Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Games and Pastimes of the Maori

The Pu-kaea. A Wooden Trumpet

The Pu-kaea. A Wooden Trumpet

We now come to instruments that are usually termed trumpets, the pu kaea and pu tatara, of which the former was the most common. This was a wooden trumpet, some of which were seven feet in length, some but 30 in. or so, but most of them perhaps 4½ ft. to 6 ft. in length. This instrument was known as a tetere in some districts; Potts calls it a pu tara, which name is usually applied to the shell trumpet. The pu kaea was made by rough hewing a piece of page 277matai or some other suitable wood, then splitting it carefully down the middle, after which both pieces were hollowed out and worked down and smoothed so as to form a neat hollow tube when placed together. When so placed together, thin layers of bark were put under the stout withy lashing. The bell shaped mouth was, in some cases, hewn out of the solid, but in others it was composed of short pieces secured to the tube by lashings.

In the Waiapu district the pu kaea was often alluded to as a titi matai and wharawhara, the latter name being derived from its big mouth. The bell-shaped mouth (whara or wharawhara) was constructed of several pieces which were lashed on to the barrel or main part of the instrument. There was often a little carving near the mouthpiece. When fitted together the tube was covered with thin pieces of totara bark, over which came the lashings that bound the two halves of the instrument together. The pu kaea was occasionally put in water to prevent too much shrinkage.

"Their wooden trumpets," says Colenso, "Were very peculiar, made of pieces of hard wood, scraped and hollowed and jointed, and very compactly put together, after a highly curious fashion, so that the joinings are scarcely seen. Some long ones had a large hole in the middle of the instrument, whence the sound issued, which was there modified by the hand; and others, four feet in length, have a singular (if not unique) central piece, larynx, or diaphragm, set a long way (12-14 inches) within its mouth, the sound of this kind was emitted from its larger aperture at the big dilated end … The noise they made with some of their trumpets was very loud and powerful, and must, I think, be justly termed discordant, if not absolutely hideous, to an European ear; yet by their different sounds their several chiefs in travelling were known. And not only so, for those loud sounding instruments were also used as speaking trumpets to carry words to a distance."

Here we have a pu kaea with a central orifice, used as a stop, described, but, so far as I am aware, no specimens of this style of trumpet have been preserved.

Angas speaks of our trumpet as a war horn:—"Besides the war bell (pahu), a war horn, or pa trumpet was occasionally used by the people in this part of New Zealand [Wai-kato district]. It was a tube usually about seven feet long, hollowed out of hard wood, and widened towards the end whence the sound issued by means of several pieces of wood fastened together with flax, like the staves of a cask: towards the mouth piece it was carved with a grotesque figure. This trumpet was placed over the fence work of the pa, and page 278during periods of alarm was blown by the inhabitants. Its loud roaring sound was heard at a distance of several miles on a calm night."

A pu kaea exhibited by Sir W. Buller in 1892 was nearly five feet in length, and had a firm outer lashing of split supplejack, the stem of a climbing plant. "The most interesting feature in this sounding instrument is an ingenious contrivance, in imitation, it is said, of the human tonsil, about a foot within the larger orifice. In the hands of a practised Maori this instrument was capable of producing a very extraordinary and far reaching call." This supplejack was by no means the best material for the purpose, some other climbing plants furnish a lashing material that is tough, very pliable, and does not become brash as does the supplejack (Rhipogonum scandens).

A fine old pu kaea in the Auckland Museum is still in its original aka binding that extends from the serrated mouth right along to the small end. Four inches from the latter end a human head is carved in high relief, this projection being avoided in the binding process. There are two specimens in the British Museum and an interesting one in the Natural History Museum at Newcastle-on-Tyne. The latter is a short specimen, bound with aka (stems of climbing plants and aerial roots of Freycinetia Banksii are so termed), and dates back apparently to Cook's time.

In the Cambridge University Museum are two of these so-called war trumpets that were presented by Capt. Cook to Lord Sandwich. One is about six feet in length, the other a short one.

Mr. John White refers to this instrument as a tetere, and states that it was made of matai (Podocarpus spicatus), the bell shaped mouth increasing the volume of sound. It was used for signalling in war time, to give the alarm, or to assemble the people. He also says that, in some cases, the instrument was first lashed with the thin, pliant aerial roots of aka kiekie (Freycinetia) and then seized with small cord made of Phormium fibre. The latter is by no means so durable as the aka.

