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Samoan Material Culture

Sound Instruments

page 580

Sound Instruments

Instruments which are used for other purposes beside the actual production of the sound itself have been described, but leave a number of instruments in which the sound itself gives pleasure or interest to the producer. Anything that makes a noise gives pleasure to children and the use of a primitive form of Jew's harp and whistles satisfied their needs. Adults attempted to play tunes by means of flutes, pipes, and a sounding board.

Jew's harp (utete au lama). This primitive instrument consisted of the midrib from a dry coconut leaflet (aulama) which, broken off into a convenient length, was held by the left hand against the teeth and vibrated by the right hand so as to make a chattering sound against them.

Whistles (fa'aili) or small trumpets were made by children out of various leaves by winding narrow strips in a spiral form. The leaves of the banana, ti, and pandanus were used, which gave the plant name to the whistle as fa'aili laufa'i, fa'aili lauti, and fa'aili laupaongo.

Bamboo flute (fa'a'i). A flute was made of a piece of bamboo into which four to six holes were bored: In Savaii, the name given to the instrument was fa'a'i and it was played a good deal by girls. Actual tunes were attempted and as it was evidently used to play love songs between younger people of both sexes, they got more out of the instrument probably than a skilled musician of another culture. Stair (33, p. 135) refers to the instrument as a fangufangu:

The flute, o le fangufangu, made of bamboo, was a favourite instrument with the young, and from it they produced a variety of plaintive notes.

Pan's Pipes (fa'aili 'ofe). Pan's pipes were made of five pieces of thin bamboo of varying lengths. These were bound together with a lashing termed fausanga selu (comb lashing), probably the wrapped twine used with combs. It is mentioned by Stair (33, p. 135) and Wilkes (42, vol. 2, p. 142), and there is no doubt as to its presence in Samoa. The late Mr. Gosche of Savaii, himself a skilled musician, told me that he had heard and seen the Pan's pipes played at Falealupo. An old man played a plaintive tune upon them, while an old woman sang in a nasal tone a song in time to the tune. Mr. Gosche said the tune was distinctly musical and pleasing, though unlike anything he had ever heard.

Sounding board (pulotu). Stair (33, p. 135) says that the pulotu or fa'a-alii-la-iti "a small instrument used to accompany a solo, was formed by fitting loosely a thin slip of board into a bed of close-grained wood. It was beaten with two small sticks, and although the sounds produced could not have been very pleasing, it was used exclusively by the higher chiefs, some of whom were considered to excel both in this instrument and in that of the Nafa."