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Panpipes of the Americas

One of the earliest instruments of the Americas, ancient Panpipes or Panflutes have been excavated from South America all the way north to Canada, with oldest known examples dating back to 4200 BC. Peru is deemed the origin of this gorgeous instrument, and modern Andean panpipes, which may be called Siku, Antara or Zampoña, are very popular today across the continents and around the globe. This article contains photos, videos, maps, detailed information, a flutemaker comparison chart, and more to increase your understanding and appreciation of the native Panpipes.

Peruvian Nasca Culture panpipes, dated to between 100-600 A.D.

This original illustration depicts Peruvian Nasca Culture panpipes, dated to between 100-600 A.D. These ancient panpipes are made of terra cotta, embellished with anthropomorphic and geometric patterns. They measure some 9.5" in height.


This ancient and rare instrument was recently auctioned off from a private European collection.



Click Images for Enlarged View

Panpipes Photo

This photo depicts the Rondador. It is the national instrument of Ecuador, and is distinct because the pipes are chorded, producing two tones at the same time.

This photo depicts a typical set of modern Siku panpipes from Chile. This is the type of instrument most people purchase today.

Panpipes Photo



Modern Video featuring variety of Siku Pipes


Young man playing Ecuadorian Rondador panpipe to recorded music


Impressive musician playing zampoña and charango


Interview with Sr. Alejandro Turpo, master panpipes maker


Tips on playing the Andean Panpipes


Siku Players

Peruvian musicians in traditional dress playing the Siku together.

Long before the conquistadores, long before the Incas, the music of the woodwind instrument we call the Panpipes or Panflute was echoing across both American continents. As the discipline of modern archaeology continues to grow, researchers are slowly beginning to come to an understanding of the pivotal importance of Peru in the story of mankind. Today, much of the world's food supply (corn, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, sunflowers) owes its origins to the uniquely gifted farmers of ancient Andean civilizations. These vital crops slowly spread north from South America so that by the time Europeans arrived in what would become the United States, they found these landrace crops being cultivated from one end of the country to the other. It is conjectured that the Panpipes followed a similar process of distribution. The earliest known example of the Panpipes was found at Cahuachi, Peru, dated to 4200 BC - a time that corresponds with what is called the Honda Period of this region.

Researchers point to three different ancient Peruvian cultures as early users of the panpipes: the Nasca Culture (1,100 BC - 750 AD), the Paracas Culture (600 BC - 175 BC), and the Moche Culture (100 AD - 800 AD).


Reed, cane, ceramic, condor quill and bone panpipes have been found across the Andes, into the Central American territories of the Maya and Aztec civilizations, to the Cahokia complex on the Mississippi River, to the Ohio River Valley site of the Hopewell Tradition. Believed to have been used for everything from ceremonial rites to personal expression, the distribution of this multi-tubed woodwind is truly impressive.

When we use the words Pan Pipes or Pan Flutes to describe this instrument, we are using European terminology, referencing the Greek god of rustic music, Pan. Panflutes have a long history in both Europe and Asia, but indigenous instruments of this type have their own terminology. The following is an explanation of some of the major panpipes of the American continents:


Hopewellian Panpipes Hopewellian Panpipes
The Hopewell Tradition or Culture is a term applied by archaeologists to diverse Native American populations inhabiting much of the Eastern Woodlands of North America between 200 BC - 500 AD. This region spans Southeastern Canada to the Southeastern United States, and as far inland as the Mississippi River and is most commonly described as centered in the Ohio River Valley. A large number of panpipes have been found in this area, frequently as burial artifacts. Hopewellian Panpipes have 3 or 4 tubes made of cane, reed, copper or bone, held together by a jacket of copper, silver or iron. It is conjectured that they were used in hunting, courting and war. Amongst the Chippewa, there is a story of a flutist helping a hunchbacked figure with an insect-like face (remarkably similar to Kokopelli of the Southwest).

Historic Distribution of American Panpipes  

Historic Distribution of American Panpipes

Individual flutemakers in the differing regions of the Eastern Woodlands put their own unique style into the panpipes they made, but researchers believe that techniques were shared across regional groups throughout the area.