An item in the Weekly Budget, January, 1898, states that an old Maori trumpet, seven generations old, called Te Atua-kai-roa, was secured by Mr. Goffe. It is described as being about two feet long and as being bound with supplejack cane. This is a very short specimen.

It appears that some pu kaea were made from a straight stem of tutu (Coriaria ruscifolia). This was split carefully down the middle, the pith was taken out, and the two halves lashed together. The pieces forming the bell mouth were of a harder wood, and were lashed on to the end of the tube. These pieces were thin and of a page 279wood suitable for the purpose. Mohi Tawhai explained this method of manufacture to Mr. J. B. Lee. Mr. Potts seems to have met with one of these tutu trumpets. In Out in the Open, he writes:— "Heard of a trumpet of native make; on expressing a wish to see it, one of Tawhiao's people kindly fetched it at once; it is a curious musical instrument called putare [? pu-tara] made of tutu hollowed out, narrow withes of flax root bind it round its entire length. Towards one end these are ingeniously arranged so as to form something of a bell mouth. Several young people essayed to try their skill, but only one succeeded in drawing from it loud braying blasts."

Capt. G. Mair states that pu kaea were occasionally called tatara, adding:—"It is generally formed of a number of strips of wood neatly fitted together, gummed with glue made from [obtained from] the tarata tree (Pittosporum eugenioides), and bound round with kiekie roots. Inside there is a tongue or valve called a putohetohe (tonsil) which adds greatly to the shrillness and power." The whara or bell mouth was often composed of a number of pieces, but it is doubtful if the tube itself ever consisted of more than two pieces, which is much the easier way of making it.

A Tuhoe note on the pu kaea is to the effect that it was used for signalling in war time, or was sounded at night by the watchman stationed on a puwhara, or platform within the defences of the village. It was made of matai or totara timber, and the sound produced was a doleful hooting. The small end is the kongutu, the big end the whara, the edges of which were notched or deeply serrated.

The tohe or puthoe (uvula) seems to have differed in form. The Newcastle specimen has in it three projections on one side, and two on the other. This instrument is shown as A. in Fig. 93 (p. 281); its length is but 23 inches and it is neatly bound with aka. It is in the Museum of Natural History at Newcastle-on-Tyne.

In describing a pu kaea in his possession, Dr. Newman remarks:— "At the point where the long narrow tube widens into the funnel, transversely athwart it inside are two narrow pegs of wood. These were called tohe. In looking through the trumpet more toward the sunlight, I discovered a third peg about 6 in. from the mouthpiece. The presence of this third tohe is I believe, a new discovery … The presence of these three tohe is curious; doubtless they affect the tune of the instrument. They may not exist in all trumpets."

Mr. W. H. Warren, who practised with the above instrument, and with it sounded several well known bugle calls when the above quoted paper was read, remarks:—"I may say at the outset that, owing to the peculiar oval shaped wooden mouthpiece, which is very rough on the lips, it is well nigh impossible to produce any of page 280the lengthy bugle calls, such as the "Reveille," and "First Post," as can be done with comparatively little effort on the regulation B-flat bugle.

The tones that the instrument gives out are very similar to those of a bugle, but it cannot be made to produce the lowest C. of the European instrument. Such calls as "Dress for Parade," "Rouse," and "Last Post" cannot, therefore, be played in their entirety." The writer here gives the staff notation of the pu kaea, and that of the B-flat bugle, and adds:—"It will thus be seen that the Maori trumpet is capable of producing four notes; the lowest, however, is hardly as clear as the G. of the brass bugle, and the lips of the performer require to be in exceptionally good form to produce with any degree of success its highest note. The two middle notes, G. and B., can be produced with exceptional clearness, and are, in fact, far more pleasant to the ear than the C. and E. of the brass instrument."

Of the sounding of the above-mentioned pu kaea by Mr. Warren, Dr. Newman writes:—"Experts declared that its tones were so clear and good that, had they not seen the instrument, they would have believed the sounds were made by a modern silver bugle."

A kind of temporary trumpet was occasionally made of leaves of the flax (Phormium) plant. These leaves were split down the middle, and the pieces wound in a spiral manner to form the instrument. They were usable merely so long as the material remained green. These frail instruments were termed tetere.

In describing the methods of the hostile natives during the fighting in the Wai-kato district, General Alexander says:—"To imitate the Pakeha (Europeans), they used to fire off a gun at tattoo, and call 'All's well,' and made a horn of native flax to imitate the bugle-calls."

A traveller in the interior in 1854, wrote:—"Under the artistic hands of our [native] comrades, a horn emerged from a flax bush, and a merry blast poured across the water."

