Games and Pastimes of the Maori
Instruments of Percussion
Instruments of Percussion
The Pahu or Gong
It is a singular thing that the true drum was not employed by the Maori, as it was widely used in both Polynesia and Melanesia. The Maori of New Zealand has never, so far as we are aware, made or used anything more than the wooden gong. There were two forms of this instrument; one was simply a flat hewn slab of heart of matai (Podocarpus spicatus), said to be a resonant timber. The other form was more elaborate, a block of sound heartwood hewn into the form of a canoe, and hollowed out carefully, and at the expense of much time and labour, so as to leave a long narrow aperture that widened out to a large hollow space in the interior. The latter form was probably much rarer than the slab form, and the only one ever seen by the writer was made by a Rua-tahuna native for the late Mr. C. E. Nelson about the year 1899. It was about five feet in length, probably smaller than those of former times. It is shown in Fig. 103.page 298
Accounts of the slab form of pahu differ in explanation of the mode of striking them. Some say that they were struck with a wooden club; others that the club was rattled in a hole made through the middle of the slab. These gongs were usually suspended by two ropes, one near each end, from two posts erected on the lookout platform of a pa or fortified village. It was the watchman's duty to strike the gong occasionally, to show that the people were on the alert. It was also used for signalling purposes in war times. The following extract from Mr. White's lectures shows that the slab was sometimes suspended by one end:—
"The resolution for war, or the approach of an enemy, is communicated to the people at large by a trumpet called a pu tara, or by a kind of gong formed out of a piece of matai wood, hung by one end and struck with a stone at the other."
In the Journal of Sir G. Grey's overland expedition in 1850, mention is made of a pa named Nga Tukituki a Hika-wera, that formerly existed on Mount Aroha-uta, which had been built by a chief named Ruinga. This fortified place had been considered almost impregnable; the posts of it still remained at that time (1850). "As an instance of the great distance at which the sound of the pahu or ancient native gong could be heard, he informed us that the pahu in this pa had been heard at Matamata, which is not less than twelve or fourteen miles."
"The pahu or native gong was a large piece of oval wood, hollowed out something in the shape of a shallow bowl, and made as thin as possible, upon the principle of the sounding board. This instrument was hung to a post in the centre of the pa, and was sounded (by striking it with a heavy piece of wood) as an alarm in case of attack in time of war, on which occasions only it was used; and in order to prevent it being sounded by children, or otherwise without reason, it was hung at a great height, so that the person sounding it had to mount a sort of platform or scaffolding, in order to reach it."page 299
Angas has left us a note on this instrument: "Amidst the decaying ruin of the pa of Otawhao I found the pahu or war bell, an instrument now fallen into disuse, and regarded as obsolete; it was only sounded when an enemy was expected. It is an oblong piece of wood, about six feet long, with a groove in the centre; and being slung by ropes of flax, was struck with a heavy piece of wood, by a man who sat on an elevated scaffold, crying out at every stroke the watchword of alarm. It was only during the night that the pahu was sounded, for the purpose of informing the enemy that the inmates of the pa were awake, and also to let the people of the pa know that the sentinel is on the look-out. Its sound is a most melancholy one, the dull heavy strokes breaking with a solemn monotony on the stillness of the night: tolling, as it were, the death knell of many to be slain on the morrow." The pahu illustrated in Angas' Savage Life and Scenes is of the same form as that illustrated in Thomson's Story of New Zealand, a flat slab of wood suspended above a watchman's stage in a horizontal position, not edgewise, a hole in its centre seems to be a pierced one, not a mere groove. The operator is shown as having his beater thrust into the hole, as though he was dashing it from side to side of the aperture. This illustration is reproduced in Fig. 104 (p. 299).
Thomson provides a brief passage on the gong:—
"Suspended by cords from an elevated stage hung a wooden gong twelve feet long, not unlike a canoe in shape, which, when struck with a wooden mallet, emitted a sound heard in still weather twenty miles off."
