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Thoreau's quintessential remark regarding listening to 'a different drummer' takes on a whole new context in the Hawaiian Islands. Some interesting background on the 'exciting in its native splendor' percussive backdrop to the hula. (Micky Hart take note!)



 


 

PAHU NIU: THE HAWAIIAN DRUM

 

 
 

Some context:


As with most things these days, the average individual has little knowledge of (and probably as little interest in) some of the more esoteric aspects of our modern world’s more peripheral cultural objects. If that status quo is a given, consider for a moment how much less is known about truly archaic historical artifacts beyond the range of our functional day-to-day activities.

In Hawaii, although almost all visitors recognise that ‘Hula’ is a dance form unique to the Hawaiian Islands, very few tourists understand that Hula is more than just semi-naked young women swaying seductively for their benefit during gaudy ‘traditional’ luau feasts being staged for FOJ (“fresh off jet”, as one of my Molokai friends puts it) haole malihini (e.g. mainlanders) . Although the overt sexuality of beautiful young female bodies undulating to rhythmic music is not usually lost on even the dimmest  male visitors, all too often that is all that registers in the typical awareness of the island visitor when viewing traditional Hawaiian dance.

In fact, Hawaiian Hula is a form of cultural expression of the utmost complexity, reaching back through the centuries to a time in the islands when history was recorded entirely by story and song, and passed along to succeeding generations by skilled individuals. As if to draw attention to that fact, there is a half-humorous admonishment to tourists that goes: “Watch the Hula hands and not the lovely Hula hips”, since the essence of modern Hawaiian Hula is a medium of expression for communicating thoughts, stories, and feelings that are for the most part translated by patterns of bodily motion in which not just the arms and hands, but the entire body, act as story telling devices.

To say the Hula is complex and a subject worthy of doctoral level study many times over is considerably understating the case, and any serious student of the Hula will find hundreds of popular texts that briefly explore the historical origins of Hula, alongside a very few with such exhaustive detail that one would think the subject was more closely related to orbital mathematics of motion used in space flight, than to artistic movements of the human body.

I have not, however, chosen to write about the lovely Hawaiian Hula dance of either classical or modern form. Rather my focus here is on simply one specific part of the figurative universe of classical Hawaiian Hula: the Pahu Niu (coconut wood drum).

The Hawaiian term ‘Pahu’ translates into ’drum’, ‘Niu’ being the Hawaiian word for ‘coconut’.  Although there are a number of specific types of percussion instruments used in Hawaiian cultural expressions of music, the Pahu (I presume you will remember that I am specifically referring to a coconut wood drum from here on, when I say ‘Pahu’) is perhaps one of the most important percussion devices known to Hawaii, both ancient and modern, of the four main indigenous musical types (wooden drums, knee drums, calabash drums, and bamboo pipes).

As Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart notes in his book 'Planet Drum', drums have certainly been with humanity from the dawn of history, serving for the most part as communication and musical accompaniment devices. No exception to this is found in the Pacific Polynesian Islands, where drums of this type have always formed an important historical cornerstone in all forms of celebration, both religious and musical. My own interest in the Hawaiian Pahu stems from both my awareness of the importance of the drum throughout human history and my particular focus on it within Polynesian culture. Over the years, I have collected a number of specimens of the Hawaiian Pahu  and find that the more I discover about them and their important place in historical Hawaiian culture, the more questions form in my mind concerning their relevance to the Islands’ ancient past.

For your interest, a brief, if very informative section on the Pahu may be found in Te Rangi Horoa’s (aka: Sir Peter S. Buck) excellent compendium of Hawaiian arts and crafts (‘Arts and Crafts of Hawaii, by Peter S. Buck, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, ISBN 1-58178-027-3) . Further excellent (and exhaustive) material may be sourced via Elisabeth Tatar’s scholarly investigation of Hula Pahu (‘Hula Pahu: Hawaiian Drum Dances; Volume II: Sounds of Power’, by Elizabeth Tatar, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, ISBN 0-930-897-54-4). There are surprisingly almost no major systematic ethnomusicological researches on the Hawaiian drum in existence, excluding the above.

A few far less exclusively focused and much less detailed references may be found on the Pahu and its importance to Hawaiian culture, but the two references cited above are especially valuable in any attempt to gain truly meaningful insight into the importance of the traditional Hawaiian drum to the ancient (and modern) Hawaiian culture. Suffice it to say that in them the scholars have done the job one might expect of any erudite academician; my purpose here is rather to cover the subject rather more broadly, and in the process perhaps make the subject a bit more interesting to the casual reader. With that goal in mind, read on in what I hope is a modestly illuminating (and enjoyable) journey into the heart of ancient Hawaiian culture.

