Triton: Shell Trumpet as a Papuan Traditional Musical Instrument


A triton is a traditional Papuan musical instrument in the form of a blown instrument made from seashells. For the Saireri indigenous people, especially the Biak people, the triton is also a traditional instrument and is always used in dance. Most of these instruments are found in coastal areas such as Raja Ampat, Supiori, Yapen, and Biak Numfor.

Origin of The Shell Trumpets

The Triton traditional musical instrument’s shell trumpet is made of large shells found mostly on coastal islands. This small specimen was first discovered in 1915 in Wellington Harbour. The trumpet shell was found in a pile of trash on Somes Island.

The shell trumpet or triton is a musical instrument used since ancient times. Europe, the UK, India, China, and even America. The Greeks used Triton as a peace signal in war. In Mediterranean countries, it is used as a tool for Hindu and Buddhist religious ceremonies, including harvest festivals.

Use of Triton Shell Trumpets

Initially, Triton traditional musical instruments were used to communicate, such as gathering people around them. People usually gather when the instruments are played and quickly come to their homes for ceremonies and parties. However, in its development, this tool is used only for entertainment and traditional musical instruments.

Tritons of Papua, especially the Biak tribes,  are used during parties or work. Triton is played along with Tifa and War’s dance. Therefore, more than one person usually blows the Triton, and the sound can vary.

The smaller the shell shape, the louder the sound it produces. Large shells and clams usually make a faint sound, not a loud one. Essentially, the size of the Triton shell’s holes greatly affects the sound it blows and produces.

How to Play Triton

How to Play Triton

As you know, Triton is a kind of traditional blown instrument. This instrument certainly has blowholes and resonance chambers to get the beat going.

Therefore, playing the Papua Triton instrument is fairly easy. You must blow slowly on one side of the perforated bowl until you hear a sound. If the clams or shells are large, you will have to spend a lot of energy blowing them away.

The Triton can be combined with other instruments to harmonize with the sounds of tifa and percussion to create beautiful musical variations.

How to Make Triton?

To make a Triton, you need to find a snail or mollusk to harvest the shell, whether you like it or not. After obtaining, remove the snail, leaving only the shell. Then, a part of the shell is pierced, depending on the shell model.

There are usually two locations where holes can be drilled. Either at the apex of the shell or one of the whorls to the spire’s side. Then, a thin wooden funnel was attached to the perforated shell to facilitate blowing. The wooden funnel comes in two pieces that tie together when attached to the shell.

Although widely used, these Triton shells are becoming extinct, and their removal from the high seas is prohibited. This shellfish species has biodiversity and is globally and regionally threatened with extinction. Any import or export requires a permit from the competent authority.

In Maluku, this shell, called Tahuri, is a marine product that is quite a major commodity, especially in Bere-bere Village. This Tahuri is usually used in the Cakalele Dance.

The sound quality produced by the Triton varies greatly. Also, different countries use different conch shells. This natural instrument should be preserved, so it stays alive for a while.

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