Whale music

The long, curved cry of whale song filled Te Papa’s marae in January this year.

Richard Nunns, an authority on ngā taonga pūoro (Māori musical instruments), with the New Zealand String Quartet, was here to play a work by New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead. 

Richard Nunns
Richard Nunns, taonga püoro expert

Puhake ki te rangi, translates as ‘spouting to the skies’. It’s a celebration of whales and was written specially for Richard Nunns and the string quartet in late 2006.

The taonga pūoro played in the piece are made from whale bone and whale teeth. They range from the tumutumu, a percussion instrument made from the jaw of a pilot whale, to nguru, or flutes, carved from sperm whale teeth.

Te Papa visitors were able to see these incredible taonga pūoro close up and find out more about their uses – but most importantly, they had the chance to hear Richard play them.

Richard Nunns' taonga puoro collection

Visitors view Richard Nunns’ collection of whale bone and whale tooth taonga püoro.

Each instrument has a story and a unique voice – in future posts we’ll explore these and bring you some of their sounds.

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