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Vol.18, no.2
April/May 2015


A Nose for Music 
Story By: Tiffany Edwards Hunt
Photos By: Josh McCullough 

The gentle tones of Winston Kauhane Morton’s tiny coconut nose whistle sound ancient, but they’re not. Although the instrument, the niu hokiokio, was modeled after the traditional Hawaiian gourd whistle, the ipu hokiokio, the use of a coconut—or niu—is Morton’s innovation.

Morton has had a thing for playing music with his nose ever since picking up a traditional Hawaiian bamboo nose flute a quarter-century ago. Then he discovered the joys of the gourd whistle, which lovers are said to have played for each other in the quiet hours of the night. A friend gave Morton an ipu hokiokio as a gift, and he cherished it until it met an unhappy end. “I lost it to a rodent who thought it would be something nice to chew on,” he says.

During a 1995 visit to Kaua‘i to teach a bamboo nose flute workshop, Morton spotted an unusually small coconut and was reminded of his lost ipu hokiokio. He put a few holes in the coconut seed, held it to his nose and blew. With that, the niu hokiokio was born.

Undersized coconuts, however, aren’t easy to come by. So it wasn’t until Morton moved to the parched Kona side of Hawai‘i Island and discovered a plentiful supply of stunted coconuts that he began making his niu hokiokio in earnest. Now he sells them for $40 apiece at the Ipu Arts Plus Gallery in Holualoa.

The hula world has begun to take notice of Morton’s creation. At last year’s Mokihana Festival on Kaua‘i, the dancers from halau Na Hula o Kaohikukapulani pulled niu hokiokio from their skirt pockets and played them in unison. With that performance, which told the story of Morton’s discovery of the little coconut he turned into a whistle, the halau won first place in the kahiko (ancient hula) division of the festival’s dance competition. 

For Morton, there’s something about music made with the breath of the nose that’s more pure than music made with the breath of the mouth (waha in Hawaiian). “With our nose we breathe life, sustenance, air,” he says. “With our waha we sometimes say things we wish we could take back.”