Shell and Bamboo Instruments

Wind Instruments of Hawaiʻi

Pū and Pū ʻOhe
The pū and pū ʻohe are the traditional trumpets of Polynesia.

The , or ʻolē, is the classic shell trumpet of Polynesia used to announce the arrival of chiefs, ceremonies, and important events. It also is used as a signaling device on canoes. Generally, it is made from Charonia tritonis or Cassis cornuta. A hole is made at the apex of the shell and used to blow, trumpet-like into the body which acts as a resonating chamber.

The pū ʻohe is less well known than the pū, but serves the same purposes and is equally important. While the helmet shell pu and the conch shell pu were more difficult to acquire and prized by the chiefs for their tone, volume, and beauty, the pu `ohe was accessible to everyone. A signaling device for sailors at sea and hunters in the forest, it also announced ceremonies and called people home from the fields. Used by all levels of society, this simple trumpet is made from just one section of bamboo. One end is open, and the other end is closed by the node. The node has a hole bored in it and smoothed to fashion the simple mouthpiece through which the player blows.

ʻOhe Hano Ihu
The ʻohe hano ihu is the traditional Hawaiian flute. These were made by Native Hawaiian artist and musician Manu Josiah.

The ʻohe hano ihu, the traditional Hawaiian flute made from Schizostachyum glaucifolium bamboo, is considered a sweetheart’s instrument. It is not a loud instrument, rather, the tone is intended to be soft and sweet. Traditionally, it is not played in concert for a large audience, but played in a quiet place for someone special. It is found on a number of islands in the Pacific, and in Hawaiʻi is used in the hula, the traditional dance, as well as in courting.

The thumb is placed gently against the nose, holding the nostril closed. The flute is angled so breath from the open nostril flows across the breath hole near the node. The other hand stops the tone holes. Numbers of fingering holes range from one to four, and location of the holes varies depending on the musical taste of the player.