The Legendary Origins of the Hawaiian Pahu

Pahu may be found in the Hawaiian Islands in two main and distinctly different, but contextually related forms. The first is regarded as the Heiau Pahu, or religious drum (also known as the Pahu Pu’ule, or ‘prayer drum’). The second has come to us in the form of the Hula Pahu, or musical accompaniment drum (sometimes referred to as the Pahu Mele, or song accompaniment drum). Both types of drum have a common ancient historical source. [The Puniu (a knee drum made from a coconut shell that is most often found in use to accompany the Hula Pahu in Hula mele) is a separate type of instrument and is therefore beyond the scope of this examination.]

One needs to recall that due principally to the fact that there was no written Hawaiian language in the islands prior to the introduction of one by the early Protestant Christian missionaries in the mid 1800s, all ancient Hawaiian history and almost all of that which we know about early Hawaiian Islands culture comes to us today in the form of mele (songs, chants, story telling in musical form). Thus, the early history of the islands was recorded exclusively in the form of songs, legends, fables, poems, and stories that were leaned and passed on to new generations by certain promising individuals who served as the functional repository of knowledge about the ancient Hawaiians. Each generation in succession thus acquired its understandings of what went before from these special Kahuna (typically an accomplished and highly regarded male person with refined knowledge about a particular subject, often selected for prodigious memory and rhetorical abilities from the ruling Ali’i class and made a priest, or ‘Kahuna’ by virtue of mastery of that knowledge).

For this reason, and due to the fact that early Hawaiian history was derived from a number of different individuals of this class, there are an equal number of variations of the legendary introduction of the Pahu to Hawaii (for the same reason, there are several reputed claims to the origin of the Hula in Hawaii, although I prefer to believe that of my island of Molokai, as the original ‘Birthplace of Hula’, or ‘Hula Piku’).

The introduction of the Pahu to the Hawaiian Islands may be found in the form of a story, as told in the legends of Mo’ikeha, Kila, and La’amaikahiki. La’amaikahiki, who is the chief figure in all these legends, was the descendent of a great chief of Oahu. Fornander (‘Fornander’s Ancient History of the Hawaiian People’, by Abraham Fornander,  a classic history of ancient Hawaii)  suggests, via researches into Hawaiian genealogies conducted 150 years ago, that La’amaikahiki made a series of voyages to and from Tahiti, back in about 1200-1300 AD. It was on one of these voyages that La’amaikahiki supposedly brought back with him from Tahiti a Pahu and taught Hawaiians how to play it for use in religious ceremonies and for dancing. Fornander further suggests that the consensus of the legends is that it was La’amaikahiki who introduced the actual dancing form (known today as the Hula), along with characteristic accompanying drumbeat patterns, that have over several hundred years evolved into today’s uniquely Hawaiian dance.

One version of the La’amaikahiki legend states that indigenous natives of Oahu heard La’amaikahiki’s Pahu being played by Kupa, a religious priest (Kahuna) who was part of his retinue, as his seagoing canoe (manned by 40 of his followers) came round Makapu’u Point. When the canoe anchored at Waihaukalua, a local named Haikamalama familiarized himself with the playing of the drum, from whence it thereafter spread throughout the major islands. Since by tradition and through religious association all Hawaiian Pahu are given formal names, one legend tells us that La’amaikahiki’s drum was named ‘Kaekaeeke’. Other versions of the legend tell us he brought two different religious drums (Pahu Heiau, named Hawea and Opuku) with him to Oahu.

The instruction was given by La’amaikahiki, according to legend, that the Heiau Pahu (religious drum) was to be played ‘as a sign of sacrifice’. Thus it was that the Pahu came to be first associated with the religious ‘temple’ (or Heiau, as it was known in Hawaiian) and served as a communication device to signify various events of religious significance such as ‘Kapus’ (or ‘taboos’ as we known them from related Tahitian usage), sacrificial days, and ceremonies to the four major ancient deities (Ku, Kane, Lono, Kanaloa, and on special annual occasions, such as ‘Makahiki’, the annual festival dedicated to Lono).  The Heiau Pahu was also used as an important device to accompany chanting at the heiau, since rhetorical ability was highly respected among the ancient Hawaiians and became elevated to a status having exceptional religious significance. Special ceremonies, such as the cutting of the navel cord (‘piku’) of royalty (Ali’i) were carried out at the heiaus by Hoolono-pahu (sounding of the pahu drum) and the drums accompanied and announced the birthing of royal offspring (there were different beats to signify a girl or a boy). At such times, the deep sounds of the Pahu were regarded as synthesis of the voices of the gods, which would be symbolistically interpreted by the Kahunas at the Heiau.

