Also:       pū kani      

Contextual Associations

The is a lip-reed aerophone of the Hawaiian people. In ancient Hawaii, the served as a signaling instrument in processions and for assembling people. 18th century European seamen reported the shell's association with the appearance of soldiers; it was also used to accompany chants. The is still used to evoke images of Hawaiian history and tradition, serving to announce state ceremonies such as the convening of the Hawaii Legislature. It is also sounded at feasts (luaus) and cultural shows presented to tourists. Unusually old are venerated, and sometimes even associated with specific quasi-religious myths. The origin myth associated with a centuries old found today in the Bishop Museum collection associates the instrument with the gods, who sounded it every night as they drank their ceremonial kava. A chief enlisted a supernatural dog to steal the from the gods and deliver it to him at a sacred temple (heiau) on the Big Island of Hawaii.


The pictured here is made from a helmet shell (Cassis cornuta). Its blowhole (about 0.6 in. in diameter) is created by boring through the flat side of the conch at the apex of its spiral whorls. This allows access to the spiral cavity of the shell, which terminates at its natural aperture (at the lower left in the picture). The spiral cavity functions as the instrument’s bore and is several inches long before terminating at the aperture, which might be thought of as its bell.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds the instrument with his right hand, grasping the inner fold of the aperture. He forces an airstream through and adjusts the tension of his lips, which are placed against the blowhole, to produce a single pitch rich in overtones. The pitch of the pictured here is approximately B3. When blown properly, the sound of the shell-trumpet is said to carry for upwards of two miles.


Conch shell horns are found throughout Polynesia, therefore the most likely was introduced to the Hawaiian Islands during one of the migrations of southern Polynesians to the archipelago centuries ago.

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.

Kanahele, George S. 1979. Hawaiian Music and Musicians. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.

n.a. 1984. “Pū kani.” NGDMI v.3: 157.

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


Instrument Information


Continent: Oceania

Region: Polynesia

Nation: U.S.A.--Hawaii

Formation: Hawaiian

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

423.111.1 aerophone--natural labrosone end-blown conch; without mouthpiece

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - conical with open distal end

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

Energy transducer that activates sound: lip reed (player’s lips) placed over hole in side of tube

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: none

Overblowing utilization: not used

Pitch production: single pitch - one pitch produced in single air cavity


6.7 in. length

Primary Materials

shell - conch

Entry Author

Roger Vetter