Month: February 2014

Ancient Chinese Music & Mythology



According to Chinese Mythology, Ling Lun (2697 BC) was the legendary founder of music. During the time of the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi), Ling Lun constructed bamboo pipes so carefully tuned to the sound of the birds. The Yellow Emperor, reigning from (2697-2596 BC), is said to have ordered the casting of bells in tune with these flutes. From this early development, the Chinese 5-tone musical scale was established (In Western Solfeggio the notes were equivalent to Do, Re, Mi, So, and La, and were called Gong, Shang, Jiao, Zhi and Yu.


According to Chinese Mythology, Ling Lun enchantingly captured the sound of the phoenix; or Fenghuang; a bird that reigns over all other birds in East Asia. There have been images of the phoenix dating back some 8000 years ago during the Neolithic Hongshan Culture in Northeastern China (4700-2900 BC). Together, the mythological Phoenix and Dragon are a balanced couple, further representing the Taoist idealism of Yin and Yang. In ancient times, The Feng was deemed as male, while the Huang denotes a rather feminized beauty, delicacy, and peacefulness.  suggesting “how opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world; and, how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another” (Wikipedia-Yin and Yang). Today, these symbols are entirely reflected and translated throughout Imperial culture in China. When portrayed with the dragon as a symbol of the Emperor, the phoenix becomes entirely feminine as the Empress, and together they represent both aspects of imperial power.

Another piece of mythical Chinese Philosophy credits Kui as the inventor of music. Not to be confused with another mythical Kui- the one-legged mountain demon, this Kui was said to be the heroic creator of music and dance. Kui “[made] a drum by stretching an animal skin over an earthen jar that defeat[ed] another monster”. (Wikipedia- Ling Lun). In relation, Emperor Shun (2317-2208 BC) was a legendary leader of China, and is greatly honored throughout Chinese history. Great Shun, as they called him, had appointed Kui as his musical master and director.

As quoted in the Canon of Shun,

“Teach our sons, so that the straightforward shall yet be mild; the gentle, dignified: the strong, not tyrannical: and the impetuous, not arrogant. Poetry is the expression of earnest thought; singing is the prolonged utterance of that expression; the notes accompany that utterance, and they are harmonized themselves by the standard tubes. (In this way) the eight different kinds of musical instruments can be adjusted so that one shall not take from or interfere with another; and spirits and men are brought into harmony.’ Kui said, ‘I smite the (sounding-) stone, I gently strike it, and the various animals lead on one another to dance.”

[…] When the sounding-stone is tapped or struck with force, and the lutes are strongly swept or gently touched, to accompany the singing, […] (In the court) below (the hall) there are the flutes and hand-drums, which join in at the sound of the rattle, and cease at that of the stopper, when the organ and bells take their place. (This makes) birds and beasts fall moving. When the nine parts of the service, as arranged by the Di (Earth), have all been performed, the male and female phœnix come with their measured gambolings (into the court).’ Kui said, ‘Oh! when I smite the (sounding-) stone, or gently strike it, the various animals lead on one another to dance, and all the chiefs of the official departments become truly harmonious.”- (Chinese Text Project- Canon of Shun).


Emperor Shun is later accredited with originating the music called Dashao; a symphony of 9 musical instruments covering both chamber and lyrical music.

Today, there is a shrine called Jiuyi Shun to both honor and respect the Great Shun. It is rumored that Emperor Shun was buried in the Jiuyi mountain range near the Southern Hunan Province of China.


When Zhang Qian (a Chinese official from the Han Dynasty) visited various countries in the Western regions through the years (138-115 BC), the result was ultimately a great deal of cultural exchange of both culture and foreign instrumental knowledge. The changes that were most seen were with the flute, which up until this point was played vertically. Now that they could be played horizontally, the “flute” became the instruments official title, while aerophonic instruments that were played vertically were called the “xiao.” (See video below) Both instruments are equally important to Chinese culture. Through vicious war and affliction, “the Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD) faced the same threat that plagued every indigenous Chinese government throughout history – the danger of raids by the nomadic peoples of the steppes. To the north and west, China borders on desert and range-lands that have been controlled by various nomadic peoples over time, including the UighursKazakhsMongolsJurchens (Manchu), and the Xiongnu” (Szczepanski 1). This collapse resulted in a China that was divided into 3 kingdom regions: Wei in the north, Shu in the southwest, and Wu in the center and east. It was a period so famously regarded as The Three Kingdoms (220- 280 AD). This partitioning of powers led to a fragilely segmented country for the next 400 years. With regards to the series of wars, there was a great deal of cultural exchange which in turn paved the way for a great deal of instrumental variation. Gradually, the instruments introduced to China through the Silk Road marketplace became important to the musical life of the country. In general, the Silk Road was “central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East by linking traders, merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers, nomads and urban dwellers from China to the Mediterranean Sea during various periods of time” (Wikipedia- Silk Road). “The Xiongnu (an ancient nomadic-based people in Northern China/Mongolia) adopted Chinese agricultural techniques, dress style, and lifestyle. On the other hand, the Chinese adopted Xiongnu military techniques, some dress style, and music and dance” (Wikipedia- Xiongnu). The following map indicates the Xiongnu territories in (250 BC).


Xiao, Xun and Guzheng (Chinese zither) Trio:

Overtime, the Chinese made their modifications to the foreign introduced instruments that had become readily available. An example of these changes is transparent with the Chinese Ruan Xian. Formerly, the instrument was called the Qin Pipa (Qin Dynasty 221 BC- 206 BC). It wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty (8th Century) that the name Ruan was given.

Prior to this change, the instrument was made of copper and had a round sound box, and 13 frets on its neck. Revisions made way for the modern Ruan; with 24 frets and 12 semitones on each string. Also, the strings were previously made of silk, while today’s Ruan has steel strings.

The following picture (found in an Eastern Jin or the Southern dynasties tomb) depicts Ruan Xian playing the instrument so formally named after him. Ruan Xian was a musician and scholar during the Three Kingdoms. It was said that he and six other scholars (The 7 Scholars) would get enjoyment from drinking, writing poems, playing music, and simply enjoying life away from the corruption of the government.



One of the most well-known Chinese instruments, called the Pipa, has a pear-shaped sound box and crank-handled strings. This chordophone was indefinitely prominent throughout early Chinese musical culture. Similar to the way a western guitar is played, the Pipa was at first played horizontally as the musician plucked the strings with a plectrum. Today, the Pipa is played much differently; It is gently placed on its players lap, rested against the shoulder, and played vertically. According to Qiao Jianzhong, former director at the Music Institute of China Art Academy, “it took more than a thousand years before it was being played vertically as it is on the stage today. That period lasted from the 7th century in the Tang Dynasty to the 17th century in the Ming Dynasty” (Chinese Civilization- History of Chinese Instruments). The Chinese introduced the Pipa to Japan, and even today, the Japanese play it horizontally, with a plectrum.

As quoted by Po Chu-Yi (also known as Bai Juyi (772-846 AD). in his “Song of the Pipa Player”:

“She brushed the strings, twisted them slow, swept them, plucked them — […] The large strings hummed like rain, The small strings whispered like a secret, hummed, whispered-and then were intermingled, like a pouring of large and small pearls into a plate of jade.” 

The Tang Dynasty brought about a rich array of musical instruments, many of which are neither played or constructed today. Now extinct, the Konghou, an Chinese ancient harp, was introduced to China through China’s western regions. The Paiban, a clapper made from several pieces of flatwood or bamboo, produces a sharp clapping sound. It was introduced to the Tang Dynasty through today’s northwestern regions. “According to historical records, there were about 300 kinds of musical instruments during the Tang Dynasty- and some of them can still be found in Japan today” (Chinese Civilization- History of Chinese Instruments). In many ways, many of the musical traditions from the dynasties are still represented in Chinese culture today. In Xi’an, one of the oldest cities in the People’s Republic of China, a group of musicians still play imperial music from the Ming dynasty- using up to 7 types of drums. The score of their ensembles depends on the beat of the drum throughout the song. The drum is extremely important throughout this culture, as it ties the instruments in the ensemble together as a unit while playing.

Traditional Chinese Opera roots back to the 3rd century CE. Jingiu represents capital city operas, such as Beijing or Peking. “Chinese opera is seldom publicly staged in the 21st century, except in formal Chinese opera houses, and during the lunar seventh month Chinese Ghost Festival in Asia as a form of entertainment to the spirits and audience. These masks were based on the ancient face painting tradition where warriors decorated themselves to scare the enemy” (Wikipedia- Chinese Opera). String instruments (like the Jinghu or Erhu fiddle), percussion, and various wind instruments are a requirement to accompany Chinese Opera. “For many years men had to play women’s roles, singing in falsetto (head voice), because women were often banned from the stage as the theater was seen as morally corrupting. Today, women are not only playing their own roles, but often men’s roles as well, while some men continue to impersonate women” (Miller and Shahriari 206). The traditional roles are broken into sections: Sheng (male roles) which can be subdivided into young, old and military men, Dan (female roles) similarly subdivided, Jing (painted face roles) featuring facial patterns that symbolize the person’s character, and Chou (comedians) that are easily identified by the white patch in the middle of their faces.


This Chinese Opera is about a maiden who died and was revived for love. It was composed around 1600 AD by poet, Tang, Xianzu (1550-1616).

One of the most important instruments to Chinese culture is the Erhu, though it did no originate in China! Though it did become readily apparent in China over a thousand years ago. The Erhu sounds a lot like the human voice, as it has the ability to express deep and sorrowful emotions. The bowed, 2-stringed Chinese spike-fiddle may have originated within the nomadic cultures, within the Xi tribe; as the instrument was once called the Xiqin, introduced to China through the Silk Road in the 10th century. It’s musical timbre is mid-ranged, with an extremely wide and expressive range. The Erhu is used to accompany Operas, song and dance, as well as being implemented as both a solo and small ensemble instrument. “Perhaps there is no instrument more evocative of China..” (Youtube- Danwei- The Erhu). However, there was no record of the Xiqin/Erhu until the Song Dynasty; demonstrating that it was a product of the integration of Chinese and foreign cultures.

Ancient Chinese regard music as both holy and pure, and believe that it has the power to purify people’s thinking. The harmonious combination of sounds was made by instruments that fell into 8 categories called Bayin; instruments made from metal, stone, clay, wood, bamboo, string, gourd, and leather. The particular sounds and timbres produced by these instruments revealed one’s soul to the listener.

As an ancient 12-tone musical system, the Chinese chromatic scale, or Shí-èr-lǜ, uses the same intervals as the Pythagorean Scale. This particular tuning scale is considered the untempered, or a pure perfect fifth, using a ratio of 3:2. Essentially, this one of the most stable or consonant scalesas well as being easy to tune by ear.

By the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) periods in China, cultural instruments had fully ripened- taking shape as relevant entities throughout Chinese tradition and culture. Bowed string chordophones were represented by the Erhu, Jinghu (higher pitch; used in Beijing Opera) and Gaohu (used in Cantonese Opera) (had minor shape, and tonal differences), the plucked string chordophones, represented by the Qin (a fretless ancient zither) and Pipa, wind instruments that were represented by the flute, Xiao (vertical bamboo flute), Sheng (consisting of 21 reed pipes and a metal base), and Suona (a double-reeded horn with a squeaky, loud, buzzy timbre- often played outdoors in northern folk ensembles), and finally percussion instruments that were represented by the Tanggu (ceremonial hall drum played with 2 sticks), and Bo (small idiophonic cymbals that are clashed together and have a high pitch and brassy timbre).

There was a time when the Qin/Guqin was the connoisseurs’ choice of music within the high court. Many of the played pieces seem to have no detectable tuning because “tablature” (notation consisting of charts that indicated how to pluck, or touch each string), did not include instructions on tuning. Therefor, each instrument truly had its own character, and was a rather acquired taste.  The Qin/Guqin is rarely played today, but the instruments are often collected as ancient art pieces in their own regard. The instrument is fundamentally pentatonic, as its “plucked sounds [are] produced [by] the nail or flesh of the finger, [and] tone bending [is] creat[ed] by the sliding movements of the left hand. The use of harmonics (clear, hollow sounds [are] produced by gently touching the string at the node), [and] scraping sounds are produced when the player slides the left hand along the rough textured strings. […] The notation for the Qin is in a form called “tablature” consisting of a chart the indicates how stop to pluck, or touch each string” (Miller and Shahriari 194). The instrument was quite often passed down for generations within the same family, so many of them are still around today. 


The Chinese Sheng (pictured below) looks vaguely similar to the wooden pipes of the Hulusheng (gourd mouth organ)…which is again similar to the Cambodian M’baut. Read my post on the M’baut here! 🙂


The Hulusheng dance of the Yi Minority


Here’s a video of an ensemble featuring a Suona:

One of my favorite ancient instruments that I discovered is within the stone category. The Bianqing, or individual “sounding stones” qing, were flat L-shaped stones, and when many of them were hung together on a frame, they became “Bianqing.” At the time, someone would strike the stones with a mallet in order to produce various melodic tones. The Bianqing, as well as the Bianzhong (a set of bronze bells- dating back to 433 BC) were important in China’s ritualistic music of the courts.


The Chinese aerophonic ocarina, or Xun, was made of baked clay or bone. It’s globular Earth-like shape has stayed the same for 7 thousand years, making it one of the oldest musical instruments in the world.


In fact, the oldest musical instrument was found in China; a 7-9000 year old Neolithic bone flute, made from the wing-bones of the crane. “The discovery of these flutes presents a remarkable and rare opportunity for anthropologists, musicians and the general public to hear musical sounds as they were produced nine millennia ago” (Harbottle 1).



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The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Xiao (musical Instrument).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. <;.

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Yu, Han. “English Translation of 300 Selected Poems from Tang Dynasty.” English Translation of 300 Selected Poems from Tang Dynasty., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. <;.


The Music & Culture Throughout The Philippines

The jagged mist-covered mountaintops of the Cordillera (the Philippines middle-north), are home to indigenous communities that still thrive in relative seclusion. Secluded for over 2,000 years, the high mountain walls have, for the most part, peacefully separated these tribes from the rest of the modernized Filipino populace.

The Ifugao People



Nested in-between the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea, an assortment of 7,107 islands unite together as the Republic of the Philippines. With 17 distinct regions and 80 provinces, only about 2,000 of the Filipino islands are inhabited. The Philippines are clustered into three major island groups or archipelagos: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Luzon is the largest Island, and it harbors many provinces. While its economic and political center are the largest in the Philippines, Luzon is also home to Manila; the country’s capital city. Most notably, the area is acclaimed for its ancient Banaue rice terraces that have sustained its people for over 2,000 years. “The ancient Banaue Rice Terraces in the province of Ifugao, a 2,000-year-old mountain with [many] rice terraces declared by the UNESCO as a “World Heritage Site” and generally considered as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” (Catacutan 1). The name Ifugao comes from I-pugu, literally meaning “people of the hills.”


Using only the most primitive of tools, the Ifugao carved out some of the most extensive terraces in the world. The engineering behind the ancient development is ingenious. In order to irrigate the vast rice crops, the Ifugao found natural water sources at the peaks, and discovered how to channel the water evenly so that each terrace was uniformly watered from the topmost of the slopes to the valley below.


Even today, people work the land in the same fashion as those before them, however, there are now fewer participants. Many of the native Ifugao are lured into the modernized lowlands of the Philippines- ultimately taking them away from the traditions of their ancestors. As a growing number of Ifugao leave for larger cities in hopes of a better life, less and less people are maintaing the rice terraces. Land erosion has had quite an effect on the terraces, which have been worn down through heavy use.

With the hope of persuading people to continue hand-working the terraces, the government has provided the means of farming with more than just rice. In order to drive more monetary income to the location, taro is planted, rice wine is brewed, coffee is grown in the region, and small Japanese eel-fish called “Yuyu” are farmed (later to be cooked in ginger brine or fried and then sold). 


As far as their musical culture goes, “There are substantial ethnographic monographs about their society and their chants, but organological studies of their musical instruments have not been undertaken in any detail […] Fieldwork was also conducted in the summer of 2010 to further investigate the presence or absence of these traditional musical instruments in current Ifugao culture” (Biancorosso 1). The Sachs-Hornbostel system was used to analyze the various types of instruments. (Btw, here’s a post I did on the topic.) It was found that sadly, most of the Ifugao instruments are no longer in use. Essentially, the area has seen a massive agricultural decline throughout the 20th century, and urbanization and tourism are slowly taking effect. As a result, the people have somewhat lost their ability to continue making and playing instruments. Master of Philosophy, Biancorosso believes that “the remaining few musical instruments have been transformed into objects primarily designed for public performance or sale to tourists. Attempts to revive cultural heritage have had the paradoxical consequence of introducing non-traditional instruments, in coexistence with an altered image of the past.” Despite this fact, it has been shown that gongs and certain aerophones were prominent throughout Luzon, and they were essential for various religious rituals.

As you will see in this next video, the spiritual chanting and singing of the human voice remains as a powerful catalyst. The video is raw, and beautiful. There is no narrative in this short documentary, however, I do want to warn you, animal sacrifice is highlighted in this video. Please watch with an open-mind and heart towards their culture.


Extremely important to the Ifugao people are the chants that have backed their spiritual practices for many many millennia. As the Ifugao have a Matrilineal culture, it is the women who chant together in groups as they honor the stories of their ancestors. Like in many ancient traditional civilizations, it is the old women who orally bestow their poetry and melodies upon the younger generations.

Among the Ifugao traditions are the epic “Hudhud” incantations that are chanted during the rice sowing season, harvest time, and at funeral wakes and rituals. “Thought to have originated before the seventh century, the Hudhud comprises more than 200 chants, each divided into 40 episodes. A complete recitation may last several days” (UNESCO). The chants are replete with highly expressive and allegorical language that is rather difficult to completely translate. UNESCO has dubbed it “a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity, one of the very few in the world.” The sheer volume of hero-centric images and symbols have reverberated in these chants throughout the centuries, and heavily shaped the Ifugao as a result. As the most documented indigenous group of the Philippines, the Ifugao are celebrated for their cultural accomplishments.

The TagTag planting ritual occurs when a great number of Ifugao men clad in traditional attire march along the rice terraces while chanting and beating traditional wooden planks in cadence in order to protect the rice crops from rats, pests and other evil spirits that bring sickness to the people. The ancient rhythm is sounded, and “as the prayers permeate the air, it is as if the archaic chorus harks back across centuries” (Living Asia Channel). 5 deities are summoned; 3 pigs are offered, along with 5 chickens in order to please the gods. Blood (being the most vivid reminder of life) is then smeared on the wooden plank instruments that are then used during the planting ritual. A chick is placed in a bag, that is said will lead the Ifugao men on their dance throughout the footpaths. The community members join in on the beat of the synchronized planks; banging rocks and stomping their feat. From another direction, little boys make their way through the terraces, and hit sticks upon small carved wooden slabs. As the ritual between men and boys converge, a rather musical percussion-like ensemble occurs.


During other Ifugao festivals, “The Bumayah [occurs] which is an Ifugao dance of thanksgiving to the god Kabunian. In this dance, performed by both men and women, the movements mimic those of a rooster scratching the ground. This joyful dance serves as a prayer of thanksgiving for a bountiful rice harvest” (Filipino-American Cultural Organization).

In the Kalinga province,  (also in the northern Cordillera region of Luzon) there is an Eagle Dance, (which is similar to the animist impressions of the rooster during the Ifugao Bumayah dance.)

Below is a picture of an Isneg Woman: Another one of the remaining tribes in the Cordillera Region on Luzon. The Isneg people are the earliest residents of the Apayao Province. This woman is wearing customary clothing having just performed a traditional dance.


Indigenous tribes-women and children in Apayao (wearing the Isneg Sipattal mother-of-pearl neck-ornaments). Considered the most important piece of personal adornment worn by men and women alike.


Located in the centermost location of the Philippines lies the Visayan islands which are broken down into Western, Central and Eastern regions. (Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, and Samar are the most prominent.) The people in these regions are incredibly unique with traditions and a developed musical culture of their own. In Cebu, a rather large “Sinulog Festival” occurs yearly on the 3rd sunday of every January. With an especially long parade, many different groups of people dress up in colorful costumes and dance the Sinulog. Though this parade is relatively young (organized in 1980), “The Sinulog was already danced by the locals in honor of their wooden statues in the period before the Cebuanos were baptized. Later on, after the image of the famous Santo Niño was brought to Cebu and the Catholic faith was established in the region, the dance was made a part of the yearly fiesta in honor of the Santo Niño” (Utrecht Faculty of Education).,


Today, the Philippines is approximately 85 percent Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and it is alluring to ponder how “a small number of Spaniards converted the bulk of the Philippine population to Christianity between the mid-1500s and 1898–the end of Spanish rule” (Russell 1). When Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan encountered the Philippines while sailing in search of a western route to the East Indies (the source of spice trade), he and his men landed on Cebu. “At this time period, almost nothing was known of the Philippines, and so our sources of information about pre-Hispanic societies in the country date from the early period of Spanish contact. Most Philippine communities, with the exception of the Muslim sultanates in the Sulu Archipelago and Mindanao, were fairly small without a great deal of centralized authority. Authority was wielded by a variety of individuals, including 1) headmen, or datu; 2) warriors of great military prowess; and 3) individuals who possessed spiritual power or magical healing abilities” (Russell 1). The absence of kingship, or really any other powerful leadership allowed for a small number of Spaniards to mass-convert a large number of animist Filipinos.

