by threads of cane, and elaborately carved; narrow strips of cane were also wound round the shaft to the mouth-piece."

Although there is some little evidence that some pan pipes were brought to the northern districts, probably from Fiji or Tonga, early in last century, yet this instrument was unknown to the Maori in pre-European times. The whistle here mentioned would probably be one of the small bone instruments seen in collections; or the instrument mentioned by Colenso; the fife would be the pu torino, and the flute the koauau. The conch shell was termed pu tara or pu moana, and the long wooden trumpet pu kaea.

Concerning Maori instrumental music, Mr. Colenso says:— "Little can be said, save that they did possess such; and that, rude as it was, they sought to vary it in many ways, showing their musical faculty and their endeavours after its improvement. But to do them justice, we must never lose sight of the one great fundamental fact, their utter ignorance and want of all and every kind of metal… First I would observe that their instruments were nearly all wind instruments, which they played or sounded with both mouth and nose, having, however, separate instruments for each service… They were all made of wood, bone, or shell, and may be conveniently classed under three familiar names: trumpets, flutes and whistles."

In L'Horne's Journal of De Surville's voyage occurs the following—"I have seen two musical instruments: one has the shape of page 217an olive, but much bigger and longer—that is to say it may be 2 in. long, and hollow all its length, with a hole in the middle. They produce with this instrument five or six distinct sounds as sweet as the notes of the flute. The other instrument appeared to me to be their war trumpet. It is a shell to which is fixed a cylindrical tube 3 in. or 4 in. long; with this instrument they produce a sound similar to the sound of bagpipes, which does not resemble the common trumpet, as Tasman thought when he heard it," To judge from the length of the first mentioned instrument it may have been a nguru or nose flute, though that object certainly does not resemble an olive in form, and we know of no specimen as short as two inches. As to the sound of the shell instrument, I would say that nothing is less like that of the bagpipes.