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Flute (Koauau)

The koauau, one of several traditional Māori musical instruments, is a small end-blown flute, usually with three unevenly spaced fingering holes. Suspension holes on many flutes, including this one, enabled them to be worn around the neck. Passed down as heirlooms, koauau were so highly prized by the nobles and chiefs who owned them that some flutes were given personal names.

This flute demonstrates the Māori penchant for complex, heavily carved surfaces and repeating motifs. The human form (tiki) is evident, although birdlike features, such as round, lidless eyes and beaked mouths, are intermingled. The darkness of the wood is punctuated by the brightness of the shell inlay that embellishes the eyes of some of the faces.

Māori peoples, Te Ika-a-Māui (North Island), Aotearoa (New Zealand)
Flute (Koauau)
19th century
Wood, haliotis shell
L. 7 9/16 in. (19.2 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 2003.168