Melanesian nose-flutes – did they ever exist?

Reports about the existence of nose flutes in Melanesia may have been greatly exaggerated. According to Univ.-Doz. Dr. Raymond Ammann of the Institutes für Musikwissenschaft, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck (Department of Music, University of Innsbruck) who writes :

“[…] references to the existence of nose flutes in Melanesia are often based on unacknowledged references to earlier publications or on hearsay. The earliest references are the most suspect, especially because none of the authors states that he heard and saw the flute being played for more than just a few notes. From the many references on nose flutes in Melanesia, only a few seem to be of substance, especially those from Manus, but even there, the references are not unequivocal.”

The doctor points out that some artefacts described as ‘nose flutes’ can sometimes, in reality, be tobacco pipes. Or, in the case they are in fact flutes – they may have been mouth-blown rather than nose-blown.

“It should be observed that a musician might well sound a few notes with the nose when blowing his mouth-blown flute in order to show a European visitor his virtuosity when asked if he could play with the nose.”

And lastly, in the case that they truly are bona-fide nose flutes, they may not have come from Melanesia.

see: ‘Nose flutes in Melanesia, Facts or Fairytales’ [Caution: large file – very slow download] In: Oceanic Music Encounters, the Print Resource and the Humans Resource, Essays in Honour of Mervyn McLean. (Hg.) Richard Moyle. Research in Linguistics and Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, The University of Auckland, New Zealand, s. 3 – 14 [page 15 in the pdf]