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Ipu pa'i

Object / Artefact › Pacific/Ethnology
  • Other titles
    Gourd container (English)
  • Description
    Ipu pa'i. Gourd implement. This ipu is hollowed out and dried. It is a round globular shape with a narrow raised neck which measures 91 mm in diameter. There is a small perforation at the side of the neck through which a cord of twisted plant fibre, brown in colour, is threaded through and looped. The ipu has highly polished surface treatment on the exterior. It is reddish brown in colour, though has darker patches of colour around the base.
  • Place
  • Other Number
    1985.171, 51824
  • Accession number
  • Accession date
    7 June 1985
  • Collection area
  • Item count
  • Record richness
gourd, 1985.171, 51824, Photographed by Denise Baynham, digital, 22 Mar 2018, Cultural Permissions Apply
gourd, 1985.171, 51824, Photographed by Denise Baynham,… … Read more


  • Credit
    Collection of Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, 1985.171, 51824
  • Notes
    This is an Ipū pa`i. It is a hand held implement generally used in Hula (dance). The ‘aha (coconut sennit) cord secures the ipū to the dancers wrist while it is being held. With the other hand, they would pa`i (hit) the side to emit kani (sound) in relation to their mele(song).

    Ipū is a term commonly associated with the gourd. It has been intentionally cultivated and hollowed. Ipū have a hollistic role within Hawaiian history and culture. Physically, the ipū can be used to carry mea’ai (food) and ka wai (water) or to store personal items. They can also be used to produce kani (sound) for mele (song) and hula (dance). Spiritually the ipū also have a significant metaphoric presence in procreation stories.

    There are two kinds of ipū: Ipū nui are a large variety of gourd and are associated with carrying food or water in contrast to Ipū awa awa which are the bitter variety of gourd. These are more suitable for holding goods or made for use as instruments in Hula. As one knowledge holder explained, “The Hawaiian people – we had 42 different uses for the ipū” – the most described across Polynesia.

    There are other qualities that extend the physical use of ipū into the realm of the cosmological and the spiritual. The late Indigenous Hawaiian scholar and historian, Samuel Kamakau (1815-1876) portrays the cosmological role ipū played in the creation story through an exert published in ‘Ke Au Okoa’,

    “It was thus that Papa gave birth: she gave birth to a gourd, a calabash with its cover, ‘he ‘umeke a he po‘i; Wākea threw the cover up, and it became the sky; then Wākea threw out the inner core, ‘ka haku oloko’, and it became the sun; as he threw it up, the seeds became stars. Wākea saw the whiteness of the soft core, the ‘pala haku’, of the gourd and threw that up, and it became the moon; the white layer, ‘papa ke‘oke‘o’, of the gourd Wākea scraped and threw up into space and it became clouds; the juice of the gourd he poured into the clouds, and it became rain. The calabash from the seperation of the gourd by Wākea became land and ocean.” (Oct. 14, 21, 1869)

    Papa is the earth mother, and Wākea is the sky father. The story of them birthing a gourd and using its contents to create the heavens and the earth illustrates the abundance that ipū have continued to offer today. Whether this is through domestic use, cultural performance or cosmological stories, the ipū has continued to carry Hawai’i’s rich history and culture.

    We would like to give thanks to the Hawaiian knowledge holders who generously shared their mana`o and sources surrounding the significance of the ipū.

    • M.Beckwith, ‘Hawaiian Mythology’. U H Press. 1970.
    • Jenkins, ‘The Hawaiian Calabash’.Editions limited. 1989.
    • T.R.Hiroa, ‘Arts and Crafts of Hawaii’. Bishop Museum Press. 1957.
    • S.M.Kamakau, ‘Tails and Traditions of the People of Old|Nā Mo‘olelo a ka Po‘e Kahiko’. Bishop Museum Press. 1991.
    • Personal comms. Kumu Auli`i Mitchell. 14.03.2018

    • Ipū pa‘i (Gourd implement)
    • Pa‘i (hit)
    • ‘Aha (coconut sennit)
    • Kani (sound)
    • Mele (song)
    • Hula (dance)
    • Pāhonohono (repairs)
    • Pāwehe (motifs/designs)
    • Mea‘ai (food)
    • Ka wai (water)
  • Subject category
  • Culture
  • Production
  • Signature/marks
    51824 HAWAII  (handwritten)
  • Consists of
    › gourd
  • Dimensions
    • 0 - Whole height x width x depth/length : 250 x 210mm
    • height : 242mm
    • width : 210mm
    • depth : 206mm
  • Record created
    19 August 1997

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