Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 38, 1905
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[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.