Maori Music


Maori Music dates back from the time of the first arrival of Polynesians to New Zealand. Their music became one of the dominant parts of the Maori art and culture. Before the first Europeans, Maori music was mainly sung, filled with blown, struck and whirled instruments. There are two basic categories of songs: recitatives, which include a dance with or without weapons, welcome ceremony, spells and reactions to gossip; and songs, which include love songs, songs to teach children different stories, laments etc.

Maori Musical Instruments

Maori Instruments may not look like anything you’ll see in modern music store, but that’s what makes them unique, two main categories are: BLOWN – trumpets, flutes and whistles; and STRUCK instruments such as war gongs. It is a noticeable fact that drums and stringed instruments were not used until the coming of Europeans. The Maori made the instruments from stone, wood, bone and even from a whale teeth.  Such mostly known traditional instrument was the flute, carved from one of those materials. The mostly spread type of flute was the koauau – a short hollow tube of bone (usually human or albatross) or wood drilled with three holes.

Other types of flute include Rehu – a long flute which was played sideways and Putorino – a wooden bugle flute. Flutes were remarkably prized by Maori. They believed that a skillful musician could breathe and play words into a flute and then be carried to people on the tune notes. Other traditional Maori instruments that were blown included pu or trumpets made of wood, flax or shell. For example, pukaea was a wooden trumpet, which was around 2 meters in length and some were longer. It was used as a war instrument to give a sign when enemy was sighted. Maori musical instruments that were struck included pahu or gongs. Some pahu were over 6 meters in length. They were placed on watch towers and when they were struck with a mallet, the sound could be heard far away.

Pukaea - Maori Instrument
Picture By Meg Lipscombe

For many years traditional Maori instruments were found only in museums, nowadays they have been revived and used more often. Today the traditional music has been influenced by reggae, soul, electronic, hip-hop, rock, folk and other forms of world music. Maori people have an independent network of 20-plus owned and managed radio stations, which is the main support system for getting the music revived and heard. Annually, the Waiata Maori Music Awards seeks to develop and honor the traditional and contemporary compositions and performances. So, both traditional and modern Maori music is easy to access and support.