Nose flute

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File:Orang Asli in Malaysia.jpg
Orang Asli (close to Cameron Highlands, Malaysia) playing a nose flute.

The nose flute is a popular musical instrument played in Polynesia and the Pacific Rim countries. Other versions are found in Africa, China, and India.



In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the nose flute is played by eight different ethnic groups. See Grove's Dictionary of Musical Instruments, 1984 edition.


In Hawaiian it is called 'Ohe Hano Ihu' (bamboo flute of the nose). It is played with the nose over a slanted, sharp-edged hole that splits the air stream into two fluctuating streams, which sets the air inside the flute into a vibrating state; this is the same principle that sounds other types of flutes. The tube of bamboo is cut with one closed end node wall, and with one open (distal) end of the tube, which, in playing position, is pointed away from the player. The holes for the fingers in the side of the internodal length of the tube allow covering or uncovering by fingering so the player can change the pitches of the musical notes produced. The nose hole for the nostril can be on the side, just in front of the nodal wall, or in the center of the node. The node can rest against the upper lip and under the nostril (for the side nose hole), or the top of the node wall can rest against the bottom of the nostril itself (as in the playing position used for the 'kaleleng'). The other nostril is closed with the player's thumb, to impart more air to sound the flute a little louder. Some players lower the tones at the open distal end by inserting their fingers into the bore as they hold the flute in a playing position.

Social contexts include music for courtship, and communication between lovers. Associated with this is the belief that there is a pure pathway to the soul through the nose, based on the idea of one's breath being the essence of one's soul. With your mouth you eat, tell lies, and expel vomit, hence the nose is considered a more pure pathway. The individual charm of the improvised melody (part of the player's mana) is another dynamic factor in acceptance or rejection of the flute player's attentions.

The Hawaiian gourd nose flute was called the 'Ipu ho kio kio' and had three finger holes along the side of the bowl of the gourd.


An interesting variation, the 'Fangufangu' nose flute of the island of Tonga is made with intact node walls at both ends of the bamboo tube, with the nostril holes on the side in front of the nodes (along with side finger holes) and a hole in the middle of the tube, acting as a vent hole, and taking the place of the open distal end. Thus the 'Fangufangu' can be played from either end, and the disposition of the fingerholes differ from node to vent hole so two alternating scales can be played, but only one scale at a time.


In the Philippines the pitungilong (flute nose in Tagalog) or 'Kaleleng' of the northern Bontok people, is played with the extreme forward edge of the nostril. Because the Kaleleng is long, and has a narrow internal diameter, it is easy to play different harmonics through overblowing, even with the rather weak force of the air from one nostril. Finger holes in the side of the tube change the operating length, giving various scales. Some players take a filter tip from a cigarette and plug the other unused nostril to increase the force of their breath through the flute.

Due to the large interior diameter of other nose flutes, the range is only in one octave and in the playing position, the player closes the unused nostril with his, or her thumb.

New Zealand/Māori

In New Zealand the Māori had no naturally occurring native bamboo, so their nose flutes were carved from a soft stone similar to soapstone. If a gourd is used, it is the neck of the gourd, cut open to a small diameter, that is used for the nose hole with side finger holes drilled in the bowl of the gourd to vary the pitch of the instrument.


The Humanatone nose flute, is a musical novelty, a sort of plastic shield, held under the nose, that directs the player's breath through a whistle slot, lying over the mouth opening, acting as a resonator. The tones produced, are varied by changing the shape of the player's mouth cavity with different vowel and consonant formations. This is in the same manner as the Jaw harp or "Trump" is played. However, the trump is a plucked tongue in a frame, and is possibly the origin of free beating reeds, used in the following instruments: Harmonica Accordion Concertina Melodica .


Duct or fipple flutes can also be used as nose flutes. The 'bidi' of Taiwan ('bi'=nose, 'di'=flute in Chinese), which the native Taiwanese "Ami" people call 'di bolo', have the beak of the whistle inserted into one or two nostrils (if used for a double flute, one tube for each nostril and hand.) The practice of two whistles played with the nose has been observed in India, at religious festivals. See previous iterations (versions/history) of this article for an illustration and links.


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