Cook Islands drums – old and new (Cook Islands Language Week 2013)

In this fourth blogpost of Te Epetoma o te Reo Māori Kuki Airani – Cook Islands Māori Language week, we look at two drums from the Cook Islands acquired by the museum at the beginning and end of the twentieth century.

The first  is a pa’u mango (small skin drum) from the Cook Islands. In the nineteenth century, pa’u mango were used in civil and religious ceremonies and were also beaten to announce peace.

The pa’u mango was purchased by the museum at an auction in 1916. We have highlighted it in Cook islands language week for the distinctive and carefully scripted letters on its base. They spell out the words ‘PAMATI’, ‘ALAULA’, ‘NAKALIUMALIA’, and ‘NALIIIPII’ that refer to places in the Cook Islands. The drum is also decorated with sets of crosses, triangles, and stars.

The drum has a cylindrical wooden body, which has been hollowed out from both ends. The top is covered with shark skin, lashed on with lengths of plaited sennit (coconut husk fibre) cord, which are drawn taut and fastened to the base through square holes. Nowadays other types of animal skins are used for the drum membrane and synthetic ropes are used for bindings.

These elements can be seen in a more recent example of a pa’u mango. It was made for Te Papa in 1992 by Mr Rurutaura Tauta and Mr Teokotai Pita of Vaepae village, Aitutaki. Mr Tauta is established as one of the experts in this craft having learned it from his father. In the early 1990s he supplied drums to Aitutaki bands in New Zealand and also made them on commission for groups in Rarotonga. Cook islands drums opened the week here at Te papa, and can be heard across New Zealand at Cook Islands community events and even at the Vodafone Warriors rugby league teams home games.

 

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