Taonga Pūoro - Singing Treasures
December 17, 2017 10:26 PM   Subscribe

Put on your headphones, close your eyes, and listen (08’54)

Alistair Fraser in studio playing Taonga pūoro

Would you like some more?
  • Koau (1’38) - Hirini Melbourne & Richard Nunns
  • Tangi Koauau (5’11) - Hirini Melbourne & Richard Nunns
  • Te Tïmatanga (3’27) - Hirini Melbourne & Richard Nunns
  • Koauau (8’56) - Shelley Brown
  • Raukatauri (5’06) - Hirini Melbourne & Richard Nunns

If I’ve whet your appetite, here’s some more information on what you’ve been listening to:

Taonga Pūoro or Singing Treasures (Joy Stephens, The Prow)

The first Polynesian settlers in Aotearoa were greeted by a noisy soundscape and a plethora of new materials for making musical instruments. Centuries later, the botanist Joseph Banks described the beauty of the dawn chorus in Queen Charlotte Sound on 17 January, 1770. “(Their) voices were certainly the most melodious wild music I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells but with the most tuneable silver sound imaginable.”

Ancient Māori musicians are known to have taken inspiration from the sounds of nature: birdsong, crashing waves and wind; and to use natural objects to re-create these sounds. Bone and wood were carved into flutes, wind instruments and humming discs. Gourds, shells, flax and leaves were also used to make taonga pūoro (singing treasures).

Along with entertainment, the instruments were used for healing, sending messages, opening and closing life’s doors (childbirth and death) and other significant ceremonies.

Decline and revival of Māori instruments (Brian Flintoff, Te Ara)

After European settlement, a number of factors led to the near-demise of use of taonga puoro (traditional Māori instruments). Many of the ceremonies at which they were played disappeared with the introduction of Christianity. Māori themselves put aside their traditional instruments in favour of introduced versions such as the jew’s harp, which replaced its equivalent, the rōria. Māori musicians were swift and adept at adopting a wide range of new instruments including banjos, pianos, bagpipes, brass-band instruments and, perhaps most popular of all, the guitar.

As traditional instruments became rare, they were acquired by museums and private collectors, and later generations of Māori did not learn the art of playing them.

In 1991 Nga Pua Waihanga, the Māori Artists and Writers Society, held a hui (gathering) at Te Araroa on the East Coast to recall what was still known of taonga puoro. Among those taking part were Hirini Melbourne, a composer, musician and linguist of Ngāi Tūhoe; Richard Nunns, a teacher and jazz musician; and Brian Flintoff, a Nelson carver and instrument maker. Melbourne invited Nunns and Flintoff to join him in reviving taonga puoro traditions and practice.

In 1994 Hirini Melbourne and Richard Nunns, leaders of the revival of traditional Māori instruments, were invited to record the first ever CD devoted entirely to these instruments. Te kū te whe (loud and soft) was recorded at Rattle Records’ Auckland studios in a day and a half. It featured some 19 instruments, and extracts later reappeared in other sound recordings and numerous radio and TV programmes, documentaries and advertisements. Te kū te whe became ‘the soundtrack to just about all media allusions to the Māori side of national life.’
Te kū te whe album Some more examples of taonga pūoro in contemporary music:
Would you like to know more about particular instruments?

He Ara Pūoro (A Pathway of Song) is a collaboration between Richard Nunns and RNZ, whereby Richard plays and begins to describe the many traditional Māori instruments in his collection. This is a series of approximately eight minute long audio segments.

Nga Reo o te Whenua (Voices of the Land): Traditional Māori Instruments and Music (59’18) - This is an hour long Gresham College lecture featuring Richard Nunns. After a brief greeting in Māori, Richard interweaves performances with stories about the instruments.

If you want to identify the instruments by sound: Want to take a closer look at the instruments?
Learn about Taonga Pūoro at Te Papa

Carver Brian Flintoff shows off some of his work (6'19)

Richard Nunns homepage

Wiki - Taonga pūoro

Make your own pūrerehua! (8’43)
posted by Start with Dessert (6 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Incredible! Thank you.
posted by Coaticass at 11:00 PM on December 17, 2017

Fantastic post.
posted by rory at 2:38 AM on December 18, 2017

Fantastic post, thanks!

See also the work of Rob Thorne, especially his collaborations with Fis, which take the sound of the Taonga Pūoro to some very wild/ancient/futuristic places - their CD Clear Stones from earlier this year is just amazing and one of my favourite recordings of recent years.
posted by remembrancer at 4:51 AM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wish the Taonga Pūoro would start playing whenever I made eye contact with someone for more than half a second. I believe it would give me an aura of charisma I currently lack.
posted by vorpal bunny at 6:57 AM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

welp, there goes my day!
Thank you for this. Ever since I saw WHALE RIDER I have been entranced by Māori culture.
posted by pjsky at 8:10 AM on December 18, 2017

Flagged as fantastic. Awesome post.
posted by 4ster at 5:20 PM on December 18, 2017

« Older If you can't be with the one you love…   |   "pixel spider boat game" Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments