Variant spellings of this unique wind instrument include Moceño, Moxeño
and Mohoceño, and there are great variations in Moseño size, but the most
easily recognized of these fipple flutes is the low, bass Moseño with its
external mouthpiece pipe. Believed to have originated in the Canton de Mohosa,
Bolivia, the Moseño originates amongst the Aymara-speaking Peoples and is
central to the matrimonial Mosenada Dance. This unusual transverse bamboo
flute has a full, compassionate tone when played that is very stirring to
hear. This article contains photos, videos, maps, detailed information,
a flutemaker comparison chart,
and more to increase your understanding and appreciation of the Bolivian
This original illustration depicts a plain but beautifully made Moseño flute.
Note the external pipe mouthpiece and the unusual placement of the tone holes.
Moseños come in both upright and transverse forms in a variety of sizes.
They are typically made of bamboo.
Click Images for Enlarged View
This photograph depicts decorative moseños which have been painted
red and embellished with white designs. It is important to remember
that some ornate moseños are made for the tourist trade and may not
be the best for actual playing.
This photograph depicts Argentinean flutemaker, Gonzalo Ceballos,
demonstrating the way a moseño flute is held and played. The
moseño is one of the few transverse Indigenous flutes on the
A Map of Mohosa, origin of the Moseño flute, in the Sica Sica
region of Bolivia.
To date, there is little agreement amongst flute makers and musicians as
to the exact antiquity of the Moseño Flute; you will find it being referenced
as both a pre-Columbian and post-Columbian instrument. However, it is generally
agreed upon that this wind instrument was first made by the Aymara-speaking
peoples in the Canton de Mohosa of Bolivia, south of La Paz. The alternate
spelling of this flute, Mohoceño, corroborates this opinion, though some
past researchers have mistakenly concluded that the flute originated in the
city of Moxos.
Further mystery surrounds the true origins of the Moseño Flute
because of its striking similarity to a flute called the Fujara which is found
today in Slovakia. The near-match in construction and tone between the Fujara
and Moseño flutes has lead to debate as to whether the Indigenous Bolivians
may have been influenced, perhaps during the Renaissance, by flutes brought to
South America by European invaders.
At Native Flutes Walking, we would like to point out that reconstructed
history often errs on the side of being Euro-centric, and that it should also
be considered that the Fujara might have arisen in Europe due to travelers'
encounters with the Moseño in the 'New World'. Such a hypothesis is not at all far-fetched when
one considers that another native flute, the Ocarina,
became a popular
instrument in 1527 when Hernan Cortez sent a group of Aztec musicians and
dancers to the court of Charles V. Might not the Moseño/Fujara likeness be
the result of similar contact? The Fujara is considered to be an anomaly,
developed in isolation as a strange surprise in Slovakia. Could this instrument
be so unusual on the European musical instrument scene because it owes its
origins to a completely different continent? More research into the history
of both flutes is needed to reach more sound conclusions.
What is known is that early Moseño flutes were tuned to a high register,
unlike the most commonly found low-register Moseños today. Both upright and
transversal (played held crosswise) Moseño flutes are traditional in this
beautiful region of valleys, plateaus and mountains, and the length of the
flutes vary from approximately 20 to 60 inches. Likewise, the number of holes
in a Moseño may be as few as 3 and as many as 6 or more. The ingenious mounted
mouthpiece tube on the largest, transversal Moseños enables the flutist to
place his mouth in comfortable proximity to his hands as the sound holes are
covered and uncovered. Like the Quena Flute
of the Andes, and often grouped with it, the Moseño is commonly tuned to the
modern diatonic scale.
Moseños are generally played in ensembles, with different musicians playing
fifths and octaves above the base notes with a mix of both upright and
transversal Moseños. The traditional use of these ensembles was for nuptial
ceremonies. Typically taking place at night in Indigenous Bolivian villages,
musicians would form a procession ending in a meeting between the prospective
bride and groom's parents who would then publicly agree to the proposed
Modern musicians are extremely fortunate to have the Moseño as a choice of
wind instrument. Its existence today is owing to the determination and
hardihood of the Indigenous Bolivians who have survived devastating invasion
and oppression. The Sica Sica region of Bolivia where the Moseño Flute is
considered to have originated, is home to the martyred culture hero, Tupac
Catari. This brave Aymara Indian fomented a successful rebellion and laid siege
to the city of La Paz in the 1780s before his capture and execution at the
hands of the Spanish. It has taken many individual acts of heroism by countless
Indigenous Bolivians to keep their language and cultural traditions intact and
when you hear or play the Moseño, you are hearing the story of survival against
Variety of moseños being played in a Mosenada parade.
