By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza
The lichiguayos (lichiwayus, lichiwayos, lichihuayos, liquiguayos o q’ichiwayus) are aerophones used in the Norte Grande Chileno (Chilean Big/Far North, comprising the regions of Arica and Parinacota, Tarapacá, and Antofagasta) as well as in the department of Oruro (Bolivia), usually, though not exclusively, in Aymara and Chipaya communities. There are several traditions regarding the etymology of its name, though most scholars agree that it might refer to “[flautas de] lecheros” (cowherds [flutes]) or “[flautas] lecheras” (milk [flutes]).
Though larger in size, these vertical flutes are similar to the quena (between 30 and 60 cm long and 5 cm in diameter) with four to seven finger holes. It is made of tokhoro cane, a type of thick and hard bamboo native to the yungas or warm valleys of Bolivia.
The lichiguayos are played in tropas or groups with at least three different sizes: a large flute (60 cm long), a middle size flute (40 cm) and a small one (30 cm), the third sounding an octave higher than the first and the second sounding a fourth or a fifth higher than the first.
In northern Chile these instruments are played during the awtipacha, the dry season according to the Aymara calendar, from the end of the Carnival (around March) to the All Saints’ Day (November), especially during the Corpus Christi and patron saint’s day festivities and usually in small villages, since the sound of the tropas of zampoñas (panflutes) is the favourite in larger ones.
In Bolivia, according to Ernesto Cavour (“Instrumentos musicales de Bolivia”, pp. 71-72), the lichiguayos are typical of communities such as Curahuara de Carangas, Totora, Corque, Salinas de Garci Mendoza, Venta y Media and Santa Ana de Chipaya (Oruro department). In traditional contexts (mostly in Bolivia, but also in Chile), the lichiguayos provide musical accompaniment to a dance with the same name representing either the chaqu (old-time vicuña hunting) or the sacrifice of one of those camelids to the Pachamama, the Mother Land, offered by a shepherd. This fact has caused many musicologists and folklorists to believe that the lichiguayos may originally have been associated with communities of shepherds, rituals entailing the sacrifice of Andean camelids and a particular period of the year. However, oral tradition points out that the “lichiguayos” were indigenous servants who worked milking cows in the ranches of the Bolivian high plateau, suggesting that what previously was an instrument and a dance associated with shepherds of llamas and/or vicuñas hunters would have ended up including cowherds and changing its name accordingly.
At present, the lichiguayos repertoire is little known and pretty limited, though, according to researches, the instrument maintains its popularity in relatively isolated communities. Some modern bands have featured them on their recordings as well as on the stage (more or less skilfully) while several urban groups of dancers (mostly in La Paz) have performed the flutes and the dance as part of the Carnival and other celebrations, thus contributing to its survival and dispersion.
Article. “Sobre la danza lichiwayus de Venta y Media” (Bolivia) [es].
Aerophones, in Memoria chilena [es].
Article. “Jukumarinti sawurinti: El oso-guerrero y la tejedora”, by D. Y. Arnold and R. López, describing some features of the lichiwayu in Bolivia [es].
Article. “Vila Vila: religiosidad y cultura” (Bolivia) [es].
Picture 01. Lichiguayos of Chapiquilta (Chaquiña municipality, Chile).
Picture 02. Lichiwayu of Canal Collo (Sur Carangas province, Oruro, Bolivia).
Picture 03 (low quality). Lichiguayo, in Memoria chilena.
Picture A: Edgardo Civallero