Tongan Musical Instruments
Although Tongan Music is predominantly vocal, several types of musical instruments do exist.
- The nafa is a wooden slit drum, approximately cylindrical in cross-section, beaten singly or in groups of two or three to accompany certain dances.
- Like the nafa, the lali is a wooden slit drum, beaten with two drumsticks. There is a tendency in Tonga today to call all wooden idiophones lali. The term is occasionally used to describe the Samaon pate and logo slit drums as well as the Tongan nafa.
- The tafua is the rolled floor mat ( usually a papa-type ) in which lengths of bamboo are enclosed, and the whole beaten with two sticks as an accompaniment to the faha'iula, ula, and otuhaka dances.
Stamping tubes and Split bamboos
- A stamping tube is a length of stout bamboo with all nodes but one removed and one end trimmed flush to this node. Held perpendicularly, the bamboo is struck against the ground, emitting a low but resonant sound whose pitch is determined by the length and diameter of the tube itself.
- Sounding Boards
These were beaten to accompany the now extinct dance called he'a. The sounding board, along with the he'a dance has not been reported from Tonga for over 180 years.
When discussing hand clapping, it is important to separate the clapping which is occasionally used as an action in several types of dance, and the type which is used by non-dancers to accompany dance or song.
The jew's harp called 'utete is constructed from a section of coconut leaflet some 25 cm long and 3 cm wide, one end of which is gripped on edge by the front teeth. The 'utete is at present a child's play thing and does not appear to be in common use.
- Tutu and Tukipotu
One process in the manufacture of bark cloth (ngatu) involves beating the tutu, the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree, after the outer bark has been removed. The log on which the bark is pounded is called tutua and the beating itself is known as tutu. The beating of the bare tutua ( ie. without any cloth on it ) is called tukipotu and signals the end of the ban on all noise making activities following a death.
- Miscellaneous Idiophones
The word refers to a type of finger snapping which children sometimes perform purely as a noise-producing activity.
This activity also uses the hands to produce a specific sound and is performed by children for amusement.
Similiar to fakapato.
Fingersnapping occurring in some contemporary dances more as choreography than accompaniment.
There is no hard evidence that Tongan people had a skin drum prior to the 20th
century. Skin drums are, however, in use throughout Tonga today, and are called
nafa. The nafa skin drums are used exclusively in the dance called
ma'ulu'ulu; Tongans state that this dance was introduced from Samoa around
1900 and it is assumed that the drum appeared at the same time and was of local
invention. The modern nafa is made from a 44-gallon oil drum cut in half,
with each end covered in cow hide; it is beaten with two soft-headed drumsticks.
Introduced chordophones, the guitar and ukulele are used individually, in groups
and in combinations to accompany hiva kakala ( love songs ) as well as to play
purely instrumental music ( ta me'a lea'ata'ata ). Although the standard
Western guitar tuning ( E, A, D, G, B, E ) is used, the preferred arrangement is for a
5-stringed tuning ( G, D, G, B, D ) namely an open G tuning. Several ukulele tunings
The fangufangu, or bamboo nose flute, was a relatively common instrument in
Tonga at the time of European contact, but at present is on the verge of
Throughout Polynesia the Tritonis and Cassis cornuta shells are the
favoured ones for use as a conch. Although both types are found in Tongan waters,
only the Tritonis appears to be blown. After the marine creature is removed,
a hole about 1.5 cm in diameter is knocked into the third or fourth whorl and the
shell is then ready for blowing. The primary function of the conch in Tonga is as a
signalling device. The conch however is used as a musical device prior to and during
cricket matches to sustain general excitement.
The mimiha ( panpipes ) has been out of use in Tonga for more than a century.
The mimiha consists of a single raft of bamboo pieces bound together by two or
three horizontal rows of sennit. The upper ends of the bamboo form a straight line and
are bevelled on front and back, one side lower than the other. This shorter bevel is
likely to have been rested against the lips. The lower ends of the bamboos are sealed
by a natural node in the wood and form an irregular line on account of the differing
lengths. Alteration to tube length is the simplest method of effecting pitch changes.
- The Whistle
The only child's aerophone in common use now is the me'a ifi lou niu
(literally, a blown thing made from a coconut leaf) ; a coconut leaflet rolled into a
cornucopia, the bell pierced with a midrib section to prevent unravelling. The other
end vibrates to produce a strident tone; it is essentially a noise-maker.
- Aeolian Aerophones
Three wind-activated instruments were noted; these fall into the following classes:
- the pa kofe (bamboo enclosure)
This instrument was designed principally for non-musical use. A rectangular or round
enclosure of tall bamboo was formerly built to act as a temporary store for
vegetables. At intervals along their length, the bamboos were pierced with small
holes so that in a breeze they would sound, the object being to scare away foraging
birds and animals. This utilitarian purpose did not rule out appreciation by humans.
- the fo'i fangu
A wind blown across the empty coconut shell.
- the fo'i puko
A wind blown across the empty globular fruit of the puko tree.
- Free Aerophones
Kokalu and Langumumuhu - bullroarers.
SOURCE: Moyle, R. 1987. Tongan Music Auckland University
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