Documenting history on Tongan fangufangu

As part of celebrating Tongan Language Week: Uike Kātonga’i ‘o e Lea Faka-Tonga (1-8 September) the Pacific Cultures team are highlighting some of the Tongan items in Te Papa’s collection. Today’s blog is the last of our series.

Tongan fangufangu (nose flutes) are beautifully crafted musical instruments. Historically, fangufangu were used to awaken the Tongan royalty from their sleep. Made from bamboo, they have intact nodes at each end, forming a sealed cylinder. However they also document important moments in Tonga’s history. Te Papa has three fangufangu in the Pacific Cultures Collection, which date from the 1800s. Etched on each fangufangu are images, words and names that tell us a story.

Fangufangu (nose flute); FE000712; Gift of Alexander Turnbull, 1913; Te Papa

Translated with the kind help of Tongan staff member Lute Langi, it was discovered that the fangufangu above has several motifs written in the Tongan language including ko e fonu (this is a turtle), ko e fai (this is a sting ray) and moa ta’ane (rooster). There is also an image of a woman named ‘Malia’ and a picture of a ‘Manuao Falanise’ or French ship. The artist has possibly recorded the introduction of Catholicism to Tonga by French Marist brothers during the 1850s. Malia perhaps references Mary the mother of Jesus.

Fangufangu (nose flute); FE012470; Gift of Derek J. Wilson, 2009; Te Papa

This fangufangu has the name Sione Latu inscribed. It gives the location as Tuanuku, Vava’u, the former is a coastal village in the Vava’u group of islands.  There are pictures of 15 birds, 12 ships and two human figures. This fangufangu, possibly records the coming and going of European ships in the harbour area in the 1800s.

Click on the link to view the playing of fangufangu during Queen Elizabeth II’s royal visit to the Kingdom of Tonga: Watch video

For more about fangufangu, see:

Mahina, ‘Okusitino 1984 Observations of a Tongan Nose-flute (fangufangu). Records of the Auckland Institute and Museum 21 (1): 33-36.

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