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Native Flutes of South America

  Ocarina Flute  
  Quena Flute Tarka Flute
South American Panpipes
Moseno Flute
Llama at Machu Picchu  

Andean flutes were sometimes made of the bones of the llama - an animal held sacred by the Incas.


This charming photograph depicts a wild llama at Machu Picchu - a mountain fastness of the Inca lords. Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Cock of the Rock  

The Cock of the Rock, just one bright gleam in the kaleidoscope of South American birds.

Putting South American Flutes in Context

From the cloudy-headed peaks of the Altiplano, to the brilliantly alive ecosystem of the rainforests, to the long stretch of coastal desert where not one drop of rain has ever been known to fall, western South America is a region varied enough to befit the wide variety of Peoples who have dwelt there since time immemorial. Climate, geography and culture seem to have uniquely singled out the country we know as Peru to be the living heart of all this activity, and this land is almost synonymously equated with the Incas. Yet, long before the Incas, whose Empire corresponds only with something as recent as the European Renaissance, immensely complex and gifted cultures dwelt along the three chains of the Andes, leaving monumental records behind them with their cities, temples, villages, arts and the landrace crops that have become the major components of the world's food basket today (corn, beans, potatoes, squashes, peppers and more).

It is during the Honda, Lauricocha III, Viscachani periods (4200 BC - 2500) that some of the earliest musical instruments have been found and extensive artifacts are associated with the Nasca (1,100 BC - 750 AD), Paracas (600 BC - 175 BC), and the Moche (100 AD - 800 AD) Cultures. Discovered history in Peru dates back more that 10,000 years and it was the descendents of the many ancient Peoples who lived across the Andes and along the Amazon River who became the subjects of the Inca Rulers between 1442 AD and 1572 AD. Every year, archaeologists discover yet more city and temple complexes in regions of South America that became overgrown with unmanaged jungle after the European invasion, and while our understanding of this vast continent is only in its infancy, it is safe to conjecture that much that is magnificent and remarkable in the story of mankind is deeply rooted in South America.

When the violent and merciless conquistadores of the Renaissance arrived on these shores, they had gold and jewels on their minds. Today, the world has come to see South America's real treasures as its unique ecology and every year, tremendous numbers of eco-tourists travel there to view the mountains and waterfalls, lakes and rivers, and most especially, the phenomenal bird life. Picture the rainbow of brilliant-plumed macaws, the fire orange cock-of-the-rock and the gem tones of tiny hummingbirds, sipping from bowers of glowing tropical blossoms. And the songs! The rainforest is never silent, and researchers are making a very sensible guess when they conjecture that the music of birds must have inspired the Indigenous Peoples to try to match it. In point of fact, some ancient wind instruments were actually made of the bones and quills of birds, while many others were formed of clay in the shapes of birds. And, what instrument can compete with the Andean Quena for producing a truly lilting, birdlike sound?


Can you imagine the South America that was, before the wreckage of conquest, before the diseases that caused a 95% depopulation of the continent? It is the hope of the authors of that the recent value people are coming to feel for the ecology of South America will lead to a similar value for the Indigenous Peoples who have defied all odds by surviving in these lands with their languages, their customs and their incomparable music. Few other World Musics can equal the Andean repertoire for warming hearts and lifting spirits. To this day, travelers to countries like Peru and Bolivia take delight in the traditional folk music, played on such instruments as the Ocarina, Siku, Quena and Charango. This article contains photos of traditional Andean flutes, videos so that you can see and hear them played and links for further learning.

Ocarina Ocarina
True to the theory that man invented flutes to mimic the birds he admired, the Ocarina shown here is beautifully shaped in avian form. Some of the earliest-known ocarinas (2000 BC) hail from coastal Ecuador and they are sold on the streets of South American cities to this day, often brightly painted with wonderful Indigenous designs. Read Complete Ocarina Article.

See and Hear this Flute Played:

Gentleman demonstrating his own Ocarina

Quena Flute Quena
Deserved of being one of the best-loved flutes in the world, the Andean Quena (or Kena) is distinguished by the notch in the mouthpiece and its incomparable bird-like sound. The Quena is often called the Flute of the Incas, and while its actual origins may predate this Empire, many wonderful examples have been found of Incan Quena flutes, some made of bone, others of native cane. The Quena typically features six tone holes along the front and a thumb hole at the back. Read Complete Quena Flute Article.

See and Hear this Flute Played:

A close look at the Quena, in Spanish

Tarka Flute Tarka
This native flute of Bolivia features six holes, a unique hexagonal cross section and is often stunningly hand-carved with designs of llamas, birds, faces and traditional geometrics. The tone of the Tarka flute is like no other - strong, hoarse, and certain to be an utterly distinct addition to any flute collection. Closely associated with the agrarian traditions of the majestic Andean cultures, the Tarka now plays a pivotal role in the annual Carnaval de Oruro. Read Complete Tarka Flute Article.

See and Hear this Flute Played:

Augustin Portillo, a musician from La Paz plays Tarka

Siku Siku Panpipes
Also called the Antara or Zampoña, Andean panpipes come in a tremendous variety of sizes - from the handheld to models so long, they must be played standing up. Early Siku Panpipes were made of cane, Condor quills and clay, like the one shown here, but today, the majority of them made for the world market are crafted from readily-available bamboo. They may have anywhere from 1 to 3 tiers of tubes and some, like the Rondador, feature chorded pipes, making a unique music. Read Complete Panflute Article.

See and Hear this Flute Played:

Tips on playing the Andean Panpipes

Moseno Flute Moseno
Traditionally a high pitched ensemble instrument, but now being prized as a bass, solo flute, the Moseno hails from the canton of Mohosa in Bolivia. The unique construction of this fipple flute, with it's external mouthpiece pipe, enables this wind instrument to be played as a transverse flute, with the flutist's mouth and hands in a comfortable, natural proximity. Made of bamboo, the Moseno is fabulous addition to any South American Native Flute collection. Read Complete Moseno Flute Article.

See and Hear this Flute Played:

Talented Flutist Adrián Altamura playing Moseño

This page is growing. Come back soon for more South American Flute stories. signature flute bird

Native Flutes Walking wishes you joy through music, and a good journey along the Native flute path.