The pūtorino is unique in that it functions both as a trumpet (the kokiri o te tane /male voice) and as a flute (the waiata o te hine / female voice) and is also employed as a conduit for the voice when sung into.
It is also unique in that it is the home of Hine Raukatauri, the Mäori goddess of flute music.
The pūtorino is a purely Maori invention, occurring nowhere else in Polynesia or in any other part of the world. It is a wooden trumpet varying in length from 9 to 20 in. and has an uneven bore, swelling out to the centre and diminishing evenly towards the lower end, where the pipe is quite narrow and either completely closed or has a very small opening. The outer shape was carved from a solid piece of wood, split in half lengthwise, hollowed out like two small canoes and then lashed together again with flax cord. At the widest part of the pipe there is an opening shaped like a grotesque mouth. The finest specimens are decorated at both ends with carved figures, and the open mouth is part of a head which is outlined on the flat surface of the pipe. It can be played with bugle technique, with closed lips which are set in vibration by the rapid withdrawal of the tongue. Small variations of pitch can be produced by moving the forefinger over the centre opening. An expert horn or trumpet player can produce scale passages covering two octaves or more but it is unlikely that the Maori explored its full range. A song for a putorino would be similar in range to a sung chant and would be associated with a particular set of words. The fundamental sound is reedy, penetrating, and alto in quality and pitch. Peter Buck said he was told that it was used as a speaking trumpet, like a megaphone; but, if the legend of Tutanekai and Hinemoa can be accepted as evidence, Tutanekai played a love song on the putorino which was wafted across the water from Mokoia Island and heard by Hinemoa on the mainland at Rotorua.