The Spanish were unsuccessful in converting the small number of Muslims in the country, and as a result, warred with them throughout their 300 year colonial rule from 1521-1898. The Spaniards were also unsuccessful in conquering and converting the uncolonized mountain/highland tribes throughout Luzon (Ifugao/Isneg, etc.). In little under a century, most lowland Filipinos were largely converted to Roman Catholicism. Today, most of the country remains Roman Catholic.

The Christianization of the Visayans and Filipinos in general, is commemorated by the Ati-Atihan Festival of Aklan, the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo, and the Sinulog festival [celebrating] the feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child/Jesus Christ).


The southernmost archipelagos are known as Mindanao, and as of 2010 the population was nearly 22 million. Today, about 63% of Mindanao is Christian/Catholic and it is the only geographical area of the Philippines with a Muslim presence of about 10%. Islam is the oldest monotheistic religion in the Philippines, reaching the islands in the 14th century “[w]ith the arrival of Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf, Southern India, and their followers from several sultanate governments in the Malay Archipelago (the islands between Southeast Asia and Australia)” (Wikipedia- Islam in the Philippines). The rest of the population (all of 5%), still categorize themselves as indigenous, tribal or animists.


Like its counterparts in Asia, Philippine folk music is strongly associated with nature. Being a large archipelago, the types of Filipino instruments vary from region to region. Traditional Filipino music employs a combination of musical instruments belonging to the percussion, wind, and string families.

As far as aerophones go, there is a vertical chip-on-edge flute called the Bulungudyong, (Played in Northern Pinatubu Ayta). There are 3 open holes on the top of the flute, and one hole underneath.BulungudyongActually, a whole series of Filipino bamboo flutes exist all over the country. There is the Tumpong, The Tulali with 6 holes, and the Bansik with 3 holes (Similiar to the Bulungudyong; Played by the Negrito people in Zambales as a courting instrument)                         011109_181633

The Palendag, known as the “lip valley” flute is the largest, longest bamboo flute played by the Minguindanao people (southern) This particular aerophone is considered the toughest to play based solely upon how one shapes their lips around the flute in order to get a sound. “The construction of the mouthpiece is such that the lower end is cut diagonally to accommodate the lower lip and the second diagonal cut is make for the blowing edge” (Wikipedia-Palendag).


The Filipino nose flute is called a Lantoy/Tongali is usually played during meals, planting season, and festivals.


The chordophones of the Philippines are the Bamboo violin (3 stringed violin of the Aeta people/Luzon), the Butting (a bow with a single hemp string, plucked with a small stick), and the Faglong (2 stringed lute-like instrument of the southern B’laan) The B’laan are one of the remaining indigenous tribes of southern Mindanao.


The bamboo zither is called the Budlong, and a Pas-ing is a two-stringed piece of bamboo with a hole in the middle from northern Apayao people. There are also a series of lutes, for instance, the Buktot is a 4-stringed instrument made from coconut shells (originating from the Visayas), and the Kudyapi which is a 6-stringed boat lute coming from Mindanao.


The southern region of the Philippines is known for a musical repertoire called “Kulintang“: idiophonic gongs that are played as a type of percussion. The brass tones can be tuned, and forged in a series of different sizes. Traditionally in the Philippines, Kulintang is a set of 8 tuned gongs placed horizontally in an ornate frame and tuned to the Pentatonic scale. Among the Maguindanao/Maranao (primarily Muslims), the music serves as entertainment and hospitality. It is used in weddings, festivals, coronations, to entertain visiting dignitaries, and to send back or welcome those coming back from pilgrimages. Kunlintang is also used to accompany healing ceremonies and can serve as a form of communication.


Gandingan (on the left) is the set of 4 large hanging knobbed gongs, and an Agung is a large gong suspended from an ornate frame. (on the right)


Babandil are small, narrow-rimmed gongs, primarily used as the “time-keeper” of the Maguindanao kulintang ensemble.


Also considered a tuned idiophone, the Subing is a bamboo jaw harp “of the Cuyinin people of Palawan Island in the western Philippines. Despite their length of approximately 20-25 cm., the actual functioning part of the subbing is quite small with a resultantly high pitch. Subing are often tuned by a small piece of pitch or insect wax on the tongue.


There are Filipino xylophones that are important to note, called Gambang/Gabbang. Specifically, the instrument is made up of a series of  bamboo blades on a frame similar to an African marimba. This is played throughout (Yakan, Batak, B’laan, Badjao, and Taus) It can be played as a solo instrument or within an ensemble.


Luntang, also considered a type of xylophone, is a set of wooden beams that hang from a frame played by the Maguindanaon people.

Another category of instruments in the Philippines are called Metallophones. Kulintang a Tiniok translated as “Kulintang with string” is played by the Maguindanaon people within the ensemble of gongs. There is a very similar instrument played by the Maranao people called Saronay. Essentially, there are 8 various pieces, all of which are tuned knobbed metal plates strung onto a wooden frame.


As far as the membranophones go, there are quite a few different kinds. There’s a bamboo slit drum, (Agung a Tamlang) used to practice for real Agung (to refresh your memory, it’s the large gong hanging from an ornate metal frame). There’s also a goblet drum from Maranao called Dabakan.

drum_dabakan (1)

The Gandang is an cylindrical ornately pattered double-headed barrel drum (also from the Maranoa people.) It plays alongside the Kulintang ensemble and is made of wood with a membrane made of carabao/water buffalo skin on each side. It is decorated with ‘okiran’/crocodile motives and then painted.


The bamboo scraper/slit drum is called a Kagul is played by Maguindanaon and Visayans. It has “a jagged edge on one side, played with two beaters, one scarping the jagged edge and the other one making a beat. The Maguindanaon and the Banuwaen use it in the rice paddies to guard against voracious birds, using the sound it produces to scare them away” (Wikipedia- Kagul).


Both the Libbit (Ifugao), and the Sulibao (Ibanoy) are conical drums from the northern Cordillera region.


It would be rather trying to name and discuss all the different Filipino instruments, though I hope you got a good understanding of both the country, as well as the culture and traditions throughout Philippines as a whole.

Here is one last video of kids performing tribal music and dances from the Bagobo and Ifugao tribes.



Biancorosso, G. “A Study of the Musical Instruments of Ifugao in the Cordillera Region, Northern Philippines.” A Study of the Musical Instruments of Ifugao in the Cordillera Region,Northern Philippines. The HKU Scholars Hub, 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <>.

“Borneo.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

Catacutan, Rene “RC” “About The Site.” RC Goes Online. Your Voice Can Make a Difference, 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.<>.

