Blowing the conch shell has a long and traditional history, even predating Neolithic culture about 10,200-8,800 BC. The irresistible tone created when blowing through a big sea shell caught on all throughout the world, especially among those that lived by the sea where these tasty creatures are found. Here in Hawaii and all throughout Polynesia the Pu Kani is used to begin ceremonies, ward off unwanted spirits, bless unions and was also used for important inner island communication among the islands in ancient times. Each Ceremonial Blessing began with the pure tone that cleared the air and set focus on the event.
To this day the Pu Kani is a very intimate part of every ceremony, beginning the tone of the event-majestic, deep, resonant and a part of the ever-changing seas which nourish and surround these islands.
Finding big sea shells are getting harder each year as we blunder through the concept of ‘sustainable harvesting’, not sure how to encourage sensible buying practices since the availability should be adequately regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which does cover the Strombus gigas species or Queen conch shells. In 1992 this mega sea shell made the endangered list. Astonishingly, it wasn’t the over harvesting of the sea shell, it was the over harvesting of the meat, the shell was among the 92% “waste by-product”.
So aside from rare, exotic shells that are harvested just for collectors private use which then thins out these rare nautical gems often to the point of no return, the conch shell would be best made use as a blessing tone rather than the unimaginable wasteful practices of only using 8% of the harvested animal. Seek out shells from the conch meat industry, these shells would otherwise be destined to landfills or worse, underwater wastelands of conch carcasses which seems to repel other living conch shells from that area.
While on our sailing adventures in the south pacific, I came across this huge sea-snail while free diving in Tonga. It was such a magnificent creature, I would have loved to have taken it, eaten it and made a trophy of its shell… But I strongly felt that this rare delicacy should be reserved for the locals as they have done for countless generations. I had often pondered that perhaps I should have taken that big sea shell since that was the only one I had come across in the 20,000+ miles we sailed. Then a few weeks later this Tongan fellow paddles up to my boat, as he often did to talk story and get a cup of coffee… He tells me I had the best coffee of the boats anchoring in this ancient blown out volcano cauldron, so that’s why I was ‘lucky‘ to get to hear his sales speeches. He often had an impressive shell trophy he would never sell, that was his and it served him well, but one day he paddles up to my boat to try to sell me stuff after months of saying NO! But this time he had a very fresh new shell, a heavy-duty deeply chambered grand nautilus of a specimen. He was also the proud new owner of a freaking cow! He had traded enough chickens to buy and trade a few pigs to buy a cow and now he needs some strong rope on an island that does not have hardware store; the sailboats are the best chance for good rope. I traded some stout old sailing line for the shell, Although the shell was empited for a special fest the day before, I had to keep the stinky shell in the water for nearly a week before the insides were picked clean by the fish. After cleaning it up we then kept the shell safe from harms way all through our sail to Fiji, all the way down to New Zealand’s north island and dozens of anchorages along the way to the south island where we sold the boat and shipped this shell and our stuff to our new home on Maui. Our Conch Shell from Tonga remained one of the many reminders of our sailing adventures until one day we found ourself in need of the Holy Tone, which inspired Bobbie Jo to bore a hole in the shell to create a meaningful addition to our blessings here on Maui.
With reverence, respect and the deepest of connections with the spirits of Aloha and Pono, blowing the Pu shell in Hawaii is a very sacred moment. In ancient days, the Pu shell was also used as a communication device between canoes from other islands signaling for permission to land and come ashore and today we still blow the shell to say goodbye to the setting sun or to begin a special ceremony or bless a union.
Make your personal connection with the spirits that guide you in such an important and ceremonial tradition, allow the spirit to flow and your intent must be very clear to help produce that Sacred Tone. Yeah, sure, that sounds easy, but when first learning the proper lip placement and air strength typically produces many variations of farting sounds with an occasional nice tone. There seems to be a sort of visualization required to bring all these elements into place to produce a nice pure tone… The best way to create a pure tone is to simply make peace with your god and then follow the spirits that are sure to come and guide you. If that doesn’t work just try, try and try again.