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    Land of winds > Instruments > Instruments | Issue 10 (May.-Jun.2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Andean aerophones (04): natural horns

Conch shell

The natural horns are aerophones which, unlike most trumpets, do not have valves, keys or finger holes to alter the pitch. Players blow through their pursued lips adjusting the pressure of the air until they find the amount that produces the fundamental note. They have to use their skills to their full potential and take advantage of the physics law known as "natural harmonics". According to this principle, depending upon the shape of the instrument and the air pressure in the player's mouth the air in the instrument is forced to vibrate in the form of a fundamental note (tonic) together with a number of harmonic sounds.

The Andean area is bountiful in natural horns such as shell trumpets (or ceramic horns resembling conch shells), short straight trumpets (made of metal, gourd, bone, wood or ceramic), short curved trumpets made of the materials listed above plus horn and vegetable fibres (with or without mouthpiece) and, finally, the "clarines": large trumpets consisting of a cane, metal or plastic tube —up to 4-5 metres long— with a resonator attached at its wider end which can be made of cattle horn, dried hide, gourd or metal.

Article. "Pututus, quepas y bocinas. Bramidos a lo largo de los Andes", by Edgardo Civallero. In Culturas Populares, 6 (jan.-jun- 2008) [es].
Article. "Trompetas". Chapter from the book entitled "Música en la piedra", by José Pérez de Arce. In Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art [es].
Article. "Trompetas prehispánicas". Chapter from the book entitled "La música precolombina", by Luis Antonio Escobar. In Luis Ángel Arango Digital Library [es]. Part 1 and part 2.

The earliest examples of Andean natural horns were made of the shells of certain gastropods of the family Strombidae, which were regarded as having extraordinary religious and ceremonial significance. A number of archaeological findings have been recovered from the sites of the Muisca, (Chibcha), Calima, Nariño, Quimbaya, Pasto and Quillacinga cultures located in present-day Colombia, as well as from those of the Valdivia culture located in Ecuador and from the ones of the Chavín, Moche and Nazca cultures in Peru.

If we look for textual evidence, one of the Guaman Poma de Ayala's drawings featured in his book "Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno" shows a chaski (a highly-trained Incan runner who delivered messages) announcing his arrival by blowing into a conch shell. However, after the first herds of cattle were introduced in the region their horns came to replace the conch shell, which was slowly abandoned except in the most traditional contexts (in Peru and some parts of Ecuador).

The shell trumpet —also called pututu, pututo, chulo-phusaña, chulu p'usaña, huayllaquepa, wayllaqhepa, churu, chulu, chulo, quipa, quepa or qhepa, among other many names— can still be heard in the departments of Amazonas, San Martín, Puno and Cusco (Peru). In the latter, especially in the towns of Cusco and Pisac, present-day varayuq (in Quechua, "those carrying the stick", community chiefs) announced themselves by blowing huayllaquepas.

Article. "Huayllaquepa, el sonido del mar en la tierra", by Mónica Gudemos. In Revista Española de Antropología Americana, 31 (2001), pp. 97-130 [es].
Article. "Pututo, trompeta de caracol prehispánica", in Cantera de sonidos [es].

Picture 01. Shell trumpet 01 (Chavín).
Picture 02. Shell trumpet 02.
Picture 03. Shell trumpet 03.
Picture 04. Shell trumpet 04.
Picture 05. Drawing of a chaski by Guaman Poma de Ayala.

Far from limiting themselves to the use of shell trumpets, the Andean cultures created other variants of natural horns that were played in both ceremonial and popular contexts. Special mention deserve the long trumpets made of gold from the Chavín culture as well as the ones from the Quimbaya culture and those made of copper from the Chimú and Moche cultures. On the other hand, lots of these natural horns were made of ceramic as it has been proven by archaeological evidence, for example, the findings belonging to the Pucara culture in Peru or to the cultures settled in north western Argentina, which created aerophones similar in shape to pipes. The most appreciated for their beauty are the straight and curved trumpets constructed by the Moche as well as their ceramic imitations of shell trumpets, though they also elaborated beautiful zoomorphic (with a serpent or jaguar profile) and even anthropomorphic ones. In addition, the Moche artists depicted these aerophones in many vessels and also in the figurines which perfectly represented various characters of society.

