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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

Nose Flutes. The Nguru

Nose Flutes. The Nguru

As will be seen by the illustrations, the nguru differs from the koauau in being shorter and having one end curved. It was used as a nose flute and blown from the hole in the small curved end. There are two stops situated toward the big end of the instrument, and another hole near the small end, on the convex side. These nguru were made of three materials, wood, stone, and whale tooth ivory, both ends are open. The latter were rare and doubtless the most highly prized. There is a carved specimen, damaged by fire, in the Holdsworth Collection (See p. 263 for description), as also a carved stone one, a rare form. Other stone flutes of this type are in the Auckland and Whanganui Museums, and in the latter is a cast of an ivory nguru in the Harper Collection. (See Fig. 86, p. 268). Two old wooden specimens, very finely carved, are in the Salem Museum, U.S., and another such is in the British Museum. One of the Salem specimens has both stops and the hole at the small end set with countersunk perforated shell discs having serrated edges. These are shown in Fig. 82 (p. 265). The specimen to the right has suffered by having a piece broken off the small curved end. The central specimen is an unusually short koauau. All three are wooden artifacts and are good illustrations of the carver's art. The koauau has the usual three stops. The nguru on the right has apparently had circlets of shell countersunk at the two stops. These flutes were obtained early in the 19th century.

It has been stated that the small end of the nguru was inserted in the nostril, when played, but this is probably wrong; the end seems to have been held just under the right nostril, not thrust into it. page 262The other nostril was closed with the left thumb. Presumably a person might use either nostril.

The nguru was not made in two pieces, hence the hollowing out process must have been a most tedious one, particularly in the case of the stone and ivory specimens. To perforate thus a whale tooth by means of a stone pointed drill would be a long task, more so because the hole was not straight. These teeth must have been bored from both ends until the holes intersected.

In Parkinson's account of Cook's first voyage appear some remarks on the nguru and pu torino at pp. 130-131, while the nguru is represented in Fig. 24, Plate XXVI of that work.

Crozet speaks of nose flutes only, as having been seen in the Bay of Islands district during his sojourn there, but says nothing as to their form. He wrote as follows:—"They have two or three varieties of flutes from which they extract fairly sweet but at the same time discordant sounds by breathing into them with their nostrils. I have heard them play on these instruments, especially in the evening when they are locked up in their villages, and it appeared to me they sometimes dance to the sound of the flutes."

Mr. John White wrote the following note on the ivory flute:—"The flute made of a whale's tooth was termed a nguru and was played with the nose. Only persons of importance ever possessed such a flute, such as a tohunga or chief. Only expert players could manipulate one of these instruments. He who owned one carried it suspended on his breast as an ornament, and the possessor was welcomed in any assembly of people, also admired by women on account of his talent."

It is a puzzling question to persons who have no music in their souls, such as the present writer, as to why anyone could prefer to sound an instrument with the nose, when, presumably, they might effect their purpose much more easily by using it as a mouth flute. Professor Tylor seemed to believe that the nose flute was employed in India on account of tapu. A high caste person could not put to his mouth an instrument that had been touched by a person of lower caste. But the nose flute was known from India right across the wide seas to New Zealand, and the above explanation will scarcely serve whereby to explain its use in so many lands.

A small stone nguru in the Auckland Museum has two sets of stops. This specimen is only three inches in length. The aperture at the big end is ⅝ in. wide, that at the small end is a little under ¼ in. On the outer side of this curved end, about ⅜ in. from its termination, is another small hole. (See Fig. 87, p. 269). The ordinary stops on the upper side are, for some reason, both formed of double page 263holes, each one is represented by two small holes about ⅛ in. in diameter. Later. This instrument is No. 387 in the Auckland Museum. Dr. Buck's description of it shows that some of the holes have been plugged. This peculiarity has been noted in a number of koauau. Evidently the first holes pierced did not give good results, hence they have been plugged and others, differently spaced, formed.

I have been told that small gourds were occasionally converted into nose flutes (koauau pongaihu), but that to sound such an instrument called for good lungs.

We have no good account of the use of the nguru, as emanating from natives, and it would be interesting to know the proper function of the small hole pierced on the outer, convex side of the small end, and situated so close to that end, as also noted in some of the bone flutes from the South Island.

In Fig. 83 (p. 266) we note a goodly carved specimen of nguru that is in the British Museum. The two stops are just visible; these forms should be illustrated by three views in order to show their peculiarities. The koauau to the left is a short specimen in the same institution.

Fig. 84 (p. 267) depicts two nguru in the Hancock Museum at Newcastle-on-Tyne. In one case the suspension thong is of skin, in the other it is a plaited cord; both being secured to bosses on the curved sides of the instruments.

