The Vivo

The Polynesian nasal flute

Le VivoThe vivo is a Polynesian nasal flute handcrafted directly from the ofe, or bamboo section in Maori language. This wind instrument is characterized by 3 holes that produce unique musical tones. The appearance of the vivo is unclear although we know that it was seen for the first time in the holds of Cook’s and Bougainville’s ships.

Before the colonization of French Polynesia, the Polynesians used to carve their vivo directly from bones of defeated enemies of foreign tribes. Nowadays, bone has been replaced by strong bamboo. The perfect piece of bamboo is found in dry and ventilated woods giving a resistant quality to the flute. The Polynesian forefathers used to shape the vivo with the aide of tools made from sharp shellfish to cut the bamboo and a heated branch of aito (iron tree) to make the holes.

In olden times, the nasal flute allowed a person to show his love with a serenade played for his loved one as part of their courting rituals. The vivo also had a mystical aspect. Some people went so as far as to attribute magical powers to the vivo, more precisely to nasal breath. This was said to invoke gods and spirits during numerous sacred Polynesian ceremonies. Today, the nasal flute is always used to accompany singers, dancers and orero (Polynesian orators) during musical and cultural events.

At first glance, playing the nasal flute seems easy. It involves exhaling air through just one nostril directly into the main hole of the flute at the top of the instrument. At the same time, your other nostril must be blocked with your thumb. The main challenge lies in breath control. One generates various musical notes by blocking successively the other holes. Finger positioning on the flute varies by archipelago – with different styles from the Marquises, the Tuamotus, the Australs, etc. The sound generated by the flute will vary according to two factors : by the style of breathing and the length of your instrument. A short flute will give an acute sound as opposed to a longer. The size of the vivo varies between 20 and 40cm.

The vivo is often decorated with beautiful sculpted carvings. It is a work of art that commands the dexterity and precision of Polynesian craftsmanship. You could find YOUR vivo during the visit to a crafts markets in Tahiti and her islands. Consider it a unique souvenir of French Polynesia and let its unique melodic tones transports you…close your eyes and you relive the Pacific paradise.

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