Picture 06. Ceramic trumpet, Moche culture 01.
Picture 07. Ceramic trumpet, Moche culture 02.
Picture 08. Ceramic trumpet, Pucara culture.
Picture 09. Gold trumpet, Quimbaya culture.

Both the Moche and the Huari cultures used wood to make natural horns as did the Incas. While camelid humerus and tibia bones were also crafted into this type of aeorophones: the San Pedro de Atacama culture (north of Chile) made straight trumpets and "horns" from several pieces of wood or bone with a resonator attached at one end.


Nowadays, the various types of Andean natural horns range extends from the simple horn perforated laterally or with the tip cut, to the long "clarines", all the way up to the "horns" consisting of two pieces: a mouthpiece made of reed or wood and a body made of such miscellaneous materials as gourd, tin or cattle horn (one or several joined together).

The Chipaya from the Bolivian Altiplano use a cow horn, called doti, to mark the different sections into which the tarkeadas are divided. The monophonic sound of the doti is also used to signal the beginning of community traditional ceremonies such as the Wilancha. For their part, the Lickan Antay from Atacama (north of Chile) still play the "horn" or pututo also called putú. It can be heard at the few community celebrations that have survived to the present day: the cauzúlor —community task that requires everybody's contribution to clean up the irrigation canals— and the talátur, this, too, a ritual connected to water. The Mapuche (Argentinean and Chilean Patagonia) have a horn known as kullkull, cull-cull, kul küll or cungcull, which was originally made from rolled ferns and other plant fibres.

Picture 10. Mapuche kullkull.
Picture 11. Kullkull player.

Attending to complexity, the instruments listed above are followed by the pututus: horns made of horn, gourd, metal or other material with a mouthpiece of reed or wood up to 40 cm long. In the Quechua-speaking region of Bolivia they are known as waqra, wajra or huajra (in Quechua, "ox horn"): a cane sokhosa opened at both ends, and a resonator made from one or several horns joined together attached to one of them. Both parts are secured with strips of hide and any cracks or gaps sealed with mapha (beeswax). The wajra usually accompanies the tropas of sikuris de Italaque stressing, along with the bombos wank'ara, the strong beats of the sikureadas as well as marking the beginning and end of a speed-change transition. It is also used to accompany other tropas of wind instruments (sikus, pinkillos, quenas, tarkas) with a similar purpose.

Picture 12. Metal pututu player.
Picture 13. Wajra player.

In Peru, we find the wajra phuku (huajra puco, huaccra pucu, huacla, huacra-puco, huagra corneta, huajkra pukuna, wagra, corneta de cacho), a pututu that may consist of up to 15 horns assembled together into a spiral shape. Its components are joined by nails or wood plugs, secured with strips of hide (qara q'aytu) and sealed either with mapha or tar. It is played in the departments of Apurímac, Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cusco, Huancavelica, Huanuco, Junín, Lima and Pasco. In Huanca, horns are replaced by a kirkinchu or quirquincho's shell (armadillo), while in Ayacucho the resonator is made of dried cattle hide.

Picture 14. Wajra phuku 01.
Picture 15. Wajra phuku 02.
Picture 16. Wajra phuku 03.

In Ecuador natural horns are made the other way round: it is the mouthpiece which consists of several horns joined together while the resonator is made from a long, thick cane guadúa. The name of this instruments change accordingly to the materials used in their elaboration. The former is known as bocina turú; and there are also the bocina de tunda (made from the cane of the same name), the bocina de churo, the bocina sigsaco, and so on.

Picture 17. Ecuadorian horn player.
Various Pictures of Ecuadorian horn.


Finally, among the large trumpets we have the clarín from Cajamarca, the caña chapaca (Tarija, south of Bolivia), the erque or Argentinean corneta, the tira-tira from Potosí (Bolivia), and the trutruka and the ñolkiñ played by the Mapuche in the Patagonia. The former three are played by blowing through a side hole while the others are blown through one end. All of them consist of large tubes (cane, plastic or metal) ended in a resonator made of different materials. They are mostly found in religious and ceremonial contexts as well as on festivity occasions.

Picture 18. Clarín de Cajamarca player 01.
Picture 19. Clarín de Cajamarca players.
Picture 20. Clarín de Cajamarca player 02.

Picture A, B and C: Edgardo Civallero

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