Taonga Puoro

Tōku Ara

My journey with Taonga Puoro

I feel deeply fortunate to have been touched by this ancient tradition of wonderful music and would now like to give what knowledge I have about the taonga back to communities.

My thanks go to Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns, Brian Flintoff, Aroha Yates Smith, Ariana Tikao, Solomon Rahui, Holly Tikao-Weir and Robin Slow as well as many others, who have encouraged me on my journey. For 25 years I presented music programmes around Aotearoa, many of which featured taonga puoro. I would now like to focus on this again, offering a programme which solely presents the taonga along with the wonderful pūrākau which support their voices.

This page talks about my journey into the world of taonga puoro.

Tōku Ara

I first came across the almost-lost tradition of taonga puoro when I moved to Whakatū in 1987 and met Richard Nunns. I invited Richard to give a wānanga at the Nelson School of Music and shortly after that I met master carver Brian Flintoff. Little did I realise then just how important their revival work was with Hirini Melbourne and others as part of the Hau Manu group.

I made my first kōauau from sheep bone and, like many, struggled to encourage it to sing, but over time we made better friends and I was able to play more confidently. I first introduced taonga puoro into my school programmes in 1995 and this continued through until 2017, over which time I gradually featured more instruments.

What I found interesting is that very few of the students were aware of the existence of the instruments. Some may have heard them on television or in film, but few had seen them in the flesh. It never ceased to amaze me that the instruments often had a profound effect on the children - they found them awesome!

I remember performing a concert at Kereru School, a small country school in the Hawkes Bay, where a young student who was severely hearing and mentally impaired responded most enthusiastically to the kōauau. The teachers said they had never seen her respond this way to anything before.

I had a long association with Richard Nunns who was regarded as being a leading exponent on the instruments. We were involved in a number of collaborative projects, Richard playing taonga pūoro with myself playing traditional Irish instruments. I learnt by listening and watching the master with occasional tips and advice. Unfortunately it was when Richard was becoming infirm and I had huge commitments with renovating the Nelson School of Music that he commenced a more formal process of teaching the instruments.

Bob's talks about his journey with taonga puoro.
Bob's talks about his journey with taonga puoro.

It must have been around the year 2000 when I called Hirini Melbourne to talk about a new programme I was writing with a view to touring it around schools. I wanted to ask if it was appropriate to use taonga puoro in the show. His reply was a wero! He said that anything I could do to spread the word about the taonga was good.

Sadly I only met Hirini one or two times. How I would have liked to have sat and learnt at the knee of that master!

I would like to acknowledge the strong support I have been given from Aroha Yates-Smith, Ariana Tikao, Holly Tikao-Weir and Solomon Rahui on my journey. I also want to deeply thank Brian Flintoff for his wonderful taonga and support, plus the opportunities that he and Robin Slow have given me to spread my wings with the taonga.

He manu hou ahau, he pī ka rere

Ngā Taonga Puoro

The principal resource to learn about taonga puoro is Brian Flintoff's book 'Taonga Puoro - Singing Treasures' which is available from his website here.

He Ara Puoro is a collaboration between Richard Nunns and Radio New Zealand where you can hear many of the instruments played by the master: He Ara Puoro

These pages on the Victoria  University of Wellington website are interesting in that they give some historical context to the instruments: Victoria University

As part of my school presentations, I'm developing resources which you may find informative and useful. Follow the link below to go to my resources page: