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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

String Instruments

String Instruments

The string instruments of the Maori are almost as easily disposed of as the snakes of Ireland. In a list of instruments formerly made by the Maori, we find the names of ku, to and torehe. These names appear in the legend or myth of the slaying of Kae. Of the last two nothing is known, but a few natives have a dim memory of some instrument called a ku. In a private communication Canon Stack speaks thus of it:—"Do you know anything of the musical instrument called ku? It was a one stringed instrument made in the shape of a bow about ten inches long, out of a hard piece of matai. The string was of whitau [dressed Phormium fibre]. It was held near the ear when played, and the sound was produced by tapping it with a rod."

The late Tuta Nihoniho, of the East Coast, gave the following account of a primitive child's toy called a tirango that might be viewed as a first step towards stringed instruments. It was merely a very simple item made for children by bending a thin piece of kareao (stem of the climbing plant Rhipogonum scandens) in the form of a bow, and fastening to its two ends as a bowstring a strip of the base of a leaf of raupo (Typha augustifolia). The base of a raupo leaf has a very thin edge of a flaccid nature, and it is this edge, fluttering or vibrating in its swift passage through the air, that produces the sound. A short cord was secured by one end to one end of the bow, and by the other end to a stick used as a handle. By means of this handle the tirango was whirled round as is a bullroarer, and produced a whirring page 314
Fig. 111

A. A Two Stringed Instrument of the Solomon Isles

B. A better made specimen from the New Hebrides. See p. 314 From the Edge-Partington Album

Fig. 112 An Unknown Artifact. See p. 315 or humming sound thought to resemble somewhat that made by the large fly called rango, hence the name of the instrument. Apparently the prefixed syllable ti is of a causative nature here, as observed in the words tiwaha and tirama.

A two-stringed instrument of the bow form was known to the natives of the Solomon Isles; it was played with a plectrum of bamboo. Fig. 111 (p. 314) shows a specimen 16¼ inches in length depicted in the Edge-Partington Album. A more carefully made specimen in the British Museum is from Espiritu Santo Island of the New Hebrides Group. It is 19½ inches long and we are told that one end was held between the teeth of the operator. This implement is shown in Fig. 111 as copied from the Edge-Partington Album.

page 315

Fig. 112 (p. 314) represents a peculiar artifact said to have been found at Purakanui, Otago, and which some genius has labelled 'Maori Flute.' It is more in sorrow than in anger that we disclaim this weird looking object. As a seven bowled tobacco pipe it might satisfy the most ardent of smokers. Possibly it hails from the far north.