Thomson's illustration of the gong is not the one he describes, but that illustrated in Angas, a very different form; see Fig. 104 below.page 300
Among Ngati-Porou the pahu was made of totara, matai, and, in some cases, says Tuta, of maire, which seems unusual. In some cases it was apparently merely a large slab or plank of wood suspended from two posts, sometimes made like a kumete or trough, then turned bottom uppermost and so struck. But, according to Tuta Nihoniho, the better type was made by hollowing out two pieces of timber, then fitting and lashing them together, when they somewhat resembled a cask in form. One, and sometimes two, mallets or beaters were used to sound these pahu, such clubs being occasionally fashioned from a whale's bone.
Some corroboration is needed ere this latter form of pahu is accepted. While an excellent way in which to construct wind instruments, such as flutes and trumpets, it seems rather doubtful whether a wooden gong would produce much sound when beaten, if made of two pieces bound together with vines. It resembles, however, a Rarotongan form, though this seems to have been a true drum, not a gong.
The following extract from Out in the Open shows that a wooden gong was in use in the Waikato district as late as the early eighties of the last century:—"The Hauhau call to prayers is sounded by the beating of the pahu, a sounding piece of wood, struck on its edges by persons furnished with short batons as it hangs suspended from a pole supported by two forked sticks. It is made (when procurable) of the wood of the porokaiwhiria (Hedycaria dentata) an aromatic tree. According to Paora Tu-haere (Ngati-Whatua), these wooden gongs were formed of large dimensions, sometimes over twenty feet in length; they could be heard at some twelve miles distance; it was struck in cases of alarm, when the people flocked immediately into the pa. A celebrated pahu on a hill in the isthmus of Auckland, sounded the alarm for the whole isthmus." No large sized slab or plank of kaiwhiria timber could possibly be obtained, it being but a small tree. Matai would provide a long and wide plank of heart wood.
Tradition tells us that a slab of nephrite (greenstone) was used as a gong at the fortified place on One Tree Hill, Auckland, in former times. See Dominion Museum Bulletin No. 4 (p. 193)
There is yet another kind of pahu to be mentioned, for standing trees, stumps, or even logs, that had become hollow, and possessed resonant qualities, were sometimes utilised as gongs. On the old bush track from Ruatahuna to Maunga-pohatu, at a place called Te Kakau, stood for many years a hollow totara (Podocarpus totara) tree known as Totara-pakopako. This was a 'sounding tree' used page 301as a gong. Travellers approaching the little hamlet at Te Kakau were wont to signal their approach by striking the tree a few blows with a wooden club kept there for the purpose.
Mr Coleman Wall informed me that he saw a hollow tree trunk serving as a gong on a small island off Malekula, in the New Hebrides, many years ago.
Ellis mentions a case in which a stone suspended from a tree was used as a substitute for a church bell on an isle in Eastern Polynesia:—"It was a rough, flat, oval shaped stone, about three feet long and twelve or eighteen inches wide." This was struck with a smaller stone, and the sound so caused is said to have been considerable, but not such as could be heard at a distance.
The other form of pahu, an artificially hollowed block or log of wood, is found in Melanesia and western Polynesia, but apparently not in eastern Polynesia, where the true drum is used.page 303
The Rev. G. Turner describes a drum used by the Samoans that must have resembled one form of the Maori pahu; it was a log of wood, six or eight feet long, hollowed out from a narrow elongated opening on the upper surface; and this they beat with a short stick or mallet. This was a Fijian form. See Fig. 107 (p. 303).
In writing of the natives of Niue, Mr. Percy Smith remarks:— "Drums were used called nafa and longo; the only one I saw was a log hollowed with an open split nearly its whole length."
Cook gave us the following account of the drums of the Tongans:— "They are large cylindrical pieces of wood, or trunks of trees, from three to four feet long, some twice as long and some smaller, hollowed entirely out, but close at both ends, and open only by a chink about three inches broad, running almost the whole length of the drums, by which opening the rest of the wood is certainly hollowed, though page 304the operation must be difficult …. with the chink turned towards them, they sit and beat strongly upon it with two cylindrical pieces of hard wood about a foot long and as thick as the wrist, by which means they produced a rude, though loud and powerful sound. They vary the strength and rate of their beating at different parts of the dance, and also change the tones by beating in the middle, or near the end of the drum."
The following remarks on the Tongan gong are from the account of George Vesson's sojourn in that group, he being one of the first band of Missionaries sent to that group:—"The principal instrument is a kind of drum, formed out of a log of wood, hollowed through with a long small aperture, and laid lengthways upon two pieces of wood. This is beaten…."
This Tongan instrument is decidedly a Melanesian form, resembling the Fijian lali, which was a short log, hollowed out, square ended. The long opening on the top was much narrower than the interior hollow. It was beaten on the edges of the narrow opening.
St. Johnston speaks of the Fijian lali or gong as being about four feet long, boat shaped, and formed from one thick log of wood.
That the pahu of Tahiti, is or was, a true drum, is shown in the following passage. Ellis states that, at Tahiti, dancing was accompanied by songs, and the music of drum and flute. The Tahitian drum (pahu) was cut out of a solid block of wood, the open end being covered with a piece of shark's skin. A smaller drum was termed toere (Cf. Maori tokere).
Of the Tahitian drum Banks writes in his journal:—"Their drums. … are made of a hollow block of wood covered with shark's skin; with these they make out five or six tunes, and accompany the flute not disagreeably. They also know how to tune two drums of different notes into concord, which they do nicely enough." We have now ample proof that the Polynesians who peopled New Zealand came from the Society Group, and it seems curious that they did not introduce the true drum here, unless the knowledge of that instrument has been acquired since the settling of New Zealand.
Ellis speaks of the Hawaiian drum as a hollowed out block of wood, the top being covered with shark's skin, and beaten with the fingers or palm of the hand…."A neat little drum, made of the shell of a large cocoa-nut, was also fixed on the knee, by the side of the large drum, and beat with a small stick held in the left hand." Elsewhere he speaks of "a rustic little drum, formed of a calabash, beautifully stained, and covered at the head with a piece of shark's skin." Forster remarked that the drums of the Marquesans resembled those of the Tahitians.page 305
Williams speaks of having seen at Savaii:—"Two persons drumming an instrument formed of a mat wound tight round a framework of reeds." Now I was once regaled with what I considered to be a wild tale, related by a member of the Ngati-Porou tribe, of a contrivance formerly used as is a pahu, to sound an alarm. A quantity of bark of the houhi tree was wrapped round with whitau, dressed Phormium fibre, and suspended on the watchman's platform. It was termed a pakuru, and was struck with a wooden beater. How any sound could be so produced the writer cannot understand. In the British Museum, however, is a so called New Guinea drum consisting of an oblong sheet of bark.
The name of the smaller drum of Tahiti was toere (to'ere), a word showing the dropped 'k'. This would be tokere in Maori, and, curiously enough, we have the word in Williams' Maori Dictionary as meaning a musical instrument, though what is not stated. The example given, however:—"E whakatokere ana nga tohunga i nga iwi o Wahieroa" seems to show that the tokere was a form of flute, fife or whistle. A native of the Tuhoe tribe states that a kind of clappers formerly used were called tokere, but no corroboration of this has been obtained.
In Fig. 103 (p. 298) we have a fair representation of the canoe shaped form of wooden gong, as made by the Maori folk in former times. Of the very long slab-like form, suspended edgewise, we have no illustration to insert here. So far as we knew the Maori never employed here the true drum of Polynesia, as used at Tahiti and elsewhere, but confined himself to gong-like forms. These gongs were widely used in Fiji and Melanesia, and it will be noted that the Tongan gong in Fig. 106 (p. 302) closely resembles that of Fiji marked B in Fig. 107 (p. 303), as also that of New Britain in Fig. 106 (p. 302). The box-like form of Fiji (Fig. 107 A and C p. 303) was apparently unknown in New Zealand.
