Indigenous | Taonga Puoro

Auckland University uses 3D printing to preserve original taonga puoro

Auckland University is combining technology and heritage preservation to reproduce traditional Māori musical instruments (taonga puoro) using 3D printing.

The work, which has tamariki in mind, is being carried out by Professor Olaf Diegel, the head of the creative design and additive manufacturing lab.

“The first thing that kids want to do is see it, touch it, and blow into it. But, of course, a lot of these are precious family heirlooms that have been handed down from generation to generation. So you can’t take the risk of them getting damaged,” Diegel says.

The first instrument to be printed was a pūtātara (conch shell). Through CT scans of the instrument, Diegel was able to replicate it in nearly every detail.

He applied it to other instruments, such as the pūkaea (long wooden trumpet), which was supplied by Ngāti Whātua.

Experiencing their sounds

“I’ve always been passionate about music,” he says.

“It’s driven by the people who own those precious instruments and want them preserved for people to be able to experience them.”

Materials used include acrylics, nylon and even wood. The wood shavings that fall from the original making of an instrument can also be repurposed to make another 3D-printed version.

“To me, it’s a way of augmenting how you preserve that culture. Having things hidden away in a glass cabinet for people to look at is good but it’s not the same as being able to really experience them by playing with them.

“At the same time, I appreciate there is a lot of sensitivity about how you treat these instruments and how you prevent them from becoming fakes as opposed to reproduction for people to experience a culture.

“So far so good but it will become an issue for sure.”

Diegel acknowledges that a collective approach to making sure it is protected, whether that be intellectual property rights or otherwise.

He says the 3D-printed taonga puoro are owned by Ngāti Whātua and pro-vice chancellor (Māori) Michael Steedman.

“To me it’s important that the process be driven by the owners of the culture rather than by us.”

Public Interest Journalism