“Culture.” The HudHud Chants of the Ifugao. UNESCO Multimedia Archives, 2008. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.<>.

“Filipino-American Talent Showcase 2010.” Filipino-American Talent Showcase 2010. Filipino-American Cultural Organization, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.<>.

“Ifugao: Patipat Festival.” Ifugao: Patipat Festival., 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

“Information about the Sinulog.” Information about the Sinulog. The Utrecht Faculty of Education, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2014. <>.

“Islam in the Philippines.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

Jeel, Christine. “Philippine Ethnic Musical Instruments.” Philippine Ethnic Musical Instruments. Slideshare, 28 Feb. 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

“Kalinga.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

“List of Philippine Musical Instruments.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 Mar. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.<>.

“Music of the Philippines.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

“Palendag.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

“Philippines.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2014. <>.

“Philippine Musical Instruments.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 Dec. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.


“What % of the Population in Mindanao Is Muslim and Christian?” What % of the Population in Mindanao Is Muslim and Christian? Yahoo Answers, 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.


An in Depth Study on Rajasthani Music & Culture



There are several important musical traditions that have developed from the differing regions throughout Northern India’s state of Rajasthan. However, it is first important to get a sense of the vast amount of history that occurred throughout this region- all of which gave Rajasthan it’s cultural zest and richness.

This particular dance ceremony represents Rajasthan’s well renowned folk dance called “Kalbeliya/Kalbelia.” Today, Rajasthani folk dance is recognized worldwide for its amazing movements, colorful costumes, and sizzling music. Every piece of dance in Rajasthan both resembles and respects the essence of desert land. The Kalbelia folk dance is also known for its heavy focus on the Bin/Pungi instrument, as well as the dancer’s serpentine movements.  (I will go into further details about these instruments later in the post.)


5000 years ago, today’s Rajasthan was apart of the Indus Valley Civilization which “was a Bronze Age Civilization (3300–1300 BCE; mature period 2600–1900 BCE) in the northwestern region of the Indian Subcontinent, consisting mainly of what is now Pakistan and India (Khan 1). This region was especially important for various forms of commerce. “The Indus civilization is one of three in the ‘Ancient East’ that, along with Mesopotamia and Pharonic Egypt, was a cradle of early civilization in the Old World (Childe 1950). The cultural trade and blending that occurred caused a great deal of influence as borders slowly changed. This Indus Valley Civilization was long ago owned by Pastoral groups of people called “Gurjars/Gujarras.” At that time, the region itself was known as Gurjaratra. According to The ITC Sangeet Research Academy, “ Little is known of the musical culture of the Indus Valley civilization of the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. Some musical instruments, such as the arched or bow-shaped harp and several varieties of drums, have been identified from the small terracotta figures and from the pictographs on the seals that were probably used by merchants. Further, the famous bronze statuette of a dancing girl, probably representing a class of temple dancers, clearly indicates the presence of music. Evidence of Rudra-worship during this period has also been found. Rudra was later to become popular as Shiva- the supreme deity of dance, drama and music.”

Eventually the territory was called Rajputana when the British Government established their stakes within Indian-territory. “Rajputana included 18 princely states, two chiefships and the British district of Ajmer-Merwara” (which remained a province of the Dominion, and later Republic of India.) ”The British official term [Rajputana] remained the official name (early in the Muslim period) until its replacement by the name “Rajasthan” in the constitution of 1949″ (Gupta 143). There are tales of Rajput warriors (“sons of kings”) who fought their way through the region, staking this land as their own. Whether or not they were Pakistani or Indian, it is difficult to decipher as “there are scattered references in historical sources to struggles between Rajputs who were either decedents of foreign immigrants or interlopers from adjoining regions. (Gupta 143-144). Regardless of lineage, new traditions developed and time pressed on creating a melting pot of achievement and philosophy.

Here we can somewhat see the urbanism in the Indus Valley: both during the mature, and late phases.


1876 engraving of Rajput Warriors


In Northwest India, Rajasthan prevails as “The land of the Kings.” Recognized as its own state within India, Rajasthan has been heavily influenced (both musically and culturally) by its surrounding Indian land, as well as various Southern Pakistani traditions. This is because the Northwestern regions of Rajasthan (Sri Ganganagar, Bikaner, and Jaisalmar) border Southern Pakistan alongside the region of Sindh. “[Sindh] is also locally known as the “Mehran” and has been given the title of Bab-ul-Islam (The gateway of Islam)” ( Therefore, it’s quite fair to say that Islamic history and customs have culturally influenced Rajasthani music and traditions.

So that you can get a fair look at the state of Rajasthan, check out all the different districts:


Rajasthan is one of the states of India “and home to several important centers of Indian Musical development, including UdaipurJodhpur and Jaipur” (Wikipedia).

The Udaipur district, (commonly referred to as “The city of the Lakes,” or “The Venice of the East” is located in the Southern region. (See Southern Fuchsia district on map above) Plenty of Bollywood movies have been shot in Udaipur, and in addition, many Bollywood films’ songs were filmed in Udaipur. 80% of the district identifies with being Hindu, while 14% are distinguished as being Muslim. With Jainism as one of the oldest religions in the world, the number of Jains may have been much higher during ancient times, though only 4.7% of Udaipur’s residents identify with this religion today.

Jodhpur, known as “Sun City,” is the second largest city located near the center of the state, with well over a million residents. (See the Fuchsia district near the middle of the Rajasthani map above) Jodhpur is considered the second Metropolitan city, as it was once a Princely State under British ruling. With the capital kingdom called Marwar, there are plenty of temples, palaces and forts that attract a great deal of tourism to help sustain Rajasthani economy. Jodhpur’s official spoken language is Hindi, but most people in Marwar speak Marwari.

The Jaswant Thada mausoleum in Jodhpur in the early morning.


Jaipur, or “The Pink City” is Rajasthan’s official capital and largest Indian state in Northern India. With a population of 3.1 million, the city inhabitants speak Hindi, Punjabi, Rajasthani, and yes….English. (On the map above, Jaipur is the brown colored district towards the East.) Jaipur was founded in 1727 by the young Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who at age 11, immediately became a ruler when his father suddenly passed away. Leaving the former destination of (what was then called Amer/Amber) to his son, the location is now apart of the Jaipur Municipal Corporation, and contains some very old, lavish forts/palaces.


(1875) Rajasthani’s in Jaipur who practiced Jainism (“an indian religion that practices non-violence towards all living beings, and emphasizes spiritual independence and equality between all forms of life -Wikipedia.)


Though it’s very important to note the traditional Rajasthani folk instruments, “In 1757, during colonization, the British brought brass instruments to India and the native population grew to love these alien instruments. Since independence in 1947 till today, the trumpets, trombones, clarinets, bass drums, snare drums and cymbals of a brass band are everywhere as a part of life. They accompany national and religious celebrations, popular festivals, political processions, weddings, births and funerals” (Kawa 1). According to Kawa, there is no marriage without a brass band in India. All of the musicians of the “Jaipur Kawa Brass Band” have ancestral ties to their art as the recipients of many generations of musical culture and knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation.” If you would like to hear some of this music, click here. This particular music most certainly has a heavy Jazz/big-band influence (due to the particular instruments brought by the Brits). The musicians also incorporate traditional indian instruments within this music as well, such as the Sitar. It’s no surprise that this music has developed as a result of much earlier musical traditions. The rhythms used allude to a much more diverse musical understanding.