A specimen of a stone nguru in the Hastings Museum is remarkable for being adorned with incised designs showing neat execution. These designs are of an elaborate and involved nature. On the upper and lower sides human figures have been carved in relief, though the lower one has been broken off. A hole pierced in this latter figure accommodated a cord for suspension. The instrument is 6¼ inches in length and has three stops; two are on the upper or concave side, while one is situated ⅞ of an inch from the upturned small end, on its outer side, that is if this later is a stop. See Fig. 85 A.B. (p. 268).

In the same museum is the ivory flute already referred to. It has been fashioned from a whale's tooth. The similar specimen figured in Taylor's Te Ika a Maui is probably the one in the Harper collection at Whanganui; a cast of it is in the Whanganui Museum (Fig. 86, p. 268). One end of the Hastings specimen has been damaged by fire. This specimen, fashioned from the prized rei, is 5¼ inches in length and 1¾ inches in width at its widest part. At the larger end the orifice of the bore is 1 inch across, that of the smaller end is about ⅕ of an inch, but it is somewhat funnel shaped. Doubtless the natural hollow at the basal end of the tooth would facilitate the operation of boring from that end. This boring must have been a very tedious process in page 264ivory and stone, when performed with the crude stone-pointed drill employed by the Maori. The specimen figured in Te Ika a Maui shows a carved design at the big end only, but the Hastings specimen is entirely covered with fine carved designs. On the lower or convex side appears the figure of a woman in relief that is 2¾ inches in length. The hands of the figure are resting upon the hips and the sex is indicated in the plainest manner. Fig. 86B (p. 268). On the upper side are two stops, one of which is 1 inch from the big outer end of the instrument and the other ⅞ of an inch from the first. A third hole is on the outer or convex side of the small end, ⅞ of an inch from the orifice. In some cases this latter stop is nearer still to the orifice.

The following stone specimens of nguru are in the Auckland Museum. No. 5046 is 3¼ inches in length and has the usual three stops, two on the upper side and one on the outer side of the upturned small end; the last mentioned being within ¼ of an inch of the end orifice. A hole for suspension, pierced transversely, is on the under side. No. 6062 is 3⅛ inches in length and has the same arrangements of stops, but shows no hole for a suspending cord. No. 387 is the specimen with plugged holes referred to above. In Nos. 388, 6064, 5047 and 6059 we see incomplete specimens that neolithic musicians have never finished. See Fig. 87 (p. 269), left row. The aspect of Nos. 5047 and 6059 seems to show that the method of fashioning these stone forms was to bore a roughly blocked out piece of stone, and then reduce it to the desired lines by working down the outer parts. See Fig. 88 (p. 270). I am indebted to Dr. P. Buck for the above details.

Fig. 88 (p. 270) shows the outlines of Nos. 5046, 387, 6062 and 5047 mentioned above. These illustrate the positions of all apertures, including the small holes on the convex side of the small end, not seen in the preceding photographs, etc., no satisfactory explanation has been received as to the manipulation of the two apertures at the smaller end. No. 5046 was found near Hamilton, material grey rhyolite, shown of natural size, pierced transversely for suspension. No. 387 was dug up at the Thames, material slate, double stops on top, size reduced in sketch. No. 6062 dug up at Pukeroa, Rotorua, material a hard black stone, sketch made from a tracing. No. 5047 from East Coast, in process of manufacture.

In Fig. 89 (p. 271) we note an end view of one of these stone nose flutes that shows the position and aspect of the small aperture just below the open curved end of the instrument.

The use of the nose flute extended right across the Pacific, from Tahiti to Borneo, and from Hawaii to New Zealand. Of the Tahitians, Banks says:—"Music is very little known to them, and this is the page 265more wonderful as they seem very fond of it. They have only two instruments, the flute and the drum. The former is made of a hollow bamboo, about a foot long, in which are three holes; into one of these they blow with one nostril, stopping the other nostril with the thumb of the left hand; the other two they stop and unstop with the forefinger of the left, and middle finger of the right hand. By this means they produce four notes, and no more, of which they have made one tune that serves them for all occasions."

Parkinson added a brief note on Tahitian flutes:—"These people have invented a musical instrument, somewhat like a flute, which they blow into through their noses; but their notes, which are very few, are rude and ungrateful."

Of a performance witnessed at Tahiti, Banks says:—"Four people performed upon flutes, which they sounded with one nostril while they stopped the other with their thumbs; to these four others sang, keeping very good time, but during half an hour they played Fig. 82 Two Nose Flutes and one Koauau in the Salem Museum, Mass., U.S.A. See p. 261 page 266 Fig. 83 Two well carved Flutes in the British Museum. The specimen on the left is a Koauau. Another Nguru in the same institution is shown in Fig. 67. See p. 263 page 267 Fig. 84 Two Nose Flutes in the Hancock Museum, Newcastle-on-Tyne. See p. 263 only one tune, consisting of not more than five or six notes; more I am inclined to think they have not upon their instruments, which have only two stops."

Fig. 90 (p. 272) is a copy of a sketch in Sydney Parkinson's account of Cook's voyage. It represents the son of Tupia (?) playing a Tahitian nose flute. Apparently the sketch is incorrect, the instrument being held to the right nostril but the left nostril is not closed with the left thumb. If the right thumb was so used then the instrument would be applied to the left nostril. Was this a case of the muscular motion mentioned by Lieut. Walpole?

Cook's notes on the Tahitian form of nose flute are as follows:— "It is made of hollow bamboo about fifteen inches long, in which are three holes; into one of them they blow with one nostril, stopping the other with the thumb of the left hand, the other two holes they stop and unstop with their fingers, and by this means produce four notes, of which they have made one tune, which serves them upon all occasions, to which they sing a number of songs … Their drums are made of a hollow block of wood covered with shark's skin, and instead of drum-sticks they use their hands. Of these they make out five or six tunes, and accompany the flutes."

page 268
Fig. 85

A. Stone Nguru in Hastings Museum. (Side view)

B. Stone Nguru in Hastings Museum. (Showing stops) W. Poll, Photo

C. Stone Nguru in possession of Major-General G. Robley, London See p. 263

Fig. 86

A. Upper side of Ivory Flute in Hastings Museum

B. Convex side of same, showing female figure in relief W. Poll, Photo

C. Ivory Flute in Harper Collection. See p. 264 From Te Ika a Maui, by the Rev. R. Taylor

These writers seem to have seen but the one type of flute, having three holes, one of which was used to blow into, and two as stops. John Turnbull speaks of the flutes seen at Huahine as having three holes or stops, one of which was of such a size as to admit of the performer's applying his nostrils to fill it. Lieut. Walpole remarks:—"The flute is blown by one nostril, the other being contracted by some muscular motion." No other writer mentions this contraction, but a number state that the thumb was used to stop the disengaged nostril.

page 269

Fig. 87 Six Stone Flutes in Auckland Museum The three specimens on the left are unfinished. The upper on the right is No. 5046, the next is No. 387, the lower is No. 6062. A. Convace upper surfaces, showing stops in finished specimens. B. Side view of same specimens. See p. 264 W. R. Reynolds, Photo

page 270

Fig. 88 Outline sketches of Stone Nose Flutes Nos. 5046, 387, 6062, 5047 in Auckland Museum. Illustrating positions of all apertures. See p. 264 From sketches by Dr. P. H. Buck

page 271

Fig. 89 Three views of Stone Nose Flute in Auckland Museum. See p. 264 W. R. Reynolds, Photo

The Tahitian flute described by Ellis "was usually a bamboo cane, about an inch in diameter, and twelve or eighteen inches long. The joint in the cane formed one end of the flute; the aperture through which it was blown was close to the end, it seldom had more than four other holes, three in the upper side covered with the fingers, and one beneath, against which the thumb was placed. Sometimes, however, there were four holes on the upper side. It was occasionally plain but more frequently ornamented by being partially burnt or scorched with a hot stone, or having fine and beautifully plaited strings of human hair wound round it alternately with rings of braided cinet. It was not blown from the mouth, but the nostril. The performer usually placed the thumb of the right hand upon the page 272 Fig. 90 Tahitian playing Nose Flute. See p. 267 After Parkinson page 273 right nostril, applied the aperture of the flute, which he held with the fingers of his right hand, to the other nostril, and, moving his fingers on the holes, produced his music. The sound was soft and not unpleasant, though the notes were few … the drum and the flute were generally accompanied by song."

Clearly the instrument was blown from the side, as a flute, and not from the end, as a pipe. Ellis says it sometimes had four stops as some Maori koauau had. Having resided at Tahiti he would have a better knowledge of such artifacts than the voyagers quoted above.

The natives of Niue Island also used the nose flute, called by them kofe, the kohe (bamboo) of other isles. The ohe kaeke was a bamboo instrument of the Hawaiians. In writing of the natives of Niue, or Savage Island, Mr. Turner states:—"They had wooden flutes as musical instruments; they were single and double, resembling those of the ancient Egyptians, only shorter, and were blown with the nostrils." A similar statement is made by the author of The Cruise of the Fawn. "They are very fond of amusements and of music. The only instrument we saw was a double flute, like that of the ancient Egyptians, which they play with the nostrils, the performer presenting a most grotesque appearance."

