Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Drum (Pahu)

early 19th century
French Polynesia, Austral Islands
Austral Islanders
Wood, sharkskin, fiber
H. 51 3/8 in. (130.5 cm)
Wood-Musical Instruments
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969
Accession Number:
Not on view
In the Austral Islands, as elsewhere in Polynesia, drums almost certainly formed part of the ritual paraphernalia of sacred sites (marae), where they were played to accompany songs, dances, and ceremonies. Only roughly a dozen Austral Islands drums survive. They consist of tall, thin-walled cylinders of hardwood with drumheads of sharkskin, kept stretched to the correct tension by lengths of cordage secured to a series of lugs. While the upper portion of the instrument was frequently undecorated, the drums have ornate openwork bases often adorned with stylized female figures, possibly representing ancestors or dancing women. The beauty of Austral Island drums was apparently appreciated well beyond the archipelago prior to western contact. Examples appear in eighteenth-century sketches made by early European explorers in Tahiti, some four hundred miles away.
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1957, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1969; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 23.

Steven, Phelps. Art and Artifacts of the Pacific, Africa, and the Americas: The James Hooper Collection. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1976, pp. 143, 145.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L. Artificial Curiosities: Being an Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook on the Occasion of the European Discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by Captain Cook. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication, Vol. vol. 65. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1978, p. 160, fig. 303.

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Hooper, Steven. "Double-Figure Fly Whisk Handles from the Austral Islands." Arts and Cultures vol. 2 (2001), pp. 179-92. p. 33, 35-37.

Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 181, 301-2.

Richards, Rhys. "Austral Island 'Paddles,' their Main Motifs and a Global Search for Their Prototype." In The Austral Islands: History, Art, and Art History. Porirua: Paremata Press, 2012, p. 1, 4-5, 14.

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014.

Moore J. Kenneth, Jayson Kerr Dobney, and Bradley Strauchen-Scherer. Musical Instruments: Highlights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. First Printing ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015, p. 146.

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