Traditional Folk music in Rajasthan can be broken up into 4 sections: Percussion (Membranophones), Wind (Aerophones), Autophonic (Idiophones), and Strings (Chordophones).

Rajasthani musical instruments are essential in making traditional music more melodious. The most common percussion instrument in Rajasthan is the Dhol drum. Highly ornamented and rather large, it slings over the players neck/shoulders and is played in front of the body. Made out of wood, the two ends are kept hollow with tightly-held skin parchment on either side. One side of the drum gets played with the hand, while the other side gets struck with a wooden stick. This drum “form[s] the basic rhythm of the folk music of Rajasthan” (Nad Sadhna).


The smaller version of the Dhol is the Dholak, where the hands play both sides of the drum. This drum will almost always accompany a larger ensemble.


The Nagara has a metallic-like drum tone because the body is made of metal, iron, or copper. This particular drum is struck with wooden sticks at various ceremonies and functions (such as weddings.) Generally, the Nagara is accompanied by a smaller Tasha drum, and Shehnai (Reeded Aerophone with a nasal/buzzing timbre)


Tasha Drum




Here’s an Mp3 example of what the Shehnai sounds like: 

The Dhaf is a large tambourine with stretched skin attached to a rim of iron or wood (played especially during “Holi” or the Festival of Colors) 


Burst-of-Red-Holi-India (1)

The Khartal is another form of percussion commonly used for devotional/spiritual purposes. A bit like clappers, the Khartal has two pieces; one held in each hand. The “male” piece is thicker and held with the thumb, while the “female” piece is thinner, and balanced by the ring finger. “It has derived its name from [the] Hindi words ‘kara’ mean[ing] hand, and ‘tala’ mean[ing] clapping” (Wikipedia). This wooden clapper has metallic discs or plates that produce a clinking sound when clapped together. Therefore, it would be considered an Idiophone due to the combined properties of the vibrator and resonator. Rapid and complex rhythms are encouraged, as this instrument represents assertiveness, strength, and stamina.



Flute’s are also commonly played in Rajasthani Folk music. Similar to the Shehnai in its elongated, vertical figure, flute players in Rajasthan have mastered playing two flutes at once…You may notice some circular breathing techniques being utilized in this next video.

This particular kind of flute assembly is called a “Satara.” One flute has holes, and the other does not in order to provide the fundamental base tone.

Very similar to the Satara, the Algoza is also a double flute played simultaneously. A lot like a bagpipe, the player has to master playing various notes on one flute, while the second flute acts as a drone. Again, circular breathing is quite essential!

This video shows a Dholak drum accompanying Sayer Khan as he plays the Algoza.

According to the The Institute for Indian Music and Research Center, there is another interesting wind instrument that is widely used by snake charmers. At the beginning of this post I mentioned the Kalbeliya/Kalbelia dance tradition in Rajasthan. The snake charmers believe that the Bin or Pungi instrument has a hypnotic effect. The instrument itself is made from a dry bottle-gourd, and consists of two reeds or bamboo tubes known as Jivala. Like the previous flutes, one is used for playing a melody, and the other is used to create the lower defining drone.


Mp3 Example of the Pungi

The most common stringed instrument, considered a Chordophone, is the Sarangi. According to Nad Sadhna, “This is a multi-stringed instrument that is played by using a bow drawn across the strings and running of fingers on the strings. The modern guitars have probably been modeled upon [the Saragi]. Incredibly popular all over India, Rajasthan embellishes upon the

Here’s a video that explains the Saragi in greater detail 

Here’s a video I absolutely loved: Sarangi sound design….. Want to hear what a Sarangi can sound like when you sample each potential sound? I do!

The other popular stringed instrument is called the Kamaycha. This instrument [has] nineteen strings, three of gut for melody, two of brass for drone, and fourteen of steel for sympathetic resonance (

In Rajasthan, Ravenhatta’s are also quite favored, and considered to be a type of Sarangi. Today, these instruments are quite rare. The bowed Indian fiddle has a rich history and the instrument itself is quite ornate.  It has jingle-bells attached to the long bow, and the bowl at the bottom is made of a cut coconut shell. To cover the opening, goat hide is stretched tight to the outer shell. Bamboo acts as the long neck of the instrument, while the strings are made of both steel and horse-hair. “Throughout the medieval history of India, kings were patrons of music; this helped in increased popularity of [the] ravanhatta among royal families. In Rajasthan and Gujarat, it was the first musical instrument to be learned by princes” (Wikipedia).


Ravenhatta Mp3

The Bhapang is a variable tension string instrument from Rajasthan. It is used in Lok Geet, an Indian folk music tradition. The instrument is used both for accompaniment, and solos. It is played all over North India and is unique to South Asia. The Bhapang consists of a small cylindrical drum with an open end. At the center of the skin, a string is fixed. The player holds the drum between his upper body, and under his arm, while the hand holds a little bamboo stick fixed to the end of the string. To produce different pitches, the string is stretched and relaxed by the player. (Information from Asian Music Circuit) Generally, the Muslims play the Bhapang in Alwar (Rajasthan) on the occasion of Shiva Ratri (Birth Day celebration of Lord Shiva of Hindus)


Bhapang Mp3

While India still functions under a strict Caste system, and the Mughals are not considered “Untouchables” but they are from the lower caste community. They will never be in the center of the community, and they will always be on the outskirts of society. Besides being weavers by profession, the rest of the time, these people are singing and playing music. The Harmonium has been adopted by the Rajasthani Mughals because it has a bright melodic tone, and it’s generally a rather loud instrument. These particular Mughal communities consider the Harmonium to be more along the lines of “pop” music.


Within the Mughal communities, the men sing to supplement their efforts from farming, building and weaving. The women don’t sing in public, but they do sing at village births, deaths, and weddings for themselves, and for their deities. The girls have had hundreds of songs passed down from earlier generations, and amazingly enough- they have memorized them all. The oldest woman in the Mughal village will pass these melodies down, and the next generation will remember and continue to teach the younger girls. This cycle creates a beautiful tradition, but this passing of knowledge is 100% essential if they want to keep their customs alive. When singing, the musicians shut their eyes, and are able to put themselves in a spiritual trance and venture into mystical realms. The women who have gotten permission from their Gurus to sing in public have done quite well for themselves monetarily. (Though it seems to be misunderstood in the community. Times are changing.)

mughal women

It is said that to find happiness, one must find a teacher to help them achieve these emotional highs. The songs sung are devotional with regards to their Hindu deities, but they will sing for the people after they have already sung for the divine.  Bells are wrapped around their angles and arms while dancing and playing music, and it does not matter if these people are professional; the point of music within the Mughal community is joy.

When getting married, it’s important that both the man and woman know the music. They must know how to sing the traditional songs. If this is not the case, there can be no wedding. As a living heritage, the songs must be remembered, or the cultural significance of these people will die out.

