ipu hōkiokio

Also:       ipu hoehoe      pu’a      

Contextual Associations

The ipu hōkiokio is a vessel nose flute aerophone of the Hawaiian people. Traditionally it was associated with the instrumental rendering of love poetry, a practice that died away long ago with the arrival of missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands in the 19th century and the profound changes to traditional Hawaiian lifeways that ensued. The ipu hōkiokio was played as a solo instrument, the performer supposedly imitating the melodic contour of 2-, 3-, and 4-tone mele ho’oipipo (love chants). The ipu hōkiokio is seldom used today but is still made and easily procurable at hula supply stores, Hawaiian craft fairs, and tourist venues, sold as a symbol of ancient Hawaiian culture or as a novelty.


This ipu hōkiokio is crafted from a small hollowed-out gourd. The blowhole is located at the gourd’s apex, and three fingerholes (one noticeably larger than the other two) are drilled into its wall.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player presses the side of the gourd against his/her upper lip so that the blowhole is aligned with their right nostril. The index finger of the left hand presses against the left side of the nose, closing the left nostril and concentrating the airflow through the right. The thumb and other fingers of both hands support the instrument and are used to cover the fingerholes. There is no standardization in the shape and dimensions (height, fingerhole diameter and spacing) or in the number of fingerholes of the ipu hōkiokio, therefore the resulting tuning pattern varies from instrument to instrument. This flute’s tuning is difficult to determine, but with all fingerholes covered approximately an A-flat4 is sounded.


Vessel nose flutes are not found in other parts of Polynesia, so it has been assumed that the ipu hōkiokio is of Hawaiian invention (Hiroa 1964, p. 393). However, McLean (1999, p. 496) points out that gourd whistles are found elsewhere in Oceania, but does not explicitly state if they are played as nose flutes. So, it seems at least possible that the gourd whistle or the idea of it might have been introduced to Hawaii by ancient Polynesian voyagers, but it is unclear if the method of sounding it with the nose originates in Hawaii or elsewhere.

Bibliographic Citations

Emerson, Nathaniel B. 1909. Unwritten Literature of Hawaii: The Sacred Songs of the Hula. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

Hiroa, Te Rangi (Peter H. Buck). 1964. Arts and Crafts of Hawaii--IX: Musical Instruments. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.

McLean, Mervyn. 1999. Weavers of Song: Polynesian Music and Dance. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Roberts, Helen H. 1967. Ancient Hawaiian Music. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Tatar, Elizabeth. 1979. “Ipu hōkiokio,” in Kanahele, George S. Hawaiian Music and Musicians. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, pp. 176-177.


Instrument Information


Continent: Oceania

Region: Polynesia

Nation: U.S.A.--Hawaii

Formation: Hawaiian

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

421.13 aerophone--vessel flute (without distinct beak): the body of the pipe is not tubular but vessel-shaped; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: globular vessel

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through nose into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: beveled edge in wall of instrument, directly blown against

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: not used

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length/shape of standing wave within single cavity with fingerholes


3 in. height

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter