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    Land of winds > The land > History | Issue 14 (Mar.-Apr. 2013)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

From bone to cane

From bone to cane

The quenas are quite simple aerophones: an open pipe (usually at both ends) with a varying number of finger holes and one end bevelled into a mouthpiece. Their simplicity turns them into one of the earliest musical instruments to be made by human individuals, not only in the Americas but also in many other parts of the world.

The Argentine musicologist Rubén Pérez Bugallo explains that among the oldest quenas recovered from archaeological sites in the Andes there are bone instruments with tree finger holes made by a hunting, herding and horticultural society settled in Inca Cueva (Jujuy, north-western Argentina; 2130 BC). According to Chilean José Pérez de Arce, the same instrument appears in the hands of a mummy found in the burial site of Sequitor (San Pedro de Atacama culture, north of Chile).

During the Late Pre-Ceramic period (3500-1800 BC), three finger hole quenas appear alongside five finger hole quenas, especially in the region of Arica and Tarapacá (north of Chile), where they were made of pelican bone. Both types would have been used until the Tawantinsuyu or "Inca Empire" period.

The Bolivian musician and researcher Ernesto Cavour indicates the presence of lithic quenas in the Chicha culture of Bolivia; some pieces are exhibited at the Museum of Musical Instruments in La Paz. In present-day Peru, the history of the quena can be traced back nearly 3000 thousand years: archaeological evidence include bone instruments associated to Pre-Columbian cultures such as Chavín (900-200 BC), Mochica (100-800 AD), Nazca (100 B.C.-800 AD), Chancay (1000-1470 AD), Lima (100-650 AD) and Inca (1483-1533 AD). In addition to these findings, which comprise different types of quenas (with a varying number of finger holes and different carved patterns), the Andean aerophone is also represented in Moche and Nazca ceramic art. Finally, the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Peru houses a few ceramic quenas belonging to the Chincha culture (1000-1450 AD).

Generally speaking, these Pre-Hispanic flutes usually had between four and six finger holes, and different shaped embouchures (triangular-, half-moon-, rectangular- and U-shaped notches). Although most of the early musical instruments found in these cultures are made of stone and bone (from different mammals and birds, and if legends are to be believed, even from human beings), among the pre-Columbian quenas that has arrived to our days there are also some made of river cane, wood and metal. Their morphology, tuning and sound have little or nothing to do with those of modern "standard" quenas, which bear an extraordinary resemblance to European flutes. Fortunately, in many rural and indigenous Andean communities (and in some urban areas as well) it is still possible to listen to a number of different types of quenas and different ways of playing them, which have inherited the character of those ancient instruments from pre-Hispanic times.

Article. "Quena de hueso", in Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art [es].
Chapter. "Canta la flauta". Book. "Música en la piedra", by José Pérez de Arce [es].

Picture 01. Chancay bone quena 01.
Picture 02. Chancay bone quena 01.
Picture 03. Mochica bone quena .
Picture 04. Bone quenas, Museum of Puruchuco (Lima, Peru).
Picture 05. Bone quenas, Regional Museum of Sechín (Ancash, Peru).
Picture 06. Nazca bone quenas, Regional Museum of Ica (Peru).
Picture 07. Bone quena found in Machu Picchu.
Picture 08. Bone flute from Huacho (Peru), at the Geneva Museum of Ethnography, Switzerland.
Picture 09. Bone quena from the Valley of Pachacamac (Peru), in Pontifical Catholic Univesity of Peru.
Picture 10. Mochica ceramic pot vessel with an anthropomorphic peanut playing a quena.
Picture 11. Quena from the Chincha culture (Peru).

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