2013-09-Mughal-Wedding-Guide-4-752x563 (1)

There are many supporters that feel Rajasthan’s wealth of tradition (“Vera Sit” “or “First tradition”) can potentially reinvent itself within the modern world. However, it’s completely up to the people. The Rajasthan International Folk Festival seeks to support village musicians on the outskirts of rural society.

Most of the music is not considered entertainment; It’s a way of life for religious ceremonies, marriages, births, deaths, and any other large community function.  In regards to the Festival, the performers come from all over Rajasthan and perform for each other. All these different people can act as a brotherhood, in order to make sure their own traditions can stay alive and respected. Generally, most artists would only perform in their own village settings, but traditional settings are beginning to fall-apart. The old ways of being a musician and making money is no longer working within these communities. Sadly, the Mughal Rajasthani people cannot sustain themselves this way against the new modernized India. The concept behind these particular festivals is to create a new-found interest in what is unfortunately dying out. Segregation regularly occurs because Hindus and Muslims would not generally blend, and the same goes for people from different Castes. Bringing the Rajasthani villages together creates positive vibrations and gives hope for the future of their vivid cultures.

Even regularly paid performers are considered low within the Indian social hierarchy. It doesn’t matter if they are amazing performers or not because they still cannot break free from their caste. It is only when they are unencumbered from their patrons, and free to perform as they please that they feel especially talented. The patrons practically own these musicians! It reminds me of a modern day American music-label.

The first person to work with the musician castes of Rajasthan was Komal Kathari. He was an Indian folklorist and ethnomusicologist from Jodhpur. In the 1960′s he set up a folklore research center, and as his partners collected stories as he became enchanted by the music of different Rajasthani villages. Kathari decided to record this music in order to preserve it! He was the first person who brought these traditional performers out of their traditional circumstances (away from their patrons), and onto the stage.


Before he died in 2004, Kathari worked heavily with the Kabelia Gypsies (as previously mentioned), and it is clear that Popular Bollywood has soaked up their gypsy style, and reflected it back to them. It’s almost as though the Bollywood style copied the Kabelia Gypsies, and now, the Gypsies are copying the Bollywood interpretation. The traditional Kabelia songs were sung in Marwari, and the traditional instruments didn’t have the modern flashy embellishments used to entice tourists.


Collaboration has become a way for tradition to grow and influence the next generation of Rajasthani people. India is changing so much due to technological advancements, so it’s impossible to keep things the way they use to be.

“Culture is not static. It is fluid. So we have to find the right place for these traditional musicians. They have talent, they have great skills”- His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur


“Dawn News.” KARACHI: Babul Islam Day Observed., 07 Nov. 2003. Web. 07 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Geography & History of Rajasthan.”, 1 Dec. 2011. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <;.

Gupta, R.K., and S.R Bakshi. “Studies In Indian History: Rajasthan Through The Ages The Heritage Of …” Google Books. Google, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <;.

“History of Rajasthan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Indus Valley Civilization.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. <;.

Khan, Aurangzeb, and Carsten Lemmen. “Bricks and Urbanism in the Indus Valley Rise and Decline.” Bricks and Urbanism in the Indus Valley Rise and Decline., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. <;.

Kahn, Hameed. “Kawa Music.” Kawa Music. Jaipur Kawa Brass Band, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Khartal.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 May 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Music of Rajasthan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Dec. 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Rajput.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Mar. 2014. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Rajasthan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Apr. 2014. Web. 05 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Rajasthan History.” Rajasthan History. A to Z of Rajasthan, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <;.

Rathore, Praveen Singh, Mr. “Music of Rajasthan.” Music of Rajasthan. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <;.

“The Chronology : Indus Valley Civilazation.” The Chronology : Indus Valley Civilazation. ITC Sangeet Research Institute, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <;.

Wright, Rita P. “The Ancient Indus.” Cambridge Catalogue. Cambridge University Press, Oct. 2009. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. <;.

The Study of Oceania: New Zealand

Maori warrior_0

The original Māori explorers and settlers arrived from Eastern Polynesia in several waves of canoe voyages sometime between 1250 and 1300 CE. It’s becoming more clear that through this research, the arrival of the Europeans and missionaries in the 1600’s brought a significant amount of change to Māori way of life. This of course included the purging of traditional music, performing and visual arts. However, anthropologically “New samples of bone (and now also of unequivocally rat-gnawed woody seed cases) match the 1280 date of the earliest archaeological sites and the beginning of sustained deforestation by humans” (David Lowe).

New Zealand: The narrow islands southeast of Australia


To get your ears excited, I’m so excited to share an instrument with you called the Poiawhioohio. Later I go into detail about how this instrument originated, but until then- enjoy, and welcome to the ancient music of New Zealand!

poiWhio (2)

Another compelling piece of research by The New Scientist states that , “A previous study of bones from rats – which Polynesian settlers brought with them as a food source  […] were dated as early as 200 BC.”  If this research is at all accurate, another group of people known as the Potupaiarehe could have been living in New Zealand before Māori settlers had even arrived.



Before colonization sought to reeducate and cleanse-away traditional Māori lifestyle, the native tribespeople told mystifying folklore of the Patupaiarehe people that dominated the mountainous regions of New Zealand. As these people were known to be musically oriented with the Pūtōrino flute or trumpet “which, along with the Kōauau (another flute), were played expertly by [the] Patupaiarehe (fairy-like spirit-people living in the forests and mountaintops of New Zealand.) The flute can be played through the top air channel (held vertically) or through a hole carved in the center of the flute’s body (played horizontally). This pressurizes the air out either end of the flute, creating a low-end, smooth-sounding voice. Generally made from different materials, the customary construction of these flutes were made of wood, albatross bones, or even human bone! The carving skills that these ancient peoples utilized are rather magnificent.


Oh, and now I know that you’re thinking about human bone. Cannibalism is a whole separate topic within Māori Warriors…as a side fact, after battle they would eat various parts of their victims (which were usually conquered people from neighboring tribes) in order to gain “superhuman” powers.

Now back to the traditional Māori music; Taonga Puoro(this music was thankfully revived over the past thirty years by Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff.)

The Pūtorino flute is inspired by the sound of a female case moth and its shape’s based on her cocoon. The aerophone, can be played in different octaves with both male & female voices depending upon breath control.


Check out this video by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa 

Rumored by Māori folklore to have pale skin and red hair, Writer/Historian James Cowan (noted for his books on colonial history and Maori ethnography) was told that ‘The Patupaiarehe were a lighter complexion than typical Māori; their hair was of a dull golden or reddish hue.” With much lighter skin and hair than the Māori tribe-line, it perplexes the curious anthropologist. The Patupaiarehe’s eye-colors were also said to have ranged from pale blue to a rich sable.  Does the answer lie somewhere between the research and the mythology?


There are many various ideas based on these ancient spirit-people. While some believe them to be merely stories and stories alone, others truly believe that the Patupaiarehe are an under-studied anthropologic goldmine, and in their favor there is new research.


