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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands



Tokelau people employed three types of percussive instruments for beating time and for their dances, and two wind instruments, a flageolet and the conch shell.

Percussion Instruments

The Tongan wooden gong (lali), made from the hollowed section of a tree trunk, is used in the Tokelau Islands (fig. 7). Most of the modern gongs have been imported from Samoa, where the puapua trees from which the gongs are made, grow larger. The gong is about 4.5 feet long, 1.5 feet wide, and 2 feet deep. The upper surface is slit lengthwise within the ends page 75 of the log and the interior is hollowed out, following the curvature of the log's circumference. At the ends the upper surface is gouged out 3 or 4 inches deep, leaving a lip between this hollow and the interior opening.

Figure 7.—Wooden gongs and beaters.

Figure 7.—Wooden gongs and beaters.

Gongs were struck with two or three sticks held by two drummers who beat in different rhythm. Small wooden gongs were played with a fast rhythm to keep time in the old dances. The ancient name of the wooden gong was kaulalo, but it is referred to today by the Tongan and Samoan term, lalo.

The Tokelau drum (pasu) was made from a section of a kanava tree trunk, one end of which was burned and hacked out to a depth measured from the finger tips to the elbow. Over the open end a shark skin was pulled taut and lashed under the rim. The Wilkes party found one of these on the malae. The presence of the drum in Tokelau is unusual for it is an instrument of eastern Polynesia, conspicuously absent in western Polynesia. The Tokelau name pasu, pahu, is also found in Hawaii and other eastern Polynesian islands.

Long, thin boards (papa), used for stretching and scraping bark to be made into fiber, were also employed as sounding boards struck with two sticks to tap out the rhythm for dances. Mat-covered boxes or kerosene tins have supplanted the boards because of their more resonant tones.

Wind Instruments

Flageolets (fangufangu) were formerly made from the pithy stems of young kanava plants, but are now made from the recently introduced papaya tree, whose young branches are hollow and easily cut. The modern flageolets, usually played by young girls, vary in the number of notches cut on the upper surface from 1 to 6.

Whistles are made by the children from strips of pandanus or coconut leaves wound into a spiral- or cone-shaped trumpet.

Large conch shells (fao) (Charonia tritonis) are collected by divers in the lagoon at Atafu. A mouthpiece is formed by breaking off the point of the shell and a hole is chipped through one of the whorls a few inches below the broken point. Fishing captains use conch shells to call together the fleet. They were once used in the village to assemble the people but have been supplanted by the wooden gong and the penny whistle.

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