Pūtōrino are unique to Māori, they occur nowhere else in the world. In Māori whakapapa, all of the Māori flutes come to us from Hine Raukatauri, the daughter of Tānemahuta, the atua (spiritual entity) of the forest and birds. Hine Raukatauri is best known as the atua of flute music. She loved her flute so much that she chose to live inside it. She is now personified as the casemoth that hangs from branches of trees in a long slender cocoon. This casemoth cocoon is where the pūtōrino gets it's shape from.
Pūtōrino can vary dramatically in length, the shortest museum examples are around 220mm and the longest just over 650mm. To make a pūtōrino is very labour intensive. The outer cocoon shape is carved from a solid piece of wood then carefully split or cut in half lengthways. The internal sound chamber is then hollowed out, usually to match the external cocoon shape. This internal chamber usually finishes with a small hole at the distal end. The seams of each half are then glued and bound back together with fibre. At the widest part of the instrument is the māngai, or central opening. In te reo Māori, māngai can mean mouth or speaker therefore this opening often becomes the mouth for a carved face and is seen as the speaking part of the instrument.
Pūtōrino are unique musical instruments as they can produce several voices. The main two voices are seen as male and female. The kōkiri o te tāne (male voice) is played with an embouchure similar to that of a trumpet, producing a unique wailing sound that is varied in both volume and pitch by the playing pressure and hand movement over the māngai. The waiata o te hine (female voice) is played with a cross blown technique to produce a flute like tone that varies in pitch and volume according to the players embouchure and the volume of air being blown. The pūtōrino is also played as a conduit for the voice. This technique involves passive voice usage whilst playing the kōkiri o te tāne. Some pūtorino can also be played by blowing over the māngai. Because of the variety of sizes pūtōrino come in and the variety of their voices, they are a highly valued and unique taonga to Māori.