Forster describes trumpets seen at Queen Charlotte Sound in 1773:—"They also brought some musical instruments, among which was a trumpet, or tube of wood, about four feet long, and pretty straight; its small mouth was not above two inches, and the other not above five in diameter; it made a very uncouth kind of braying, for they always sounded the same note, though a performer on the French horn might perhaps be able to bring some better music out of it."

In some pu kaea the mouth is not bell-shaped, the projecting pieces being on two sides only. (See A. and B. of Fig. 93, p. 281). A fine old specimen in the British Museum is but 2ft. 5½ in. long; the outer surfaces of its crescent shaped flare are finely carved. This specimen page 281
Fig. 93

A. A Withie Bound Pu Kaea in the Museum of Natural History, Newcastle-on-Tyne. Length 23¼ ins.

B. A specimen in the British Museum, showing an interesting device to affect the sound. Length 23 ins.

C. A long specimen in the British Museum. Length 79 ins.

D. An interesting double-mouthed and abnormally long specimen in the Liverpool Museum. Length 8 ft. 7 ins. See pp. 279-280.

A, C, D, from Edge-Partington Album B, from Ling Roth's translation of Crozefs Voyage

page 282 increases in diameter from mouthpiece to flare considerably, thus giving it somewhat the appearance of a horn. The cusps or horns of the two flares are somewhat rounded.

This is evidently the specimen figured in Ling Roth's translation of Crozet's Voyage, though the length is there given as 23¼ inches. It is made of two longitudinal sections and bound with withies. The mouth shows an unusual arrangement of teeth, as shown in Fig. 93 (p. 281), and which Ling Roth compares to the vox humana pipes of an organ.

Fig. 94 A Pu Kaea, two Koauau Flutes, two Nose Flutes and two Stone Tops in the Whanganui Museum. See p. 282 F. J. Denton, Photo

In Fig. 94 (p. 282) we see an old pu kaea in the Whanganui Museum that is only 22½ inches in length. The illustration shows the neat manner in which the aka or withie binding material was laid. In the same illustration appear two koauau flutes, two nguru nose flutes, and two stone whip tops. The upper koauau is 5¼ in. long and has the usual three stops; the lower one is 4¾ in. long and has five holes, two of which have been plugged, owing presumably to incorrect spacing. The stone nose flute on the right has had the curved small end broken off; the cast to the left seems also to have suffered. The stone tops were found at Waikato during swamp draining operations.

page 283

Fig. 95 Two Pu Kaea in the Dominion Museum. Also view of the putohe or uvula in the larger specimen. See p. 283 H. Hamilton, Photo

Two specimens of the long pu kaea trumpets are shown in Fig. 95 (p. 283). The longer one is a fine illustration of the methods of manu facture. It is 4 ft. 9 in. in length, the diameter at the small end is 1¼ in. that of the flared bell mouth 4 in. The greater part of its length is neatly bound with split stems of climbing plants, but 7½ in. of the bell mouthed end is served with small unsplit vines about ⅛ in. in diameter. page 284Six deep serrations mark the larger orifice. This flared mouth end is composed of four pieces; two of these represent the ends of the two pieces of which the body of the trumpet is formed. The other two are short inset pieces, probably about one foot in length. The wood is apparently heartwood of matai (Podocarpus spicatus). Eleven inches in from the serrated wham is the putohe or uvula, at or near the ends of the two tapering, wedgelike pieces inserted to form the flared bell-mouth. The two small projections forming the putohe appear to be parts of the two long sides of the instrument. The form of the aperture left is shown in the illustration, which also shows the two inserted, wedgelike pieces referred to above, and which are marked B.B., while A.A. represent the two continuous sides of the instrument. C. shows a coil of the binding vine that has worked loose. The smaller trumpet is a very inferior specimen 4 ft. in length, and seized with a cord of three-ply plait.

In an Archaeological Report published at Ontario, Canada, in 1898, occurs the following passage:—"The Iroquois Indians some times employ a very primitive instrument resembling the ancient flute-a-bec which produces only the tones of the diatonic scale. It is made of two pieces of wood hollowed throughout their entire length and bound together in the form of a cylindrical tube by means of cords. The opening at the upper end is much smaller than that of the lower, being about one fourth of an inch in diameter. The tone is produced by blowing into the upper end, the stream of air being projected upon the thin wedge-shaped edge about three inches from the upper end, as in the organ pipe or the well known penny whistle."