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Volume 38, 1905
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Art. XXII.—On the Musical Notes and Other Features of the Long Maori Trumpet.

[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 2nd August, 1905.]

This 5-ft.-long black Maori trumpet was made either by the Arawa or by the Tuhoe Tribe. They were always extremely rare, and only a few exist in museums. I have asked Mr. Warren, an expert bugle-player and accomplished musician, to blow this trumpet for me to - night. [Mr. Warren here played a number of British and other army bugle-calls upon this instrument, fashioned by savages; and on another occasion to a gathering of musicians, to the manifest pleasure of the audiences.] Experts declared that its tones were so clear and good that had they not seen the instrument they would have believed the sounds were made by a modern silver bugle.

Unlike the mouthpiece of a modern bugle, which is small and round, this is a long, wide slit, and Mr. Warren found it difficult to get his lips into shape. He suggests the opening was made to suit a wide-mouthed 17-stone Maori. He found it in consequence difficult to play long calls, and not until he had taken it home, lived with it, and practised with it for some time was he able to get the full tones out of it. Blown by a big-chested Maori giant, the sound of this instrument would travel an enormous distance.

I was anxious to learn what calls the Maoris played, but this is impossible. Many modern Maoris have never seen this

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pukaea; rarely indeed has it been blown of late years. It is probable that beyond one or two Maoris (and even this is doubtful) no one could sound it. I ransacked the Maori literature in the libraries, and find it rarely mentioned. My friend the great Maori expert, Mr. Samuel Locke, had one, and this is an exact replica of it. Mr. Colenso says he had only seen one or two in the early days, and greatly prized the one Mr. Locke had. Mr. C. O. Davis jotted down a few Maori tunes, and so did a musical expert for Sir George Grey, but these are for Maori flutes.

Colenso quotes the following interesting passage from Forster, the naturalist, who came to New Zealand with Captain Cook: “They brought a trumpet or tube of wood, 4 ft. long and pretty straight. Its small mouth was not above 2 in. wide, and the other not above 5 in. in diameter. It made a very uncouth kind of braying, for they always sounded the same note, though a performer on the French horn might perhaps be able to bring some better music out of it.” Forster wrote these words of prophecy, and to-night, 130 years later, Mr. Warren has shown you how wide is its range, how musical and perfect its tones. It is interesting to note that Forster says the Maoris uttered an uncouth braying sound. Mr. Warren makes it utter any musical buglecall. The difference is that Mr. Warren knows the tunes and the Maori did not. Much of Maori art and Maori carving is simply a degradation of a higher past. Their ancestors in farpast days invented this instrument, and doubtless could play it for all that it was capable of; but their descendants forgot their ancient musical lore, and as time rolled on their knowledge shrank and shrank, till it was, as Forster writes, always the same note—an uncouth braying. The Maoris in forster's day could not produce the varied notes that were lying dormant. Having old trumpets in their possession, they could easily copy them; but how to produce the old notes and tunes—the memory had lapsed.

Judge Chapman, the learned expert in Maori art, told me this strange story: Years ago an ancient Maori said that his ancestors in the far past had played on a trumpet that worked in and out its tube. The Maori explained how it was lengthened and shortened, as Judge Chapman says, like a modern trombone. The Judge believes that this must have existed in the long-ago; but there is not one left for our musums.

One old writer says they shouted words through it. This is incorrect. Mr. L. Grace says the chiefs had a few well-known calls.

John White and the Rev. R. Taylor do not mention or describe this trumpet. Colenso says the chiefs when travelling ware known by their trumpet-calls. When a great chief

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travelled he sometimes ordered the trumpet to be sounded, and the distant villagers in the pa at once cooked food for the warlord and his war-bands. Locke, in these Transactions, in 1882, gives an interesting account of a chief who thus announced himself, and how such announcement led to a devastating war.


Williams, in his dictionary, says this was a long trumpet made of totara. Tregear says, pu= to blow, kaea= to wander forth. A “blow” that carries far is an apt name for this instrument; that blown by an excited burly Maori would carry for miles. Putara is a conch shell with mouthpiece used as a trumpet, and putorino is a nasal flute. Puroraiti was a trumpet used at the marae in Samoa. It is noteworthy that putatara (conch-shell trumpet) is a capital word, so like the instrument: pu and ta-ta-ta-tara is an accurate copy of the notes “ta-ta-ta-tara” which Mr. Warren has just drawn out of this pukaea for your pleasure.