According to Historian Richard Wood, “[The] Maori used umbrella terms like Patu-paiarehe, Turehu and Pakepakeha as names for earlier [New Zealand] inhabitants, but each Maori tribe developed their own regional names, such as Ngati Kura, Ngati Korakorako and Ngati Turehu for the Patu-paiarehe tribes in the Rotorua lakes district of the central North Island.


Believed to be Patupaiarehe/Terhu remains, this Māori burial cave had its skeletal contents examined in 1919 and determined to be “very old when found in isolated country, far from the consecrated ground of a churchyard. The deceased people were, undoubtedly, the white Ngati Hotu, known in local Maori and European folklore to have hidden from the cannibals for centuries in this inhospitable region” (Wood).

For about 12-years during the mid 1860’s-70’s Robertson’s Mill in Onehunga, Auckland [New Zealand] ground-up tens of thousands of Patupaiarehe skeletons from the Auckland and Northland burial caves to make fertilizer. Maori leaders had told Governor Bowen at Te Kopuru in 1869, ‘Do with them what you wish for these are not our people’ (Source: Noel Hilliam, former Curator of the Dargaville Maritime Museum)

Scarcely seen, these perplexing spirit-people were known by the Māori as being avid flute players living in mist covered hill-tops and deep within mossy vine-covered forests. As they lived off the natural sustenance from the land, the Patupaiarehe were hunter-gatherers, consuming mainly raw forest food, and fishing along the seashore or within forest lakes.

According to the New Zealand Encyclopedia, “In different traditions, albino birds and eels, red flax and red eels were considered  property of the [Patupaiarehe] , and trouble befell upon the Māori who took any of these. If they sincerely did exist, it’s clear there may have been tribe-to-tribe rivalries.


Instrumentally, both the Pūtōrino and  kōauau flute was said to be played expertly by the Patupaiarehe, and that “while playing their music they were able to lure young women into their clutches” (The Encyclopedia of New Zealand). Acting sprightly throughout nighttime hours, the Patupaiarehe people were physically distressed by light, and rather disliked being unshielded by the mists of the mountains. Intermingling between the Māori and the Patupaiarehe was preferably rare, and would have potentially caused tribe-to-tribe conflict.


Alongside the vocal tradition of chant and song, Māori people played a wide variety of drum percussion and wind instruments. “In traditional Māori society the voice, chant and instrumental sounds played a significant role in the social and ritual activity of the community” (’s6.htm) 


This was in essence due to the absence of any sort of written literature within Māori society. Like the orally passed-down traditions of the Torah in Judaism, Māori oral literature was passed-down through significant musical traditions that formed a large part of society.

“Haka”: are shouted speeches by men, combined with a fierce dance. Haka Taparahi are performed without weapons and they can give expression to different emotions depending on the situation for which they are performed. Performed with weapons, Haka Peruperu were associated with war-dances that frightened and intimidated the opponents in order to achieve power.



In this next Youtube video, there are various examples of Māori song and dance. Though it’s mainly vocal and hand-percussion based, it is no doubt that “Waiata” are passionate expressions of song sung in groups.

Waiata tangi are laments for the dead. The word tangi means weeping. This form is mainly composed by women. During burial ceremonies women were expected to show signs of deep grief, for example by wounding their faces with sharp stones. Sometimes these waiata were very personal, telling about the composer’s emotions and feelings towards the dead. When composed by men the waiata tangi can also instruct us about the warrior qualities of the dead person.”’s6.htm

The Pukea, also an aerophone, was a wooden trumpet used for war and enemy intimidation. On a more positive note, they were also used to announce the rituals associated with the planting of kumara (sweet potato) and other crops” (Dr. Richard Nunns)



The Nguru was a small flute made out of either wood, stone, clay or whale bone. With anywhere from 2 to 4 finger-holes, like many flutes, the lips (or nose!) blow through the open end of the instrument. While air is forced through a small curved hole at the end of the aerophone, the Nguru has a high pitched and smooth sound (a bit like an Ocarina)


The Putatara (Conch Shell) is also found in other islands throughout Oceania, and is used to let people know something was about to happen (including seasons changing.) The bigger the shell, the deeper the sound.

This tradition is consistent throughout Polynesia. When my husband and I hiked to the summit of Haleakala with our 2 friends, (10,000 ft. Volcano), it was our intention to stargaze in a location with very little light-pollution. When the sun-rose around 7am, a man played a howling Conch Shell to symbolize the new year, as it was now January 1, 2014!


Back within traditional Māori instruments, the Pahu Pounamu is a jade gong used in “The House of Learning.” It’s made from the bone of a Pilot Whale, and a natural hardwood called Akeake. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any solo recording samples of what this instrument sounded like.


There are also nose flutes made of globular shaped gourds called Koauau Ponga Ihu as well as whistling and chattering bird lures called Poiawhiohio (also made from a hollowed out gourd). When the Poiawhiohio was able to entice the birds… an easy meal was to follow.

I purchased this recording from (New Zealand’s Centre for Music) Believe it or not, this was the only place I was able to find a good recording of what the Poiawhioohio sounds like…This is the same recording you heard

poiWhio (2)

My personal favorite instrument is called the TumuTumu. Like the Pahu Pounamu/ Jade Gong, it was used in the “House of Learning” to accompany intoned learnings. It was made from the jaw bone of the Upokohue (pilot whale) and the striker is made from the native New Zealand hardwood, Akeake. Throughout my exploration on traditional Māori music, I thought that the overall construction involved to create this hand-percussion instrument was wonderful with the teeth-enhancements. The sound itself also reminded me of the sound of hollowed-out chattering teeth.

Here’s the link you can hear the TumuTumu recording


Early Christian missionaries sought to take the music away from those who inhabited native New Zealand. However regardless of the intended cultural-purge, today there has been a strong revival of traditional Māori music! Thanks to Dr. Richard Nunns, Māori descendants have been able to rediscover many of their lost instruments and culture. The voices of the traditional instruments had rarely been heard since the early nineteenth century.

Nunns’ musicality and facility in playing the instruments are underpinned by his extensive scholarship and research.

Maori Women hard at word (circa 1930)


The Oldtime Māori (1938) Photo by Mākerti Papakura


Pocket groups of these first inhabitants survived into the 20th century and are well-remembered by old-timers as the red headed, freckle-faced Maoris or Waka blonds, (perhaps there was some previous intermarrying with the Patupaiarehe?) 🙂


“James Cowan (New Zealand Writer).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Feb. 2013. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. <>.

Lowe, James. “Polynesian Settlement of New Zealand and the Impacts of Volcanism on Early Maori Society: An Update.” Dating Human Arrival in New Zealand. Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Waikato, Hamilton, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <>.

Nunns, Richard. “Dr Richard Nunns — Nga Taonga Puoro, Traditional Maori Musical Instruments.” Richard Nunns. International New Zealand Artists, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <>

“Rat Remains Help Date New Zealand’s Colonisation.” Rat Remains Help Date New Zealand’s Colonisation. New Scientist: Life, 04 June 2008. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <>.

“Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand.” Urukehu – Patupaiarehe –. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <>.


Wilmshurt, Janet. “Dating Human Arrival in New Zealand.” Dating Human Arrival in New Zealand. Landcare Research, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <>.