Other legends have the Pahu being introduced to Hawaii as early as 1000 AD, with their establishment in the religious Heiaus prior to La’amaikahiki’s visit. The drums in reference here may have been of slightly different nature and construction, however, again depending upon the source of the orally transmitted legend in reference.

The Religious Pahu (or Pahu Heiau)

The Heiau Pahu was characteristically associated with the ruling class of Hawaiian society, known as the Ali’i. As such, it principally represented chiefly power and secondarily that of the priestly class (Kahunas who were usually of Ali’i derivation). It was, however, not until the complete overthrow and renunciation of the ancient religion in 1819, along with all its Kapus (taboos) and strictly observed customs (proclaimed by Kamehameha II) that the Pahu became principally associated with Hula dancing, outside of the Heiau.

The primary purpose of the Heiau Pahu appears to have been to announce significant events in the sacred rituals and the lives of the royalty. This included the pending sacrifice of a human being or the birth of a royal child.  During ceremonies at the Heiau, the Pahu could be used to signal the people of a pending religious ceremony, or during such a ceremony, a change in the order of the service (such as in prostration, elevating arms to the heavens, or in chanting).

Each Heiau had a large stone structure called a Luakini, that was dedicated to the god requiring human sacrifice (such as Ku) and featured a separate enclosure called the Hale Pahu, where Pahu were both stored and played. This part of the structure was usually placed in front of the Heiau’s Lele (alter). These drums were accompanied by chants that have been interpreted as invoking the gods to speak through the drums.

Since Pahu created for religious purposes were regarded as possessed of great Mana (spirit, in this context), they were individually named and remained known by that specific name in perpetuity. In some cases, a specific name was transferred to a new drum that had been crafted for religious purposes so that the Mana of the drum would continue with its name, in a new form.

As highly Kapu or sacred objects, the fabrication of the Heiau Pahu was carried out according to elaborate ceremonies, in much the same manner that the large ocean-going canoes were created and invoking an equal amount of ritual. This involved much prayer, divination, and ceremonial chanting by the Kahuna class of priests through each stage of the process: selecting and cutting the tree, acquiring the shark skin from which to cut the drum’s head, carving the drum (by special Kahuna Kalai), and preparing and lashing the sennit—a fibrous cord used to hold the sharkskin drum head to its body. Of note is the use of the Hawaiian term ‘Waha’, or ‘mouth’, to refer to the drum’s head, signifying that the drum’s sound was to be considered the literal voice of a god or gods.

Sacred drums were also kept at the chief’s personal hale (home) in an adjacent room and were regarded as Kapu (forbidden) symbols of the chief’s authority. To cross the threshold of such an enclosure by a non-Ali’i alone was considered sufficient cause for death as a sacrifice at the Heiau, and for anyone other than the chief or his associated Kahunas to play them would bring that death about instantly. The Mana (spirit) of the Heiau pahu was considerably enhanced (so it was felt) by symbolism of the moon incorporated into inverted decorative arches (called Hoaka) often found on the lower sides of many Pahu. Some Pahu even had human teeth (removed from sacrificial victims) embedded in them, thereby greatly enhancing their Mana, according to beliefs. Gut from human sacrifices may have also been used to make the sacred lacings of the temple drums.

Heiau Pahu were used by chiefs to announce their presence among the common people (since to remain erect and unsupinated in the presence of a chief was Kapu) and they were also carried in processions and to war. In the later instance, they would be used to accompany chanting recitations of the chief’s genealogy before and during the ensuing battles, thereby enhancing his Mana in the face of an encounter with his enemies. Sacred Ali’i Pahu are also believed to accompany the Huaka’i po (or as they are more commonly known, the ‘Night Marchers’) who comprise ghostly processions of the gods and long dead royalty, on certain sacred nights of the Lunar Calendar.

