Tongan lakalaka is an art form in which poetry, music, movement, scent, and dress coalesce into sociopolitical theatrical events.
Knowledge of Tongan politics, culture, history, and shared values is required for fully understanding lakalaka. This communicative competence makes it possible to decode and make sense of the processes and products of this cultural form, in which human bodies move in time and space according to cultural conventions and aesthetic systems of the Tongan people.
Individuals decode the discourses according to their backgrounds and understandings of particular performances as well as their own mental and emotional states at the time. For a viewer to respond, knowledge of movement conventions and dress is not sufficient; only through communicative competence can dance and dress reveal meaning as a sociopolitical discourse.
This according to “Dance and dress as sociopolitical discourse” by Adrienne L. Kaeppler, an essay included in Proceedings of the 17th symposium of the Study Group on Ethnochoreology (Nafplion: Peloponnīsiakó Laografikó Idryma, 1994 45-52; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1994-2706).
Below, a performance from 2009.
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Patten (above) has enabled anyone to participate in this tradition with his book/CD set How to play the gumleaf (Sydney: Currency, 1999; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-14755). Patten’s book includes practical tips on how to select a suitable leaf and develop proper lip technique, and his demonstrations include popular and old-time songs along with the calls of several indigenous Australian birds.
Below, Herb Patten holds forth.
BONUS: Now there’s no need to imagine hearing John Lennon’s Imagine on a gumleaf.
Hula performers began touring throughout the continental United States and Europe in the late 19th century. These hula circuits introduced hula and Hawaiians to U.S. audiences, establishing an imagined intimacy, a powerful fantasy that enabled Americans to possess their colony physically and symbolically.
At vaudeville theaters, international expositions, commercial nightclubs, and military bases, Hawaiian women acted as ambassadors of aloha, enabling Americans to imagine Hawai’i as feminine and benign, and the relation between colonizer and colonized as mutually desired. Meanwhile, in the early years of American imperialism in the Pacific, touring hula performers incorporated veiled critiques of U.S. expansionism into their productions.
By the 1930s Hawaiian culture, particularly its music and hula, had enormous promotional value. In the 1940s thousands of U.S. soldiers and military personnel in Hawai’i were entertained by hula performances, many of which were filmed by military photographers. Yet Hawaiians also used hula as a means of cultural survival and countercolonial political praxis.
This according to Aloha America: Hula circuits through the U.S. empire by Adria L. Imada (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).
“The texts [of girls’ coming-of age songs] address topics broadly sorted in four sets: daily routine, recalling netted bags (made by all women), sores (irritated by flies), and pleasure over good food (grown or gathered); unusual events, like sighting a helicopter, European missionaries’ arrival, and death in a hospital; desires, including the romantic, with meanings often hidden in metaphor, but also the adventuresome, like wanting to ride in a vehicle; and the coming-of-age performance itself speaking of dancing together, laughing together, and becoming adults.”
To address this problem, the women and their grandchildren have composed a song that emphasizes connection to the ancestors, to country, to language, and to the elders. With lyrics in English, traditional Tiwi song language, and the contemporary spoken language, and with a hip-hop dance-mix sampling an ethnographic recording made in 1912, Ngariwanajirri (Strong kids song) is an example of new music helping to preserve tradition.
This according to “Ngariwanajirri, the Tiwi Strong kids song: Using repatriated song recordings in a contemporary music project” by Genevieve Campbell (Yearbook for traditional music XLIV  1–23).
Below, a music video of Ngariwanajirri; the song changes dramatically around 2:00.
The first meeting and interchange between Māori and Europeans was a musical one. As the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and his party sailed toward the coast of Aotearoa (now New Zealand) on a December evening in 1642, they saw canoes approaching them and heard the men in the prows singing and blowing on a trumpet-like instrument. Two of the Dutch sailors were ordered to play welcoming tunes on their own trumpets; the exchange continued until darkness fell and the Māori paddled away.
A few days later the Dutch launched a small rowboat holding seven unarmed sailors. The Māori immediately sent canoes to attack it, and killed four of the sailors; the others swam to safety, and the canoes were driven away by Dutch gunfire.
This tragic turn of events was eventually explained: The first Māori party intended to challenge the strangers and invite them to fight. They had probably been performing a haka—a ritual war chant—and their horn was likely a pūtātara (above), a signaling device that may be used for hostile confrontations. The groups’ misinterpretations of each other’s music making led to a fatal misunderstanding.
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