Fig. 91 A Nose Flute of Niue Island. Length 7¾ ins. Apparently a two stop flute sounded from hole near end From the Edge-Partington Album

Fig. 91 A Nose Flute of Niue Island. Length 7¾ ins. Apparently a two stop flute sounded from hole near end
From the Edge-Partington Album

Of the flutes of the Tongans, Cook remarks:—"The flutes are a joint of bamboo, closed at both ends, with a hole near each, and four others; two of which, and one of the first only, are used in playing. They apply the thumb of the left hand to close the left nostril, and blow into the hole at one end, with the other. The middle finger of the left hand is applied to the first hole on the left, and the forefinger of the right to the lowest hole on that side. In this manner, though the notes are only three, they produce a pleasing yet simple music, which they vary much more than one would think possible with so imperfect an instrument. Their being accustomed to a music which consists of so few notes, is, perhaps, the reason why they do not seem to relish any of ours, which is so complex."

page 274

Fig. 91aHow One Nostril was closed by players of the Nose Flute. See pp. 236, 248 260, 265, 273-276 Dominion Museum Photo

These remarks appear to describe a true flute having six holes at the side, one of which is used for blowing, and two are manipulated as stops, but the other three are apparently not used. Mariner, however, in the following remarks, seems to imply that all the holes, which vary in number, are brought into use. As a resident in those isles, he should be more correct than Cook. "The fangofango is a sort of flute played by the nose; it is always filled by the right nostril, the left being closed with the thumb of the left hand. There are generally five holes for the fingers, and one underneath for the thumb; though some have six holes for the fingers, and others only four. The sound of them is soft and grave: they are only used as an accompaniment to one species of song."

page 275

In his Camping among Cannibals, Mr. A. St. Johnston writes as follows of the nose flute of Tonga:—"The fangofango, as the nose flute is called, is formed of one piece of bamboo, stopped at either end with the natural joints; they are of varying size, this one was about 16 inches long and two in diameter; there are four holes along the top and one underneath. They blow, taking a very deep breath, into the end hole with one nostril, tightly closing the other with one ringer, and all the notes seemed to me to be formed by the strength of the blowing, as the fingering is not intricate."

Labillardiere, in describing a meeting with some Tongan girls, remarks:—"They then played a very monotonous duet on flutes made of bamboo, but we were much amused at seeing them blow with the nose into a hole at the extremity of the instrument in order to make it sound."

Forster tells us something of the ornamentation of these Tongan flutes:—"They had likewise a flute of a bamboo reed, nearly of the thickness of a German flute, which they played with the nostrils, like the Tahitians. They commonly had ornamented it with various little figures, burnt in, and pierced four or five holes in it, whereas the Tahitian flute had but three in all. The method of ornamenting wood by burning figures into it was frequently observed in their bowls and various other utensils."

Fig. 92

A. Fijian Girl playing a Nose Flute From Fiji and the Fijians, by Rev. T. Williams

B. Pan Pipes of the New Hebrides From the Edge-Partington Album

page 276

The instruments of the Fiji group are described by Commander Wilkes, who writes:—"The flute consists simply of a piece of bamboo, both ends of which are stopped; it has five holes, one of which is placed near the end, to which the left nostril is applied. Of the other holes, two are in the middle, and two at the other end for the fingers. This instrument produces a low plaintive note, which is but slightly varied by the closing and opening of the holes. It is sometimes accompanied by the voice…. They likewise have a kind of Pandean pipe, made of several reeds of different sizes, lashed together."

In Fig. 92 (p. 275) we see another copy of what was presumably another careless sketch, as in the case of Fig. 90 (p. 272). The Fijian player in 92 is not closing a nostril with her thumb.

The nose flute of the Hawaiian (Sandwich) Isles, termed ohe hano ihu, also consisted of a joint of bamboo.

Angas speaks of the nose flute as being known at Ponape, in the Caroline Group, and H. L. Roth mentions it in his work on the natives of Borneo. Some further notes on nose flutes may be found under the heading of Gourd Instruments.

The Pan pipes mentioned by Wilkes were unknown in New Zealand, and it was essentially a Melanesian instrument. In Cook's time it had reached the Tongan Group from Fiji, and, like the pump drill, its course was an eastward one.

In the story of Tinirau and Kae the terms to and torche are applied apparently to musical instruments, but I could learn no particulars concerning them.

In the subsequent parts of this division of my paper some account is given of what may be termed the cruder forms of instruments, such forms being by no means musical. They do, however, emit sound when operated by a strong lunged native, that much at least the writer can vouch for. Possibly some apology is due to the hapless reader on account of the inclusion here of a description of these primitive forms, but it seems to be the only place wherein such data may be given.