Thursday, 17 May 2012

A Tongan Noseflute

Numbers 82 and 83 in the Catalogue of Curiosities are described as 'Two flutes, for the nose.'  Number 83, 1886.1.1534, is now thought to be from Vanuatu, but No.82, 1886.1.1532, is certainly a noseflute, or fangufangu,  from Tonga.  

1886.1.1532 Noseflute, Tonga

In Tonga flutes blown with the nose were used to awaken chiefs - it was considered very bad manners to do it any other way.   Famously, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were woken by the sound of noseflutes during their visit to the Kingdom of Tonga in 1954.  At the time of Cooks' visit, noseflutes were also played in the evenings 'for pleasant amusements'

The noseflute in the Forster Collection is made from a piece of the large bamboo known as pitu, with a node at each end, forming a hollow sealed cylinder.  Holes were made with a shell-bladed hand twist-drill close to the node at each end, with three further holes then made roughly equally spaced along the length of tube between the first two holes.  A final hole was made opposite the central hole. 

The noseflute could theoretically have been played from either end, although it seems that one end was usually preferred.  The playing position involves blocking one nostril with the thumb, and using the other nostril to blow into the first hole, nearest the node.  The second or third finger of the same hand would be used to block the second hole.  The thumb of the other hand is used to support the instrument, while a finger of that hand blocks the hole nearest the end of the flute.  Only two holes appear to have been used, giving a range of four notes.

Detail of decoration
This flute has been decorated by burning a design onto the surface.

See R. Moyle, 'Tongan Musical Instruments', Galpin Society Journal Vol.29 May 1976 pp64-83