The Tahiti Traveler

The Pahu

A frenzied rhythm

The pahu is a percussion instrument that can be likened to the African djembe. This ancestral drum is essential in a traditional Polynesian orchestra. It produces a basic tempo that guides the other musicians. This impressive instrument can measure about 60cm high and 30cm in diameter. The pahu’s size can vary a lot from one model to another. Thus, different models of pahu may offer a large range of tones : high or low notes. The most impressive pahu ever discovered in the world measures 2.45m with 45cm of periphery. It is currently on display at the Museum of Grenoble in France.

The pahu is handcrafted directly from the trunk of a tree, mainly the coconut tree or the Tamanu. Then, a membrane covers the top of the instrument ; artisans generally use the shark or the goat skin. This animal skin is stretched thanks to fine cords attached to the drum base. Cords have replaced the braids of coconut fibre used in the past. The pahu is an aesthetically pleasing object frequently decorated with beautiful sculpted carvings giving it mystical aspects.

Installed vertically on a pedestal, the pahu’s high size makes the musician play it standing up ; a constraining position after several hours of representation. The musician plays using the palm of the hand beating more or less at the middle of the skin to produces various noises. The pahu generates a striking and powerful sound that runs through your body and soul. It gives a frenzy tempo that seems to be in rhythm with the beat of your hear. With such strength and resonance, we easily understand why this instrument was also used to encourage Polynesian warriors during great battles.

The pahu played a particularly prominent social role in the Marquesan culture. It was a sacred object owned by the strongest tribes. It gave rhythm to each event of the Marquesan’s life with a specific pahu associated to each happening (wedding ceremony, religious cult, sacrifice…).

Nowadays, the pahu is still widely used in many Polynesian cultural events. It accompanies sacred ceremonies around the marae, it sets the rythmn of festivities, it gives the tempo to dancers during shows such as the Heiva (The most famous traditional dance contest). The pahu sounds to announce the start of an event and to gather guests. Even if the sound of pahu means today an invitation to the celebration, remember that the same melody resonated on the battlefield in the past.

 

The pahu is a percussion instrument that can be likened to the African djembe. This ancestral drum is essential in a traditional Polynesian orchestra. It produces a basic tempo that guides the other musicians. This impressive instrument can measure about 60cm high and 30cm in diameter. The pahu’s size can vary a lot from one model to another. Thus, different models of pahu may offer a large range of tones : high or low notes. The most impressive pahu ever discovered in the world measures 2.45m with 45cm of periphery. It is currently on display at the Museum of Grenoble in France.

The pahu is handcrafted directly from the trunk of a tree, mainly the coconut tree or the Tamanu. Then, a membrane covers the top of the instrument ; artisans generally use the shark or the goat skin. This animal skin is stretched thanks to fine cords attached to the drum base. Cords have replaced the braids of coconut fibre used in the past. The pahu is an aesthetically pleasing object frequently decorated with beautiful sculpted carvings giving it mystical aspects.

Installed vertically on a pedestal, the pahu’s high size makes the musician play it standing up ; a constraining position after several hours of representation. The musician plays using the palm of the hand beating more or less at the middle of the skin to produces various noises. The pahu generates a striking and powerful sound that runs through your body and soul. It gives a frenzy tempo that seems to be in rhythm with the beat of your hear. With such strength and resonance, we easily understand why this instrument was also used to encourage Polynesian warriors during great battles.

The pahu played a particularly prominent social role in the Marquesan culture. It was a sacred object owned by the strongest tribes. It gave rhythm to each event of the Marquesan’s life with a specific pahu associated to each happening (wedding ceremony, religious cult, sacrifice…).

Nowadays, the pahu is still widely used in many Polynesian cultural events. It accompanies sacred ceremonies around the marae, it sets the rythmn of festivities, it gives the tempo to dancers during shows such as the Heiva (The most famous traditional dance contest). The pahu sounds to announce the start of an event and to gather guests. Even if the sound of pahu means today an invitation to the celebration, remember that the same melody resonated on the battlefield in the past.