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Native Flutes of Mesoamerica

 
  Double Flute/Drone Flute Ocarina Flute Mesoamerican Panpipes  
Great Mayan Pyramid at Tikal  

One of the great Mayan pyramids, at Tikal. A civilization capable of building such monuments were also able to use their ingenuity in music.

Putting Mesomerican Flutes in Context

The tropical rainforests that remain on the borders of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize hint at the lush greenness of the Mesoamerica that was, cradling the gulf, pounded by hurricanes, bustling with life and activity. Out of these verdant jungles rose the great Mayan Civilization, spanning an astounding 3500 years - time enough to fully develop a written language and literature, an understanding of calendrical time the accuracy of which surpasses our own, a deep knowledge of astronomy, towering pyramids and cities, and a raised mound system of farming that supported the people for millennia.

 

The Maya had such a remarkable understanding of the connectedness of life and ecosystems, they were able to organize a food system in which broken sherds of pottery and other refuse raised tracts of earth up out of the water, ready to be planted. Between the rows of corn, peppers and other crops, waterlilies throve in the waterways and these plants fed the fish which added further nutrients to the local diet. From time to time, the waterplants themselves were harvested and used to fertilize the row crops. Meanwhile, a flurry of boats plied the watercourses, bringing salt from one corner of the empire to exchange for fish, produce and other goods in other quarters. Everything moved in a circle and cycle and this view of life on a human scale extended into the Mayans' conception of cosmic time, too.

It is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies in the history of civilizations that officials of the invading Spanish church and government destroyed nearly all of the books and texts of the Maya. Only three known codices remain to us today. Had these treasures been preserved, we would doubtless have utterly exact and clear records of so many of the things which mystify the archaeological world today. How does one explain, for instance, the occurrence of near-identical ziggurat pyramids in places as far flung as Egypt, Sudan, Oman, Peru and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mesoamerica without the key of global sea travel the record of which has been all but forgotten? Indigenous traditions spanning both American continents, and petroglyphs depicting many varieties of ships, point to an ancient seagoing history and the global dispersion of certain plants back up this little-understood picture of mankind's past, but had the Mayan libraries not been destroyed, we might have totally matter-of-fact accounts of this age of exploration and trade. Words can hardly express this loss.

Following on the heels of the Mayans, the Aztec Empire erected its center of power at Tenochtitlan (present day Mexico City), building new pyramids and establishing colleges for young Aztec men who were expected to master a number of subjects including poetry and moral thought. Modern sensationalism tends to dwell on the element of human sacrifice in these early Mesoamerican societies, and as utterly repugnant as this is, space should also be given to lesser-known but remarkable nuances of the ancestral Aztecans. These people revered flowers and wrote verses and verses of poetry and song about them. Threaded through this lyrical concept of beauty is the story of Mesoamerican music.

 

Both the Mayan and Aztecan cultures sang, danced and played on a variety of rattles, trumpets, whistles and flutes and the best-documented of these are the ocarina, the double flute and the panflute. To this day, the descendants of the Maya and Aztecs are still living in their ancestral homes and playing these remarkable, ancient instruments. This article offers you photos of traditional Mesoamerican music, videos so that you can see and hear these instruments played and links for further learning.


Ocarina Ocarina
Technically termed a 'vessel flute', the Ocarina may be one of the oldest instruments of the Americas. Some researches point to gourds and other fruits and vegetables as the original inspiration for this wind instrument (a phenomenon documented in the story of pottery, as well) and as time progressed, clay became the most common Ocarina medium. Wonderful sculptures of birds, people and animals formed the vessels of ancient ocarinas, as well as simple ovals and rounds. Today, the descendants of the ancestral Mayan and Aztecan Peoples continue to make these wonderful, small flutes which have gained global popularity. Read Complete Ocarina Article.

See and Hear this Flute Played:

Gentleman demonstrating his own Ocarina


Panpipes Panpipes
While most Panpipes being sold today are made of non-indigenous bamboo, archaeological findings attest to these multi-tubed instruments being crafted from native cane, clay and copper. Some examples have as few as three pipes, others more than 30, and sizes range from the hand-held to models so long, the flutist must play them standing upright. In modern times, the breathy, lovely sound of the panpipes has become standard in fusion arrangements, New Age recordings and the catalog of World Music. Read Complete Panflute Article.

See and Hear this Flute Played:

Tips on playing the Andean Panpipes


Double Flute/Drone Flute Double Flute/Drone Flute
The archaeological record attests to significant manufacture of the fascinating double flute along the gulf coast and occidental regions of Mexico between 300 BC - 150 AD. The district of Colima, with its ancient pyramid, appears to have been an early double flute hot spot. Researchers hypothesize that the psychoacoustic sounds produced by these clay double flutes enhanced religious rituals. Today, modern Mesoamerican double flute makers are keeping this flute form alive. Read Complete Double Flute/Drone Flute Article.

See and Hear this Flute Played:

Aztecan style double flute music

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