A large and cumbrous form of log gong from Melanesia is in the Dominion Museum; it is shown in Fig. 109A (p. 307). Fig. 109 (p. 307) represents carefully made sketches of three specimens of similar gongs of the New Hebrides that are depicted in The Savage South Seas, by Norman Hardy and in the Edge-Partington Album of artifacts of Pacific lands. These log-like forms were set up in a vertical position, the specimen marked A is 7 ft. 10 in. in height.
Fig. 109A (p. 307) represents a log gong from the New Hebrides that is in the Dominion Museum. This specimen is a cumbrous form of gong, little wonder that such were inserted in the earth and so left. Its height is 10 ft. 6 in. as it now stands, and a few feet must be added to that, probably not less than two, for the missing part that was formerly embedded in the earth. The log is not round, being 1 ft. 5 in. in diameter one way, and 1 ft. 10 in. the other. The slit-like aperture through which the interior was hollowed out is 2J in. wide at its narrowest part; the edges have crumbled away in some places; this slit is of the same length as the hollowed interior, 5 ft. The hollow page 307 page 308 is 13 in. by 18 in. and the task of excavating it must have been an exceedingly tedious one. The eyes of the grotesque face are eight inches in diameter. Connected with the parallel carved lines sur¬rounding the face are several rude scrolls.
The Pakuru, Pakakau, or Kikiporo
This simple instrument is nothing more than a straight piece of wood which is tapped with a smaller piece. A specimen measured was 15 in. long, 1¼ in. wide at one end, ¾ in. at the other, one side being flat and the other convex. One end was held lightly by the fingers of the left hand, its other end was put between the teeth of the operator, when it was struck with a wooden tapper held in the right hand. Thus it was a kind of time beater to the songs called rangi pakuru, sung at the same time by the operator. Some of these ditties are apparently meaningless, such as this one:—
"Kiri pakapaka, kiri pakapaka
Kiko kore, kiko kore, kiki
Tau ka riri, ka riri
Tau ka rara, ka rara
Kai patu ki, patu kahakaha
Hai konei turei ai tana niho, tana niho
Pakakau, pakakau tu tahi, tu rua, tu toru
Tu whai mai na ki to mate o te aitu
Tōtō poro kuri, poro kuri, poro tangata
Poro tokorua nga whakahaukanga
Kikiporo, kiporo, kiporo, ki poro kuri
Toro rororo, turi raukaha, kiki to."
Follows another rangi pakuru of a less gibberish like composition:—
Haramai ana te riri i raro
I a Muriwhenua, i a Te Mahaia ra
E hara teke pakupaku e ko
Kai te uru, kai te tonga, kai te rakau pakeke
Takoru te ratio o Te Kete
I te ngaunga iho a tatai arorangi… ha!
Kai riri koe ki te waihotanga iho o te parekura
Te tangata tirotiro mo te aha ra, mo te hanga ra
E tatari tonu mai te hanga kiki to
Toro rororo, turi raukaha, kiki to."
The pakuru was made from pieces of matai, kaiwhiria or mapara wood; the latter being the hard, durable heart wood of Podocarpus dacrydiodes. Some of these instruments were adorned with carved designs, others were almost plain, except the serrated edges. In some cases a number of persons joined in a performance of singing and tapping the pakuru. A good specimen is in the possession of Major-General Robley; it shows one end and one side carved, and the tapping stick has a disc of Haliotis shell set in its thicker end. This page 309tapper is six inches long and is attached to the pakuru by a string passing through the carved end of the latter, and on the string are strung a number of Dentalium shells. The dark bands seen have been produced by agency of fire. The string is double and looks like one of the old Dentalium necklaces. See Fig. 110 (p. 309).
