November 19, 2008

Pacific Voices Valued Objects: Hawaiian Pahu

Posted by: Nicole Robert, Communications

‘Iwalani Christian and Moodette Ka’apana, members of the Seattle Native Hawaiian community, both participated in the development of the Pacific Voices exhibit and the creation of the book featuring personally significant cultural objects from communities of the Pacific.

When asked which one object represents the richness of Native Hawaiian culture, they both chose the Hawaiian pahu.

“Of all the hula instruments, the pahu, is the most revered. This is because the pahu is considered to be the voice of the gods. The drum opening, called waha, or mouth, is said to speak.”
--‘Iwalani Christian


This photo shows a pahu from the Burke’s Ethnology Collection.

The hula pahu (PAH-hoo) evolved from the pahu heiau (PAH-hoo HAY-yow), or temple drum. In the temple, it was used mostly to call the gods down to be present at ritual ceremonies to guide the priests. Some of the temple rituals had choreographed movements that the priest went through with the beating of the pahu. The pahu really didn’t get utilized for hula until the early 1800’s, when the Hawaiian religion was cast out due to missionary influence. At that time, it came out of the temple and was used as an accompaniment for hula.

“The pahu is the symbol of the kumu, or hula master. It’s the symbol of the beginning of the hula tradition for the Hawaiian people because it was brought over from Kahiki, or Tahiti, to the Hawaiian Islands. It was the first sound of drumming and the first type of sound that was used for hula.”
-- Moodette Ka’apana

This information is excerpted from Chapters 1 and 2 of Pacific Voices: Keeping our Cultures Alive.

*This Friday, November 21, the Wing Luke Asian Museum is opening an exhibit titled Ho'omau Ka Huaka'i, The Voyage Continues: Native Hawai'ians in the Pacific Northwest. This exhibit explores the experiences of Native Hawai’ians in the Pacific Northwest from past to present day and will display a mixture of artifacts, photographs, multimedia and first-hand stories from Native Hawai’ian civic and cultural leaders. Check it out. The exhibit will be on display until August 16, 2009.

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