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Musical Instrument Museum, Part 10

The small island nation of Papua New Guinea showcases this intricately carved water drum. The tone of the drum is tuned by the amount of water added to the drum — each playing may vary in tone by using different amounts of water (intentionally or accidentally).

In Indonesian West Papua indigenous peoples continue music, dance and other artistic practices developed in small clan-based communities, much like those of Papua New Guinea in the eastern half of the island. Here people believe music is powerful — and hold elaborately designed rituals and ceremonies for life-cycle events and conflicts. Shown here, full-body fiber masks give physical form to the deceased — the eyes of the dancer revealing individual character.


Vanuatu is a small archipelago of volcanic origin, 1000 miles east of northern Australia. The traditional music here is distinguished from that of nearby island nations by the use of the large upright slit drums. Measuring up to 20 feet tall, these vertical drums were once grouped together and used to play shared rhythms to accompany rituals.

The large drum shown here, called a garamut, is played horizontally accompanied by other instruments made of natural products found on the island.


Solomon Islanders have distinguished themselves in the musical world with their fascinating instruments. The one pictured here is a raft flute — they range in size from eight inches to five feet in length. The musician produces tones by striking the end of a tube with a rubber shoe.

They also play instruments such as the slit drum which was played solo to send messages. They were later used in ensembles to play multipart rhythms for ceremonial feasts. These are accompanied by rattles made from dried husks which are tied to the performers' ankles.


On Palau, like in much of the Micronesian region, singing is central to music. People sing while dancing, punctuating their performances with hand clapping, body slapping, staff stamping and the clacking together of sticks and stones. Historically, non-percussive instruments — such as nose flutes, raft flutes, leaf buzzers and lamellaphones --- were played for personal enjoyment.

The sustained hornlike call of a conch-shell trumpet (shown here) was a common signal, and certain rattles were used to summon sharks.


On Samoa, song and dance were also important aspects of local culture and tradition. Music pieces included the flat-hand clap (pati), the cupped-hand clap (fiti) and body slapping, along with vocalization.

Pictured here is a fala or percussion mat — a pandanus leaf mat, rolled up and beaten with sticks. Samoans also use slit drums which were introduced from other islands — one of which is also pictured here.


French Polynesia consists of five archipelagos, the best known being the Society Islands where Tahiti is located.

One of the most widely recognized images of the islands is the world famous Tahitian dance. The ʻōteʻa, sometimes written as otea, is a traditional dance from Tahiti, where the dancers, standing in several rows, execute different figures. This dance, easily recognized by its fast hip-shaking and grass skirts is often confused with the Hawaiian hula, which is a generally slower, more graceful dance which focuses more on the hands and story telling than the hips. Of course, anyone who has been to a luau could easily confuse the source of these dances since the ʻōteʻa is also performed in Hawai`i, and is normally not clearly identified as Tahitian during the performance.

The ʻōteʻa is one of the few dances which already existed in pre-European times as a male dance. On the other hand, the hura (Tahitian vernacular for hula), a dance for women, has disappeared, and the couple's dance 'upa'upa is likewise gone but may have reemerged as the tāmūrē. Nowadays, however, the ʻōteʻa can be danced by men (ʻōteʻa tāne), by women (ʻōteʻa vahine), or by both genders (ʻōteʻa ʻāmui = united ʻō.).

The dance is with music only, drums, but no singing. The drum can be one of the different types of the tōʻere, a laying log of wood with a longitudinal slit, which is struck by one or two sticks. Or it can be the pahu, the ancient Tahitian standing drum covered with a shark skin and struck by the hands or with sticks. The rhythm from the tōʻere is fast, from the pahu it is slower. A smaller drum, the faʻatētē, can also be used.

What I found interesting is the ukuleles pictured here. I was not aware that they were played in Tahiti (where drums rule) — nor are the shapes the least bit familiar to me.


I mentioned above the importance of drums in accompanying Tahitian dance, and I found this tari parau to be especially interesting. It reminded me of the traditional fife-and-drum-style drum we've all seen from American colonial reenactments. However, if you look closely you'll see a major difference in the carved plumeria flowers in the hibiscus wood of this drum. The drumhead is goatskin.

The Maori of New Zealand are known for their action songs in which hand, facial and other gestures accompany the singing. A related form is the shouted posture dance called haka; once a war dance, it is now performed for entertainment and to welcome visitors.

At the Polynesian Culture Center (in Hawai`i) and in filmed performances you can see the distinctive tattoos of the Maori. The tattoos seem to become an integral part of the dance as are the protruding tongues at key points in the dance.

Pictured here is a putorino, a beautifully carved flute, once made of human bone but now made of wood or whale's tooth. Contemporary Maori artisans reconstruct the old instruments and musicians proudly play them alongside the modern guitar.


Which brings us to Hawai`i. I have already shared previous photos of ukuleles but this arrangement of different sizes and woods was so aesthetically appealing I had to include it. I hope you will indulge me.

One of the instruments that you will see in hula performances (which, as I mentioned above, may include the dances of other island nations) is the uli uli. It is made of a gourd with ali`ipoe seeds inside topped with chicken feathers dyed in various hues. These uli uli are in the Kahiko style with the feathers pointing down and genuine tapa cloth centers.

Traditionally, pu`ili were used in mele ho`oipoipo (love chants) and mele inoa (name chants) usually done in the sitting position. Later, they were adapted to standing kahiko and `auana choreography.

Lengths of bamboo are harvested and cut to size. They are split lengthwise with a sharp instrument leaving a natural handle at one end. The sound produced is said to mimic the rustling of the leaves and grass.


In the Hawaiian islands the nose flute was a common courting instrument. It is variously called hano, "nose flute," or by the more specific term 'ohe hano ihu, "bamboo flute [for] nose," or `ohe hanu `ihu, "bamboo [for] nose breath".

It is made from a single bamboo section. According to Arts and Crafts of Hawai`i by Te Rangi Hiroa, old flutes in the Bishop Museum collection have a hole at the node area for the breath, and two or three fingering holes. In the three-finger-hole specimen, one fingering hole is placed near the breath hole. Lengths range from around 10 inches to over 21 inches.

Oral tradition in various families states that numbers of fingering holes ranged from one to four, and location of the holes varied depending on the musical taste of the player. Though primarily a courting instrument played privately and for personal enjoyment, it also could be used in conjunction with chants, song, and hula. Kumu hula (dance masters), were said to be able to either make the flute sound as though it were chanting, or to chant as they played.


Here is a percussion instrument made of two gourds called a ipu heke. Chants and dances in ancient Hawai`i were accompanied only by percussion instruments. This art was suppressed after the arrival of Christian Missionaries in 1820, but revived under King David Kalākaua during his reign of 1874 to 1891. The ipu heke is played simply by lifting it then hitting it on the ground.

Whenever I hear the term "ipu", I am reminded of a traditional dance performance I saw on the Big Island. In introducing the performance, the leader explained the instruments and how they are played. She then mentioned that you should always be careful to not confuse "ipu" with "ipo". The former is the gourd instrument and the latter is your sweetheart. Be sure you hit your ipu on the ground and kiss your ipo --- and not the other way around.

To be continued...

Life is good.

Aloha,
B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com