To appreciate the historical importance of the Hawaiian Pahu, one should understand that the wooden drum (carved from a coconut trunk), with its sharkskin ‘Waha’ (head), has long been an important artifact of life in ancient Eastern Polynesia (including chiefly the Marquesas, Austral Islands, Society Islands, Cook Islands, and Mangareva). In particular, the Tahitian Pahu (also called a Pa’u in Tahiti) seems to have served as the archetypal model for the Hawaiian Pahu, with its carved wooden trunk and sharkskin or Manta Ray skin head. On this score, the Hawaiian oral history legends that have survived in the form of mele chants do tie in extremely well with archeological fact.

Regardless of which evidence one chooses to credit (legends or archeology) , there is little doubt that the Pahu used in Hawaiian religious associations, both in the Heiau and by chiefs personally, trace their origins back to ancient Polynesia and were brought to Hawaii by voyagers from the eastern Polynesian regions.

The Hula Pahu

The most obvious difference between Heiau Pahu and Hula Pahu (Pahu used to accompany what became the distinctive Hula dance of the Hawaiian islands) is size. Whereas Heiau Pahu were generally larger in overall height and width so as to suit a standing person, Pahu used to accompany dance tended to be shorter and smaller, so as to more adequately suit a seated or kneeling player’s posture.

It has been suggested by researchers that originally, Pahu used to accompany non-religious dancing might have been played by commoners (non-Ali’i) for the Ali’i. Interestingly, the early Protestant Christian missionaries who settled in Hawaii in the early 1800s reflexively regarded the Hula as an immoral and sexually explicit activity. While the modern tendency in our politically correct island state has been to dismiss this aspect of Hula and focus almost exclusively on higher, more aesthetically refined cultural aspects of the dance, it is undeniable fact that sufficient evidence exists to suggest that certain forms of simple sexual games (known as Hula Kilu and Hula ‘Ume) were performed by both Ali’i and commoners in pre-European contact times. Somewhat like the modern game of ‘Spin-the-Bottle’, the games involved forfeit penalties in the form of a solo dance, an embrace, or even an overtly sexual act, and the Pahu figured both musically and percussively in this process.

It must here be recalled that the ancient Hawaiians were highly sensual and unashamedly sexual in their gender interactions. Shame of nakedness or expression of sexual desire, in the ultra-conservative form well established by and incorporated into the Christian religion (that later supplanted the original naturalistic spirit worship), simply did not exist in ancient Hawaii. Thus it is natural that something as basic as dance, accompanied by drumming, could be and was enjoyed for somewhat more prurient purposes than preservation of high culture, by modern reckoning.

Again, owing to the fact that history, genealogies, community events, and all cultural nuances worthy of preservation among the ancient Hawaiians found a perfect outlet in mele, or recitations of song, poetry, or chanting, the Hula, in its highest form, thereby became a vehicle for cultural transmittal of these important sagas, and the use of the Hula Pahu as an accompanying instrument to Hula chants was almost a natural and logical result.

Celebrations of (non-religious) season, community events, and interpersonal relationships came to find their outlet through the Hula, and due to the predominating influence of oral traditions (from lack of a written history), the expression of all these important secular feelings became the performance art form that is today known as the Hawaiian Hula. Instruments used in the dancing of Hula include the Hula Pahu, the Ka’eke (a smaller drum), the Puniu (small knee drum made from a half coconut shell), Ipu Hula or Paipu (small to large gourd drums made by joining halves of gourds together with breadfruit gum), O’he Ka’eke (bamboo pipes), and Ka La’au (more commonly known as Hula sticks). All of them take subordinate importance to that of the Hula Pahu and Puniu , which are the most fundamental instruments used to accompany today’s performance of traditional Hula.

The earliest European) accounts of Hula Pahu being used to accompany non-religious dance in the Hawaiian Islands are from Captain Cook’s voyages in 1778-79, with further accounts recorded during Vancouver’s voyages in 1794. It is interesting to note in passing that at least thee sharkskin head Pahu and one Puniu were collected by Cook on his journeys, obtained for the payment of several iron spikes from the ship’s stores. [Although iron was known to exist by the Hawaiians in Cook’s time, they had none themselves, since ferrous ores were nonexistent on the volcanous islands. This strange fact strongly suggests contact with outsiders far before Cook encountered the islanders, and in fact there is speculation that the Japanese may actually have been the first to contact the islanders at least a century or two earlier. It is almost certain that the Spanish had some contact with the natives as early as the mid-1500s, based upon recent findings.]

