In the Māori language karanga can be translated as to call or summon and manu means bird or winged creature. Therefore karanga manu are bird calling instruments. They are deliberately made to mimic bird calls. They are small cross blown flutes made from pounamu (NZ greenstone) or bone that are played with pursed lips. They can produce a surprising variety of sounds when played well.
Karanga manu are most often used to mimic bird calls for the purpose of attracting and interacting with them. This can be for the simple pleasure of enjoying the interaction with the birds and their song, or as part of Māori spiritual practices. In Māori tradition, birds are respected and valued animals. They are sometimes seen as important messengers from the spirit world. Although karanga manu are a small and seemingly insignificant instrument, when employed in this way, they can serve a very important spiritual function. They are also used in contemporary Māori music and performance as an instrument to create a forest like atmosphere.
Karanga manu are also known by the less common term kōauau pūtangitangi. This term reveals a more practical use for the instrument, employed by ancestral Māori. Kōauau is the common cross blown Māori flute, that can also be used to attract birds. Pūtangitangi are large goose-like ducks endemic to Aotearoa. They are commonly known as paradise ducks. Early Māori hunted pūtangitangi in favoured regions and employed this instrument to lure the birds close enough to be captured. Hunting was done outside of the breeding season to ensure healthy populations remained. Today pūtangitangi can be seen on farm land and open grasslands throughout Aotearoa. Both the male and female have bold plumage, the male having a black head and barred black body, the female having a white head with a chestnut body.
Karanga manu are often worn around the neck as beautiful and functional pendants, readily available for an opportunity to communicate with the birds. Pictured: karanga manu pounamu made by Clem Mellish, 29mm x 52mm.