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Land of winds > Instruments > Instrument | Issue 06. Jul.-Aug.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

maracas maraca Andean instruments

The maracas are a type of struck idiophones which are shaken (though, sometimes, one can also strike the maraca against one’s hand or leg to get a different sound). They usually consist of dried calabash or gourd shells (hence, their general designation as “gourd rattles”) of different shapes and sizes, filled with their own seeds or other foreign objects which hit the shell when the instrument is in motion. Sometimes a wooden handle is added and the maracas may be embellished with feathers, beads, tassels, ribbons, drawings or cuts on their surface.
These instruments are native to the Americas and date back to pre-Hispanic times as archaeological evidence has indicated. It can be said that all native peoples had and still have an instrument with these characteristics, which is usually a large single rattle. Some good examples may be the wada (o waza), played by Mapuche peoples of the Patagonia, the tani, used by the Kogi settled in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and the mbaraká belonging to the Tupi-Guarani people (the word “maraca” is allegedly derived from this last one). These idiophones are mostly used in ceremonial contexts since, as well as many other native musical instruments, they are regarded as having qualities and “powers” related to Nature forces.
In the Afro-Caribbean region, the maracas are smaller and usually played in pairs, possibly due to the influence of African music.
Turning to the Andean region, apart from the above mentioned Mapuche wada, gourd rattles are scarce. Quechua communities in the warm Andean valleys of Bolivia play some idiophones taken from the Eastern Plains cultures such as the rattles, though their use is not very widespread. Perhaps, the only rattles worthy of consideration are the ones played within the Colombian Andean “chirimía” ensembles, ranging from the classic Caribbean maracas or “capachos” (small ovoid gourds with a handle) to the so-called “guaches de totuma”, “mates” or “chuchos”. The latter, used in both the Andean High Plateau and the Pacific coast region, are unique traditional instruments consisting of a gourd half wrapped in a piece of cloth and fitted with maize or achira (a species of the Canna genus) seeds, which are shaken very fast.


Maracas, in Wikipedia.
Mate, chucho or guache made from totuma, in BAT Foundation [es].
The guache made from totuma (maraca-like instrument made from gourd), in Banco de la República de Colombia [es].
Anotaciones históricas sobre la maraca (Historical notes on the maraca), in Revista de Folklore [es].
Chirimía, una tradición cultural que se mantiene (Chirimia, an enduring cultural tradition). In El [es].
Rhythms of Cauca, in SINIC [es].
El origen de la chirimía (The origins of the chirimia), in Popayán virtual [es].

Picture 01. Mapuche Huada with kultrún.
Picture 02. Maracas.
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