The Cook Islands consist of fifteen remote islands in the Pacific ocean. The Māori people of these islands share several language dialects and a rich culture of percussive music and energetic dance. On the island of Rarotonga, pate is the common name for wooden slit drums (log drums), whereas on Aitutaki island they are commonly called tokere.


The wooden slit drums of the Cook Islands are played with one or two hardwood sticks and form the main rhythmic body for traditional Cook Island songs and dances. They are most often played together in a drum ensemble. These drum ensembles include several sizes of slit drums together with a large bass drum called a pa'u (or tari parau) and a pa'u mango. Pa'u mango are similar to a conga. In the past they were skinned with shark and played with the hands. Today they are made with goat skin and played with sticks.


On Aitutaki island, drum ensembles are called tini ka'ara. There are three different types of tokere played in a tini ka'ara. The tokere taki or tokere 'atupaka is the largest slit drum and the lead drum in a tini ka'ara. The tokere taki player signals changes in the composition to the drummers and dancers by playing different patterns on the drum. Tokere taki are also used in villages to call people to meetings and special occasions. The tokere tangarongaro is the medium slit drum, higher in pitch than the tokere taki. It forms part of the body of the rhythm. The tokere mamaiti is the smallest and highest sounding slit drum. Like the tokere tangarongaro, it also forms the body of the rhythm.


Slit drums are made by cutting a hard wood branch or tree trunk, removing the bark and shaping the timber into a cylindrical form. Holes are then drilled in a straight line along the length of the cylinder and the pieces between them are removed to form a long opening. The carver gives special attention to how much wood is hollowed out from the centre slit as this, along with the shape of the opening and the overall size of the cylindrical form, determines how high or low the pitch of the drum will be. Pictured: well used tokere taki and tokere tangarongaro. Click on the MP3 link below to hear the Cook Island cultural arts theatre dance group.


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