Of the pakakau, Colenso writes "Two small smooth sticks, each about 18 inches long, were made, one of them was held in the mouth, while the other was used to strike that one at the end; the performer at the same time humming the tune."
In his lectures, Mr John White remarks:—"Pakuru: A piece of kaiwhiria wood about twelve inches in length, one end of which is put into the mouth and the other end beaten with a stick, each blow being accompanied by words emitted by the opening and com¬pressing of the lips. These words were a set form." In Vol. II of his Maori History this writer gives the following: "The pakuru was page 310 made of a piece of matai wood about 18 in. long, and about an inch in diameter, slightly flat in the centre, and tapering a little at each end; the ends were carved and the middle was left smooth. It was suspended from the thumb of the left hand by a piece of string tied to each end of it, so that one end should be a little within the teeth when the mouth was partially open. The performer held in his right hand, interlaced between the three middle fingers, another piece of matai wood, about ten inches long and as thick as a man's middle finger, and with this he struck the suspended stick gently, while he breathed the words of the song, producing the higher or lower tones by closing or opening his lips."
The tapper of a pakuru was occasionally fashioned from whale's bone. Natives state that, though the end of the pakuru is held lightly between the teeth, yet the lips are not allowed to touch it.
With the pakakau of New Zealand may be compared the hura ka raau (hura ta rakau) of the Hawaiians, as described by Ellis. In this case a small stick, six to nine inches in length, was used wherewith to strike a staff five or six feet long, three or four inches in diameter at one end and tapering to a point at the other.
It is not certain that the Maori used any form of wooden clappers in former times; early writers do not mention anything of the kind. Parkinson, Forster, and Ellis all state that the Tahitians used pearl shells as clappers, the latter adding that the two shells used were of different sizes.
A Tuhoe native informed the writer that bone clappers were formerly used by his people, and known as tokere, but no corroboration has been received. The idea may have been borrowed from Europeans. Tuta Nihoniho, of Ngati-Porou, describes two simple forms that were used on the East Coast, as follows:—
Two forms of clappers were made of the basal parts of the Phor-mium leaf. In one of these a short piece of thick leaf base was separated into its two halves, one held in each hand and so clapped together. Such crude clappers were termed pākēkē (all vowels long), which looketh like a sound word. Another form, the pakoko, was made of a similar piece of the thick part of a flax (Phormium) leaf', but the two halves were not entirely separated. The two halves were separated to within a few inches of the butt end, then one half was bent abruptly outwards and downwards, the effect being to so weaken its rigidity at the point of bending that it moved easily as though on a hinge. This item was held by its lower part, where the two halves page 311of the leaf still clave together, and flapped up and down, thus causing the loose part to strike against the rigid half, and so producing a clapping sound presumably pleasing to the native ear.
We know that, of all musical instruments introduced by Europeans, but few appealed to the Maori, and among these were the concertina and Jew's harp, to which, in later days, was added the mouth organ. The Jew's harp has ever been a great favourite, and is called roria; in some places kukau. The name roria was that of a very primitive instrument used in pre-European days.
In describing Marsden's visit to Kaipara in 1820, a native said:— "The things that Mr. Marsden brought with him were pipes, Jew's harps, and a she goat. The Maoris were delighted at the Jew's harp, for their own roria were made of supplejack bark."
It would appear that roria is a genuine Maori word and is given as such in Williams' Maori Dictionary, which gives its meaning as Jew's harp. Mr. White's remarks seem to show that there was a pre-European roria, which might account for the name of Tangi-te-roria, a place in the Kai-para district. The Rev. J. Buller tells us that the place was named from the audible vibration caused by tide waters rushing swiftly through an eel weir, which sound was compared to that of the large conch shell, which was their war trumpet. Hence the name of Tangi-te-roria.