These trumpets were always made of durable well-dried totara, beautifully fitted together, and bound tight round from nozzle to within 3 in. of the other end with supplejack very tightly and neatly laid round it, each layer closely touching its predecessor. Colenso says the joinings of the totara were closely cemented together by a native gum. The supplejack binding held the totara limbs together.

At the point where the long narrow tube widens into the funnel, transversly athwart it inside are two narrow pegs of wood. Tregear says the Maoris called this tohe (tohe-tohe is the uvula). In looking through the trumpet more towards the sunlight I discovered a third peg about 6 in. from the mouthpiece. The presence of this third tohe is, I believe, a new discovery. I have seen no reference to it in Buller's or Hamilton's work or elsewhere. The presence of these three tohe is curious. Doubtless they affect the tune of the instrument. They may not exist in all trumpets.

Rarity And Uses And Antiquity.

These trumpets were always very rare—confined in manufacture to the Hot Lakes district, though doubtless carried rarely to distant parts. Hamilton, in his great work on “Maori Art,” photographs several in museums: one with two funnel-shaped trumpet-ends arising from the same tube. Colenso said they were so rare that when he saw Locke's trumpet twenty years ago he had not seen one for twenty years previously; and as Colenso was here as far back as the “thirties” of the last century, it is clear how rare they were. They were used as alarms

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in war-time, to tell of threatening danger. They were also used as announcements of the march of great chiefs, just like warlords and medieval heralds. They were used for the same purpose as army bugle-calls are nowadays. When the ancient Maori at night was scared of attacks by ghosts, he shouted and played the conch-shell trumpet and this pukaea to frighten away the spirits. In Samoa, and perhaps other islands, they were used in the sacred marae in religious ceremonies.

Tregear, in the “Aryan Maori,” quoting from the Indian Bhagavad-gita, gives a description of a fight by the Kurus: “Then, in order to encourage him, the ardent old ancestor of the Kurus blew a conch shell sounding loud as the roar of a lion. He of dreadful deeds and wolfish entrails blew a great trumpet called paundra.” Our Maoris, having originally come from India, doubtless derived their trumpets from their ancestors. It is noteworthy that the conch shell and the long trumpet of the Maori were both known thousands of years ago in India, and the nasal flute of the Maori was brought from the ancestral home in Asia, as we know it existed there and in Greece. The conch trumpet and also the long trumpet were each named in this story of India, and Maoris continued this custom, having a name for each important mere or taiaha, or noteworthy canoebaler, or big trumpet. These long trumpets clearly did not originate de novo among the Maoris, but were brought by them from their far-off continental ancestral home.

Darwin traced the descent of man by studying, amongst other things, the rudimentary organs in the modern human body. So to-day we, by studying the Maori, can see many objects of Maori art which, like rudimentary organs, serve to show the descent of the Maori. Among these are the three fingers carved on the hands and three toes on each foot of a Maori god or semi-deified ancestor, seen in India; the little red stones (whatakura) worshipped by the Maoris were worshipped in India; the double spiral in Maori carving, the double-toothed earring of jade (both symbols of Buddha and of far earlier deities), the lighting of sacred fires by rubbing sticks, and the curious figures Mania and Marikihau, all are to be found in India.

This trumpet played to you by Mr. Warren is itself a direct descendant of the paundra blown by the Indian chief. As the trumpet has a limited range, the bugle-calls sounded by the great Indian chief (“he of dreadful deeds and wolfish entrails”) were much the same, though blown thousands of years ago, as those to-night played for you by Mr. Warren, who has done no dreadful deeds, and certainly has not wolfish entrails. But the old Indian chief, the Maori rangatira, and Mr. Warren are, after

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all, blood relations, for the Hindoos, the Polynesians (including the Maori), and Mr. Warren are all three Caucasians, all three have trumpets, and all three use the same instrument for the same purposes.