Early witnesses of this ‘recreational’ Hula testify to the graceful uniformity and synchronicity of the dancers’ movements, and mention the accompaniment of the dancing by a Pahu player who struck the head of a Pahu with the fingers of his right hand, while beating the head of a smaller drum (a Puniu knee drum) with a small stick held in his left hand. Mention is also made (reference dated late 1700s) that the male dancers usually danced in groups of three (and seemed to be ‘paid’ professionals), while the female dancers typically danced for foreign guests in mass troops of about fifty. The content of a mele sung to accompany this specific Hula references that it was a chanted genealogy of the guest’s Ali’i host, as well as that of departed ancestors.

In 1820, the well known Protestant missionary Hiram Bingham (memorialized in Michener’s epic HAWAII) arrived in the islands with the first group of the Boston based religious organization that sponsored his evangelicals and witnessed a number of Hula dances. Although he described the motions of the dancers in interesting and fairly accurate terms, it is clear from his accounts that the Christians were singularly confused and even deeply disturbed by this display of innocuous island custom.

For reasons already referenced, the overthrow of the ancient religion in 1819 (coincidentally just a year or so prior to the first Christian missionary contact) resulted in the discontinuation of the Pahu as a religious instrument, but it remained as a regular part of the Hula dance to almost the end of the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century, however, its importance in Hula rather suddenly and dramatically declined. It is speculated that this was due to a new movement popular in Hawaii during King Kalakaua’s reign (1874-91) known as the Hula Ku’i. This new genre combined Hawaiian music and dance into a synthesis of ancient Hawaiian and new Western elements. Such was the popularity enjoyed by this new admixture of the old and new that Hula Ku’i seems to have predominated over the traditional forms to a substantial degree, thus resulting in a further decline in the formerly integral use of Hula Pahu in the Hula.

One result of this sea-change represented by the late 19th century Hula Ku’i cultural movement was a near-dying out of certain knowledge involving playing of the traditional Pahu, either for dance or as a singular expression of cultural traditions. It is only in the fairly recent past (from about 1950 onwards) that a modern revival of interest in classical Hawaiian cultural nuances has once again brought about a consequent renewal of interest in the Pahu and a reincorporation of it into contemporary classical forms of the Hula’s chanted mele dance.

Today, with the present day resurgence of sentiment for an antonymous and sovereign Hawaiian  nation, there has thankfully been much interest in the old traditional Hawaiian culture.  However, until such day as true independence from the United States’ century old domination of the islands may be achieved,  the energy and determination demonstrated by the new Hawaiian nationalists is finding outlets in a resurgence of interest in such customary disciplines as the Hula and the study and creation of traditional Hawaiian musical instruments.

The Pahu: traditionally and in modern times

It it’s earliest form, the traditional Hawaiian Pahu was made from a sectioned and seasoned wooden tree trunk, preferably of coconut wood, although possibly other types of native wood (Koa, Breadfruit, etc.) may have been used. The original material used for the Pahu’s waha (head) was either shark or ray skin. Heiau Pahu tended to be originally made with a waha of ray skin, while non-religious Pahu often used sharkskin.

The shorter variety of Pahu (Pahu Hula) was used to beat time in Hula dances and to accompany chanting mele. It was made to be played by a standing person (always a priest, Kahuna, or Chief), whereas the Hula Pahu was made to more suitably accommodate a seated or kneeling individual.

The renowned Bernice Bishop Museum in Honolulu contains 20 ancient examples of Hula Pahu and one Heiau Pahu in its present collections. The sections of the drums contained in that collection are hollowed out from their top end to about 2/3rds of the way, so as to form a resonance chamber. The trunk was then placed upside down and hollowed out again so as to leave a fibrous wood  septum separating the two carved out areas. The septum dividing the two evacuated sections is convex on its lower surface. The heights of the 20 Hula drums in the Bishop collection range from about 11 to 22 inches, while the single Heiau Pahu specimen is 46 inches tall and 24.5 inches wide at the head.

The heads of all the drums are capped with either shark or ray skin and are secured with traditional fibrous sennit cordage to the lower, carved out segment of the drum.  At least 8 different patterns of carving are incorporated on these original, surviving Pahu specimens, the most common of which incorporates one or more rows of inverted half-moon arcs designs known as the Hoaka pattern. This pattern is most often found in use on today’s modern Pahu, and has the superficial appearance of waves to the casual onlooker.