We lack any evidence, other than the above, that the term roria was applied to the shell trumpet; it is highly improbable.
In describing his travels in the far north in the thirties, Polack remarks:—"I was pleased in being able to add to their amusements by the gift of that primitive instrument, a Jew's harp, which was received as an inestimable gift and essayed upon by each of the company."
The great care displayed by a Maori in selecting a Jew's harp, and their ingenuity in altering its sound, is well described by Colenso in Contributions towards a better Knowledge of the Maori Race, published in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. 13, p. 82.
A description of Maori instruments given by a native to Mr. John White contains the following remarks:—
Another instrument was the roria. It was made of matai or titoki or maire wood. A piece of wood was split about the size of the little finger, and flat. It was scraped with a kokota shell and shaved down with greenstone until quite thin at one end, but left larger at the other end where held in the hand. The larger end was held in the left page 312hand and the small end placed against the teeth. The performer kept opening and closing his lips and striking the thin end of the roria with the forefinger of his right hand. He also accompanied the performance with a song, not a real song but only a murmuring in his throat to which the sound of the roria gave expression as the lips of the performer were moved. The roria sounds very well when played by an expert.
W. B. tells us that the hard, black parts of the interior of the trunk of the mamaku tree fern (Cyathea medullaris) were utilised as material for roria. A strip about 6 in. long and ½ in. wide was dried, then shaved and scraped until very thin. This was held against the teeth and struck outwards. During the vibration of the instrument the operator is said to have crooned words in such a manner that the vibration amplified the sound. In syncopating passages of a song it is said to have been effective.
All these instruments were played in the whare matoro in times of peace. On such evenings elderly men would teach young folk how to perform on such things, and speak of famous performers of former times, and teach the songs that pertained to the different instruments, for each one had its own peculiar song. The notes of the pu tara conveyed certain words, but no words pertained to the pahu, which was merely made to resound.
In his account of the Caroline Isles and their inhabitants, Mr. Christian writes:—"It seems to me that they had a sort of Jew's harp of their own, like the Samoan utete, but the modern ones have ousted the ancient article." He also states that the islanders possessed flutes, and shell trumpets pierced as are those of Fiji and Tahiti.
A form of Jew's harp consisting of a piece of bamboo, is employed by some tribes of Borneo; a specimen from the Solomon Isles is depicted in Edge-Partington's Album. The material employed by our Maori folk in most cases was a strip of the outer part of the supplejack cane. In late times a piece of the outer part of maize stalks has been used for the purpose. The Fijians employed a strip of bamboo for the purpose.
Natives tell us that players of the roria, pakuru, and certain wind instruments would repeat the words of a tune they were playing by breathing such words. In this connection Tylor tells us that the common Jew's harp can be made to utter the vowel sounds by simply putting the mouth in the proper position for speaking the vowel, when the harp is struck. The player's voice emits no sound, but the vibratory tongue of the harp placed in front of the mouth acts as a substitute for the vocal chords.page 313
If the Maori had a primitive form of roria in pre-European times it is quite possible that it was a similar instrument to that made by the natives of Borneo from a piece of bamboo, and which is depicted in Ling Roth's Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo.
The manipulation of Jew's harps by Tongans is described by St. Johnston:—"Berrill gave the musician two little Jew's harps, whose shrill tones he changed to mellowness by wrapping a thread round the tongue of each, and the music that he produced from those miserable things was marvellous. He could play two harps at once, holding one to his mouth, which he played with a finger, and the other one held in his teeth, which he played with his tongue, and the effect was astounding. Afterwards he and his friend played a duet, snapping their fingers as a sort of rude accompaniment, the chief musician introducing a strange variation by playing the instrument with his tongue, and placing his hollowed hands over his mouth, he slowly opened and closed them, which made the sound to swell and then to die away, as though it were miles distant."
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."
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
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.