The Native Hawaiian Bamboo Nose Flute
These flutes are handmade from invasive species bamboo in Hilo, Hawaii. Traditional native Hawaiian `Ohe (bamboo) is a clumping species. The invasive bamboo used to make this flute is very detrimental to the native forest because it overtakes the environment it grows in, making it difficult or impossible for native plants in the forest to grow. This invasive species is also very prolific.
So rather than turning the invasive species into mulch or pouring poison on it which would be hazardous to our own health and environment, I use them to make instruments.
They have been played throughout the world including the Continental United States, Switzerland, Norway and France. They can be heard on several CD’s, “Journey Across the Water” with myself and Native American Flute Player Troy DeRoche and “Moonlight, Sunlight” with renowned Native Hawaiian Storyteller, Leilehua Yuen.
No toxic chemicals have been used to make these flutes. They have a light coat of non-toxic wood soap and a light coat of water-resistant wood glue to protect the flute. It is highly recommended that you wipe these flutes down with a light coat of either mineral oil or wood soap (Murphy’s) periodically to keep the flute from drying up. Bamboo is a tropical plant and is found in climates of high humidity. I have tightly wrapped string (either hemp or nylon cordage) around either end of the flute. This will help in preventing the flute itself from expanding and contracting, fluctuating with variable temperatures and humidity.
While this is not a guarantee that the flute will not crack in dry humidity I believe wrapping them like this will help prevent cracking. If the flute does begin to crack, simply add a little bit of water-resistant wood glue along the crack to seal it. It should continue to play after the glue has dried.
Historically, the `Ohe Hanu Ihu was played by young men as a courting instrument. In ancient times young men would compose music that would be similar to a calling card. One could know who the flute player was simply by listening to the melody he was playing even before physically seeing him. It was also used to accompany Hawaiian Chanters, Hula and story-telling. The tuning for the flute was typically natural, meaning whatever tune was created is what was used.
Today, because many people are used to hearing harmonic tunings (western tunings) I have modified the flutes to be more musically aesthetic to the modern ear. I’ve also added more holes to give the player more options to play different songs. Traditionally, only one or two holes were used. Flute lengths varied from 10” to 21”. There is no written sheet music for the flute. Just let your spirit lead you. The more you play, the more you will become comfortable coming up with original music.
Playing the flute is easy and simple. Rule #1: Relax. This flute will not play if you try to force air into it. You need to be relaxed and breathe normally.
Steps to playing `Ohe hano Ihu (3-Hole Flute):
1 – Holding the flute with your right hand, place the flute under your right nostril, so that the nose hole is under your right nostril, holding it perpendicular to your nose and about 30 degree angle to the right. You can adjust to find the best tone quality.
2 – Gently place the pad of your middle finger over the hole farthest from your face. Remember, relax and don’t press too hard. Just enough pressure to cover the hole.
3 – Gently place the pad of your index finger over the hole closest to your face (not including the nose hole, of course).
4 – Gently place your left thumb under the flute for support.
5 - Gently place your left index finger on your left nostril and gently apply pressure to close the airway of your left nostril.
You are ready to play. Gently breathe in through your mouth and breathe out through your right nostril. Remember to relax, don’t force it. You can adjust the position of the flute until you hear a nice full sound.
6 – Gently lifting your fingers on your right hand will give you different notes.
Enjoy, mahalo for helping us do useful things with invasive species bamboo. They’re not bad, just in the wrong place.
Leilehua Yuen, Manu's wife, is a kumu hula,
musician, artist, and writer. She provided the Hawaiian language vocals for E Ka Moana Nui and Forever Hawai`i on the Earth Patriot CD, and has performed with local musicians such as Keoki Kahumoku, George
Kahumoku, Sonny Lim, Ben Kaili, and Howard Shapiro, is a member of Artists and the Environment, and has performed and recorded with Ku Manu.
Please visit her website, www.KaaheleHawaii.com