Savage Island: An Account of a Sojourn in Niue and Tonga
2. The "Otuhaka."
2. The "Otuhaka."
Though it may be performed standing, the singers of the Otuhaka generally sit in a single line, loaded with garlands and anointed with scented oil. The feature of the performance is the haka, or gesture-dance, for though the performers may be sitting, it is still a dance. page 222Head, eyes, arms, fingers, knees, and even toes all have their part, and the precision of the gestures is extra-ordinary. The talent may be said to be born in every Tongan, for you may see little mites of eight years old shyly take their places at the end of the row and acquit themselves without a slip. The Otuhaka opens with a long and threatening solo on the drum, consisting of the same bar insistently repeated. After thirty bars or so the gesture dance begins in silence to the same monotonous accompaniment, until at last, when you have almost given up hope of anything more, the leader bursts into song, the rhythm of the drum never varying until it quickens up towards the end. All the performers sing; the leader takes the melody, and the chorus the second part, for the Otuhaka, which are generally of the same form, are always in two parts, and usually in rough canon. Here, too, there is an interminable repetition of the same theme until the leader gives the signal for a change by striking a higher note, and then the gestures change, the time quickens, and the chorus breaks into the tali, or coda, ending with a long-drawn note and a sudden dropping of the voice down the scale, like an organ when the bellows give out. The time is generally common or two-four, but in one of the examples given below the time is three-eight.
In reading these examples it is to be remembered that the leader loads his melody with turns and grace notes which are never quite the same, and which are impossible to write down, and further, that the final note always ends with the peculiar groan which I have described.page break
In the absence of any indication of the chord, it would be incorrect to speak of tonic or dominant, but if we assume the key to be C minor, we may say that the Tongans have no fifth, nor leading note, and that they are not enamoured of the fourth. It is not that any of these intervals are abhorrent, for, as we shall presently see, they have taken very kindly to our notation in the Lakalaka, where a progression of consecutive fifths seems to afford them peculiar delight. The character of their music is contrapuntal and not harmonic, though in their church music they are intensely fond of the full chord. The intonation in singing is very nasal, and though the men were easily taught to correct this fault in singing European music, the women are incorrigible. The ex-page 226planation offered to me by a native lady was that opening the mouth wide while singing swelled a disfiguring vein in the throat, but I suspect the real reason to be that which prompts them to conceal a yawn behind the hand—namely, that it is indelicate to expose the inside of the mouth to public gaze.