Nguru are unique flutes found only in the traditions of the Māori of Aotearoa. They have a curved shape that is derived from some of the materials they are made from, these being the end stem of a hue (gourd) and niho pāraoa (sperm whale tooth). They can also be made from various types of hard wood and today some people carve them out of stone.
Nguru are semi enclosed flutes that have four wenewene (finger holes), three on the top and one on the bottom. The end opening is cross blown, which produces a rich and melodic sound. The sound is manipulated in micro tonal shifts rather than jumping from one note to the next. This subtle shift in sound requires a sensitivity that often takes years of practise to develop well.
Although nguru are most often played with the mouth, they are sometimes called nose flutes as smaller instruments can also be played with the nose by blocking one nostril and blowing across the larger openings of the instrument. In Māori tradition and in many pacific cultures, the breath of the nose is sacred. When nguru are played with the nose, they can produce sounds that are perceived as spirit voices joining together with the sound and the song.
In the past, nguru were often played at times of great sorrow, such as tangihanga (funerary events). Subsequently, they are very important taonga. Nguru made from niho pāraoa are the most highly valued and were only owned by tohunga (priests) or rangatira (chiefs). Nguru are part of the flute family and come to us from the atua (spiritual entity) of flute music Hine Raukatauri.
Pictured: nguru made by Jeremy Cloake from recycled mataī wood with pāua shell inlay around the wenewene, length 113mm. The MP3 file is a short demonstration of a medium sized nguru made from mataī. This melody is inspired by the feeling of standing among the peaks of Tiritiri o Te Moana, the Southern Alps of New Zealand.