Siku, Antara or Zampoña
Native to the Andes, which extend through the states of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, the Siku is also referred to in Quechua as the Antara, or in Spanish as the Zampoña (meaning 'tubes'). Variations in the construction of these instruments are many.


The Siku is thought to have originated in Peru, most closely associated with the Aymara speaking peoples who live around Lake Titicaca. It is of small surprise, considering the amazing boats historically built of the strong totora reeds indigenous to the large lake, that the local culture would develop complex tubular woodwinds. Today, most Siku are made of bamboo. Andean Panpipes may have one to three rows of tubes and come in a wide variety of sizes including:

Siku Panpipes Photo  

3 Siku Panpipes in varying sizes

  • Ika or Chulli (the smallest size)
  • Malta (next size up)
  • Sanka or Zanka (an octave lower than the Malta)
  • Toyo or Jach'a (the largest panflute)

Today, the commonly found siku is the Siku Ch'alla, which is typically comprised of 13 tubes, though varieties with more or less tubes are made. On some panflutes, the tubes are open-ended, and on others, they are stopped.


The Rondador is the national instrument of Ecuador and is distinct in that the chorded pipes produce two tones simultaneously. It is typically made of cane, closed at the ends of the tubes. The number of tubes typically varies between 20 and 32.

Owing to the chromatic scale found in early Rondadors, it is conjectured by some researchers that the Rondador is a post-Colombian instrument. This is explained by the fact that the chromatic scale was not known to the Incas, but more study of this is required to make a definite conclusion about the origins of this pan flute.


Mayan/Aztec Panpipes
Examples like the one shown at the beginning of this article have been found through archaeological exploration of ancient Mayan and Aztec cities in southern Central America.


Historic Documentation Of The Andean Panpipes
Some of our earliest written accounts of South American music come from the amazing 1,189 page illustrated account of Inca life, called Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno, written by Indigenous Peruvian, Guoman Puma (Waman Puma in Quechua) in the early 1600s. This invaluable, detailed depiction of the history of the Incas and their mistreatment at the hands of Spanish invaders includes a chapter on music and festivals containing a reference to flute playing:

"Canciones y múcicas del Ynga y de los demás señores deste rreyno y de los yndios llamado haraui [canción de amor] y uanca [canción] a, pingollo [flauta], quena quena [danza aymara] en la lengua general quichiua, aymara."
(Page 317, El Capitulo De Las Fiestas, Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno, Waman Puma)

"El Inca" Garcilaso de la Vega was a man of mixed Inca and Spanish heritage, and his Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru is incredibly detailed. In this tremendous work, penned in 1609, accounts of both the panpipes and courting flute are included:

"They had flutes with four or five stops, like those of shepherds. These were not for use together in consort, but played separately, for they did not know how to harmonize measured verse and were mostly concerned with the passions of love, its pleasure and pain, and the favor or coldness of the beloved. Every song had its known tune, and they could not sing two different songs to the same tune. This was because the lover who serenaded his lady with his flute at night told her and everybody else of the pleasure or sorrow produced by her favor or coldness by means of the tune he played, and if two different songs had had the same tune, no one would have known which he meant. One might say that he talked with his flute."
(Chapter 26, Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru, "El Inca" Garcilaso de la Vega, 1609

Illustration from Guoman Poma's Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno

Illustration from Guoman Poma's
Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno
See complete text of this amazing chronicle

Modern Indigenous musicians are still playing traditional Andean panpipes to this day

Modern Indigenous musicians are still playing traditional Andean panpipes to this day.

In a phenomenon similar to that of the Native American Plains Flute, the Andean Panflute has enjoyed a surge of international popularity over the past three decades. Residents of the United States, in particular, had their interests piqued by television commercials advertising the recordings of Romanian panflutist, Gheorghe Zamfir in the 1980s. The incorporation of both European and Indigenous American panflute into popular music, New Age music and World music has introduced an international audience to the energetic and lovely sound of this ancient woodwind. A testament to the wide acceptance of this instrument is the fact that most late 20th century electronic synthesizers included panflute as a synthesized or sampled sound in their menus.


