By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza
The alma pinkillo or muquni
The alma pinkillo (alma-pinkillo, alma pinquillo, alma-pinquillo, almapinquillo, alma pinkullo) or muquni, also known as sokhosa pinkillo (under the sokhosa cane the flute is made of), is an aerophone that belongs to the pinkillos family, native to the Bolivian altiplano (Aymara land). It can be found in rural communities in the department of La Paz, especially in the provinces of Larecaja and Pedro Domingo Murillo.
It is annually played on the 1st of November at the All Saints Festival (in Aymara, Amaya Uruchawi) to honour the souls of deceased loved ones, hence one of the names it bears (alma pinkillo, literally "soul pinkillo"). The other, "muquni", derives from the Aymara term muqu, "elbow": the sokhosa, the material of which the instrument is made, is usually a knotty cane and the flutes always have one of those knots in the middle of their bodies, what makes them slightly bent into “L” shape and thereby unmistakable. It is this distinctive characteristic which distinguishes them from the straight wayrus or pinqullu de Carnaval ("ordinary" pinkillos). On the other side, the elbow is the one accountable for their resonance and "dirty" sound and, from an Aymara point of view, much more "melancholic", hence matching the occasion that they are for.
Alma pinkillos are usually identified as part of a Christian tradition, however, they were originally brought out to celebrate the beginning of the rain season (the jallu pacha), which was meant to start at the end of October or early November. As it happens to be the case with other pinkillos, the muquni is a female aerophone related to "rainy weather". At present, it is said that the alma pinkillos honour the souls of the dead in the hope that there will be rain and a bountiful harvest.
The tropas or bands of alma pinkillos (ensembles comprising different sizes of the same type of flute) include two or three sizes and are accompanied by compulsory wank'aras. Alma pinkillo players are regarded as servants to the souls of the deceased, the almanakan wawanakapaxa or "sons of the souls". Generally speaking, there can be up to a dozen bands playing together in the same village for as long as the celebration lasts. They "welcome" the souls on the eve of the All Saints Day, then play in their honour during the following days (both in their relatives’ houses on the first and at the graveyard on the second of November) and finally farewell them on the third of November at a kacharpaya ("farewell") ceremony. Inside the houses, they play music before the apxata, domestic altars to the dead relatives; at the graveyard they do so while the "alma despachos" take place, that is, while offerings are displayed on the "tables" set for that purpose. Players are paid with alcoholic beverages and traditional pieces of bread in exchange for their services.
Competition is so fierce between the bands of muquni that all of them include members armed with the so-called "chicote" or whip (traditionally a symbol of authority) rolled around their torso, in order to separate members of one from members of the other when direct confrontation cannot be avoided. Were this to happen, flute players on the one side seek to break the drumhead of the others’ wank'aras to prevent them from going on playing. Wank'aras players of each band are expected to protect their drums even at the cost of their own lives.
The alma pinkillo must not be confused with the marimacho, a double pinkillo which sometimes is found within the tropas of mohoseños.
Article. "Larecaja: Diversidad en pisos ecológicos y patrimonio cultural" (literally, Larecaja: diversity of ecological levels and cultural heritage). In El Diario [es].
Article. "Rito y música de tarka en la Anata andina" (literally, Tarka ritual and music during the Andean Anata), in Ministerio de Educación de Bolivia [es].
Article. "Todos Santos: Todos Almas" (literally, All Saints: All Souls), by Gerardo Fernández Juárez [es].
Thesis. "La música en la fiesta de Todos Santos" (literally, Music at All Saints Festival), by Diego Machicao Arauco [es].
Book. "Aymaras de Bolivia: entre la tradición y el cambio cultural" (literally, Aymaras of Bolivia: between tradition and cultural change), by Gerardo Fernández Juárez [es].
Flawed examples of alma pinquillo.
Video 01. "Alma pinquillo", by K'oanzani Ayata.