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:
  • Description

    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.

  • Provenance

    [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

  • See also