Whereas the traditionally favored waha (head) was made of shark or ray skin, the increasing scarcity of sharks or rays today (due to over-fishing) makes it virtually impossible to obtain that material for use in modern Pahu construction. Accordingly, cattle hides have been the customary modern preference for Pahu head fabrication and are a reasonable accommodation to circumstance, both in terms of their availability and sound transmission characteristics. As may well be understood, a modern Pahu with a head made of real sharkskin is therefore a very rare and expensive item to come across, even in the Hawaiian Islands themselves. A further factor in limiting use of sharkskin waha is found in the belief that many sharks are ancestral family protective spirits (known collectively as aumakua; the shark ancester is known as a manoakua); it wouldn’t do to have accidentally used the skin of a family ancestor to make one’s drum, naturally enough!

Today, there are a number of highly skilled artisans who still fabricate Pahu in the ancient manner, to be found on the islands. The construction of a single Pahu may take as long as two or more years, since the wood must be cut and allowed to dry out thoroughly before being hollowed (this can take as long as a whole year in itself) and carved. One of the best known outside of the islands (due to his internet website) is Tepairu Manea, who lives on the island of Kauai’s East Side. Others, such as Molokai’s own Victor Lopez (son-in-law of well known Hawaiian local activist and Eddy Aikau friend, wood carver/artist Bill Kapuni) also create beautiful Pahu in the traditional manner. Their Pahu are expensive, however, ranging in cost from $800 to more than $3000, but considering the Mana and highly skilled craftmanship that goes into the creation of each hand-made drum, such prices are actually somewhat modest.

The Pahu shown in the illustration accompanying this is of a particularly fine Hula Pahu that I engaged Tepairu Manea to create for me. It measures 30 inches tall and 19 inches wide, and has a ‘waha’ made from a Hawaiian Tiger Shark’s belly skin. If you look carefully at it, you will discern the gray and white areas of the waha; the best shark skin for pahu waha comes from the shark's lateral belly, where the upper surface's gray graduates to the white tones of the underbelly. The drum took two and a half years to make, given the complexity of the process, and is a beautiful piece of art bearing the name of ‘Moana’ (ocean). It makes its home here in my hale next to a similarly beautiful Hula Pahu made by Molokai’s Victor Lopez.

One of these days I myself hope to study Pahu under a Hawaiian Pahu Kumu (teacher), but that will have to wait until my Hawaiian speaking abilities have increased substantially, since one must be able to chant mele passably well in Hawaiian as well as know how to play Hula accompaniment. Learning to either dance classical Hula or master the traditional instruments takes many years of serious, dedicated study for the average person and requires the strictest discipline (like any other high art form).

Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono.


-Kalikiano
 

-----------------------------------

Postscript (dated 6/11):

There have been a number of small African style 'Djembe' drums offered on eBay in recent months, described as being 'authentic Hawaiian'. It should be noted that the 'Djembe' drum originated in Africa and is not, nor has it ever been, an 'authentic' Hawaiian drum. Both the traditional Hawaiian 'pahu' (drum) and the African 'Djembe' drum have uniquely characteristic shapes that are radically different from each other (pahu drums have flared cylindrical shapes and djembe drums have a distinctive 'cup' shape). Many of these djembe drums being offered as authentically Hawaiian artifacts are cheaply (mass) produced 'tourist' items, made in recent decades, crafted abroad, and sold to unwary buyers as authentic 'Hawaiiana'. They most often feature rather crudely carved art on their sides, but some can can also be quite attractive. Typically covered with goat or cowhide, the heads are secured with nylon cord. Nylon is a relatively recent innovation (it didn't exist commercially until the late 1930s), of course, and original Hawaiian drums waha (heads) were secured with coconut sennit cord. For information on the history of the African 'Djembe' drum, look here: 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Djembe 

There are a small number of exceptionally gifted Hawaiian 'kama'aina' wood carvers who carry on the ancient tradition of making authentic Hawaiian pahu drums today. Almost without exception, their pahu range in price from several hundred to several thousand US dollars typically. Genuinely authentic antique pahu are extremely scarce and the few that still exist are usually found only in museums (such as the Bishop Museum in Hawaii); those few specimens are priceless beyond imagining and no set value may reasonably be ascribed to them, consequently. Anyone offering an African styled 'djembe' drum (no matter how 'old' or worn it may look) that they claim is as an authentic Hawaiian antique dating back to the days of the Royal Hawaiian monarchy clearly knows nothing about either Hawaiian culture or its ancient history and is misrepresenting factual truth by a considerable margin (to put it mildly). As always, "Buyer beware!" Amazingly, some people are still taken in by these things!

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