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The Coming of the Maori



The slot gong of Polynesia which I have referred to in previous works as the slit gong is better named a slot gong for a section of tree trunk was hollowed out through a long narrow opening on the side which was a slot rather than a slit. It was laid on the ground with the slot upwards and beaten on the outer side of the opening with one or two sucks. Its distribution differs from that of the shark-skin drum for it was present in Samoa and Tonga as well as Society, Cook, Austral, and Mangareva and absent in Hawaii, Marquesas, Easter Island and New Zealand. New Zealand is included in the absentee list because I do not consider the slot gong figured by Best (18, p. 165, Fig. 103) to be a true descendant of the Polynesian slot gong. It is present in Melanesia and its absence in the Marquesas and Hawaii offers evidence that it was a late introduction which spread from Fiji to Samoa and Tonga and then diffused east but never reached the marginal areas of Hawaii, Marquesas, Easter Island, and New Zealand. The Maori, however, developed a suspended form of wooden gong, used castanets, and made two instruments which were fixed between the teeth at one end.

The war gong (pahu) of the Maori has been described by various informants and writers from hearsay, but all agree in terming it a pahu. Fortunately George French Angas, an artist who visited New Zealand in 1846, saw an actual specimen in the deserted village of Otawhao in the Waikato district and sketched it. Quoted by Andersen (2, p. 197), Angas stated, "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…". The original sketch by Angas (2, Figs. 31, 32) shows the raised scaffold or platform with an inclined ladder leading up to it, and two high, forked poles projecting well above the platform on either side with a cross bar resting on the forks. The pahu was suspended horizontally by two ropes to be within reach of the seated watchman who is shown beating with a stick apparently against the far edge of the groove on the under side of the suspended plank. The drawing of the gong itself is reproduced in Figure 69a.

It is evident from the drawing that the gong was a thick plank thinned off towards the rounded ends. The median groove was truly a page 254groove and not a hollowing out as in the Polynesian slot gongs. One writer states that the gong was 12 feet long. Some informants stated that the sound could be heard from 10 to 12 miles and another gave 20 miles.

Copies of the Angas sketch were reproduced by later writers and Andersen (2, p. 197) points out that the original gong underwent changes into a rectangular form with the middle groove evidently pierced through the plank and the operator apparently rattling the stick against the sides of the new opening. Needless to say, raiding a sdck against the two sides of a comparatively narrow opening could not produce the volume of sound that would carry the number of miles credited to the gong.

Simpler forms of pahu are described as a matai plank hung up by two ropes and others are said to have been hollowed out like a wooden bowl (kumete). Another method was to hang the plank vertically by a single rope attached to one end. Natural suspension in the vertical position was produced by cutting two long vertical slits in a standing hollow tree and severing the lower end of the enclosed piece. The free tongue so formed gave fordh a reverberating sound when struck. Such a type of gong was limited to forest-dwelling tribes like the Tuhoe, in whose territory the tree gongs have been described.

A model of a pahu gong described by Best (18, p. 164) was made by a Tuhoe native in 1899 for a European. It was about five feet long in the form of a canoe but with a knob with a constricted neck at each end. It was hollowed out through a long, narrow slot that widened out in the interior. This is the nearest approach to the Polynesian slot gong. The constricted neck of the knobs at each end seems to indicate that the full-sized gongs were suspended with two ropes. In making the extra hollowing out in a model, it is possible that the craftsman departed from the orthodox technique of the full-sized gongs.

The origin of the Maori war gong presents a problem. The application of the name pahu to a percussion instrument in New Zealand appears to indicate that the Maori ancestors knew the shark-skin drum in central Polynesia before they left. For some unknown reason, they ceased to manufacture the drum and developed a form of gong to which they gave the spare name of pahu. On the other hand, the question arises as to whether or not they also knew the Polynesian slot gong and developed their form of war gong from it. The distribudon of the slot gong, however, indicates that it had not reached central Polynesia when the Hawaiian and Maori ancestors left that area. The linguistic evidence offers further support. The name of the slot gong in the Cook Islands (except Mangaia) is tokere and in the Society Islands, it is to'ere where the glottal stop represents the k sound of other dialects. The dialectal form of tokere in Hawaii is ko'ele, which means the tapping sound made by a beater on the wooden anvil in the manufacture of tapa. Hawaiian page 255women used a series of taps like a limited Morse code to signal each other. In New Zealand, tokere was the name given to castanets of wood or bone. Thus tokere was a widely spread Polynesian word that could be applied to a repeated tapping sound or an instrument by which such a sound could be produced. In western Polynesia, the names lali, nafa, and longo were applied to various forms of the slot gong. When the gong reached central Polynesia, it was adopted but it was given the local name of tokere. Had the Maori known and introduced the slot gong into New
Fig. 69. Autophones.a, pahu gong, adapted from Andersen (2, fig. 31); b, c, pakuru, after Hamilton (46, pl. XLV).

Fig. 69. Autophones.
a, pahu gong, adapted from Andersen (2, fig. 31); b, c, pakuru, after Hamilton (46, pl. XLV).

Zealand, they were likely to have known it by the central Polynesian name of tokere. Hence when they made a percussion instrument in New Zealand, which resembled a gong more than a drum in structure and the method of producing sound, we would have expected them to have applied the name of tokere to it instead of pahu. The fact that they fell back on an old name that they knew strongly indicates that they had no past knowledge of the tokere slot gong and that the Maori form of pahu war gong was an independent local development. The principle of suspending a resonant plank was a new procedure in producing sound and the grooving of the under surface was a natural sequence in experiment. The further extension of the shallow groove into a deeper cavity like a wooden bowl or canoe was again a natural development. If the slot gong figured by Best is truly an authentic type, it may be explained as due to page 256convergence in which a series of techniques were repeated in New Zealand which were independent of any hereditary pattern.

Castanets (tokere) of wood or bone were made and used with a pair in each hand. The tokere is evidently old for it is mentioned in the legend of the slaying of Kae (45, p. 30) in which a number of musical instruments were used to beguile Kae into laughing so as to show the overlapping teeth (niho tapae) by which he could be identified. Amongst the instruments mentioned are "te putorino, te koauau, te tokere".

Two instruments were made of which one end was held between the teeth and the other end caused to vibrate by tapping with a stick or playing with the finger. They were respectively termed pakuru and roria.

The pakuru was a wooden strip 14 to 18 inches long, about an inch wide, with one surface flat and the other convex. A specimen figured by Hamilton (46, PL 65) and shown in Figure 69b, was carved and the diagonal marks on the front surface were burnt in. A tapping rod about 6 inches long was attached to the head by a long flaxen cord on which short pieces of Dentalium shells were threaded (Fig. 69c). Some pakuru were plain or notched (whakakaka) along the edges. The instrument was played by holding one end with the left hand and the other between the teeth with the flat side down. It was tapped with the stick in the right hand in time to the words of a song.

The roria was a primitive form of the pakuru. It was formed by an elastic strip of split supplejack (kareao), one end being held between the teeth and the other end flicked with the finger. The player made guttural sounds and the movements of the lips helped to vary the sounds. According to Andersen (2, p. 297), another form of roria was made from matai, titoki, and moire, a piece about the size of the little finger being scraped thin at one end. The thick end was held in the left hand and the other end made to vibrate close to the teeth by flicking with the right hand. An instrument of this type termed ni'aukani was made in Hawaii and also in the Marquesas.