Tag Archives: Indigenous People

Not a universal language

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.

This according to “Music historiography in New Zealand” by Martin Lodge, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Below, a performance by a haka team.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Ethnomusicology, featured, Instruments