Drum (pahu hula)

From Hawaii, Polynesia
Pre-18th century AD

Music, particularly drumming, was traditionally important in Hawaiian ritual. A drum of this size would have been played as part of hula - a larger version was used in temples. Early hula was a sacred performance by men, involving dancing and the chanting of poetry. Later on it became partly a form of entertainment in which women were also allowed to dance.

The seated musician normally played the pahu with one hand and a smaller drum, sometimes tied to the knee, with the other. Nose flutes were also played as an accompaniment, at least by the nineteenth century.

This drum has a membrane of shark skin held in place with bindings of plaited coconut fibre. It is one of two known complete examples where the wooden base has been carved with figures (the other is in Christchurch Museum, New Zealand). Adrienne Kaeppler records that The British Museum drum was collected during Captain Cook's third voyage (1778-79), and that it was then acquired by Sir Ashton Lever, ending up in the private collection of James Hooper.

Drums continue to be made and used in Hawaii, sometimes for performances of traditional dancing. Generally they are plainer. This type has declined in popularity due to the unsuitability of its rhythms for contemporary music.

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More information


A.L. Kaeppler, Pahu and Puniu, an exhibition (Honolulu, Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, 1980)

P.H. Buck, Arts and crafts of Hawaii (Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press, 1957)

G.S. Kanahele (ed.), Hawaiian music and musicians: (Honolulu, University Press of Hawaii, 1979)


Height: 29.200 cm
Diameter: 16.500 cm

Museum number

AOA 1977.Oc8.1


James Hooper Collection


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