Photo Credit: YouTube
THE MOSENO FLUTE IN MODERN TIMES
Modern flutemaker Àngel Sampedro del Rió playing a Moseño
Photo Credit: YouTube
Travelers to Bolivia may be lucky enough to attend the Carnaval festival in
the week preceding Lent, 40 days before Easter. Part of the festivities include
the Danza Mosenada (Mosenada Dance) in which young men and women form a parade
that includes both dancing and ensembles of Moseño flutes of all sizes. Recent
recognition of the important part instruments like the Moseño play in folk
history has also made it possible for locals and natives to see the Mosenada
Dance performed professionally in Bolivian halls and theaters.
In rural Bolivia, you will still encounter the high-pitched Moseño flutes,
believed to be the most traditional form, but throughout the Andes you will
find examples of these flutes and in Argentina, the tradition of the bass,
transverse Moseño is especially common.
Ensemble playing is still the most prevalent use of the Moseño, but its
beautiful tone is leading many modern flutists to view it as a solo instrument.
To Western ears, the higher pitched Moseños may have a slightly shrill, harsh
sound, but those of lower pitch have an deeply appealing, spiritual tone,
somewhat like the Anasazi Flute/Ancestral Pueblo Flute
of the American Southwest.
Materials Used in Moseño Construction
Modern Moseños are constructed of bamboo and may be quite plain, or lavishly
decorated with painted or carved designs. In buying a Moseño, it is important
to understand that fancy trappings do not necessarily guarantee quality, and
Moseño enthusiasts caution visitors to South America to be aware that many
Moseños are poorly made for the tourist trade. Ideally, you would be able to
play any Moseño you are considering buying before actually purchasing it, and
if you live in a cosmopolitan North American city, your local musical
instrument store may even stock a Moseño or two. More typically, however,
native flute enthusiasts will be going online to find a Moseño flute maker
and the following chart will help you connect with craftsmen and importers
who offer these flutes.
*Please note: the more unusual a flute of Central
and South America is, the more valuable a knowledge of the Spanish language
will be to flute players seeking it. Some of the sites listed here are in
Spanish only, and require that you contact the owner for prices and
The Aymara People have inhabited the Altiplano and Andes of Bolivia, Peru
and Chile for thousands of years and some 2,000,000 still call this majestic
region home. In their more recent history, the Aymara Peoples became subjects
of Inca rule and it is actually speculated that the secret language of the
Inca lords was a form of Aymara. Rich in history, tradition and culture, the
Aymara Peoples have so much that is inspiring and educational to share with the
world. Flutes like the Moseño, the Tarka,
and the Quena
all hail from the South American Continent and are considered to be
irreplaceable treasures of the ancient world.
For the Aymara Peoples, the traditional spiritual value of the Moseño
extends in an unbroken line from past to present, and with the growing modern
interest in Indigenous and World Music, the music of flutes like these is now
being heard and celebrated around the globe. This cross-cultural exchange of
instruments has the potential to spark new traditions amongst new groups of
people. For example, understanding that the sound of the Moseño is linked to
nuptial rites, a music-loving couple in the United States might decide to
arrange to have this flute played at their wedding. Or, folk music groups
in North America might acquire and learn to play the Moseño flute and ask to
participate in their own local parades and festivals.
In the United States, we tend to hear very little news of the lives of the
Indigenous People of South America who have overcome so many hardships. Their
story is worth listening to, and if you find yourself drawn to Andean music,
your sense of gratitude and goodwill towards these southern neighbors may
greatly enrich your enjoyment of music. While a Moseño will not likely be the
first flute a beginning native flute player should buy, musicians with an
ever-widening interest in the flutes of the Americas will want to one day
add this very unique wind instrument to their repertoire.
Recommended Books and Films on Andean History
Music in the Andes: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture, Thomas Torino
Moving Away from Silence: Music of the Peruvian Altiplano and the Experience of Urban Migration, Thomas Torino
1491, Charles C. Mann
On VHS: The Incas: The Wonders of the Inca Civilization, (Odyssey) 1980