Modern students of the Zampoña/Siku/Antara should understand that the Indigenous American Panflute is still very much in use across South and Central America where people of all ages play this instrument in music groups, for festivals or for pure personal enjoyment. One of the best ways to gain inspiration for playing the Zampoña is to listen to recordings of both traditional and modern musicians to get a sense of the varied ways in which this instrument is successfully employed. It is extremely impressive to consider the fact that the tradition of the Siku has survived, along with the Indigenous Peoples, the incursions of disease, conquest, and the pressure to assimiliate into European-based culture.

How Difficult Is It To Play The Indigenous Panpipes?
The main challenge facing the beginner is developing the correct mouth position for playing this multi-tubed instrument. The tubes are held against the chin and air is blown across the rim of the desired tube. In some types of Native Panpipes, two tubes are played simultaneously to achieve a harmony. Once you have developed a correct method of blowing across the tops of the tubes, you will familiarize yourself with the scale of your particular type of Zampoña and be able to begin picking out melodies to play.


Traditionally, Andean Panpipes are tuned to a diatonic scale, though there are varieties featuring three rows of pipes that enable the flutist to play a chromatic scale - like a piano, harp or guitar. On the typical 13 pipe Siku, 6 of the pipes are referred to as arka (female) and the other 7 pipes as ira (male). Today, some panflutes are concert tuned to make them playable with other Western instruments.


When purchasing your Indigenous Panflute, materials may be listed simply as Bamboo, or be designated by the region from which the materials come, such as Alto Beni, Songo or Quime. Residents of the United States may find it very challenging to connect directly with an Indigenous South American panpipes maker. Though many people make these instruments in the Andes, very few have websites. Because of this, most Americans wishing to purchase a Zampoña will need to buy through a shop vending world instruments. The following chart will introduce you to some of the sources for purchasing your first panflute.

Company Native Made? Flutemaker Price Range Materials Special Features Additional Offerings Additional Notes
Shakuhachi Unknown Various $25 - $95 Bamboo This shop sells world flutes, including the malta, chuli, sanka and antara World flutes, accessories A good site for comparing the different types of Andean panpipes.
Visit Site »
Novica Native-made Benito Tito $20 - $40 Bamboo This shop is selling Zampoñas and other instruments by flutemaker, Benito Tito Other Andean instruments, such as the Charango Simple, basic versions of the Indigenous panpipes.
Visit Site »
Tiendas Latinas Unknown, but has Made in Peru option Various $55 - $150 Songo, Quime, Bamboo This shop sells many different types of Andean panflutes Numerous South American products Offers zampoñas for students, concert and professional levels.
Visit Site »
Bolivian Mall Unknown Various $29 - $99 Alto Beni This shop sells many types of Zampoñas Also sells other Andean instruments Offers a nice Panflute bag for protecting your instrument.
Visit Site »

The breathy, ethereal sound of the Indigenous American Panpipes is uniquely appealing, capturing for many listeners a glimpse of the Altiplano, the Amazon Basin, and majestic civilizations of tremendous antiquity. It can be gratifying to play music with such deep, native roots, and while you are practicing on your Antara, Siku or other panflute, Native Flutes Walking encourages you to make an effort to learn about South American cultures.


It has been a long time coming, but modern non-Native researchers are beginning to admit the mistake made by earlier explorers who viewed much of South America as a sprawling jungle, scarcely inhabited. This error lay in the fact that some 95% of the Indigenous people perished from European diseases within very few years of the arrival of the first conquistadores. In the 21st century, archaeologists and anthropologists are finally realizing that - far from being an untamed wilderness - the Amazon Basin was one giant, managed food system, cared for by the most gifted farmers the world has ever known. And, in terms of pre-Columbian population, researchers are now setting it at 20 million people in the Amazon. Everything from small villages to the vast Inca empire is part of the story of South America, but only now are western scholars beginning to comprehend just how complex, ancient and dramatic the history of this continent truly is. Native Flutes Walking will not be surprised if, one day, scientists discover that certain groups of human beings originated in South America, effectively challenging the long-held belief that all human life began in Africa.


In the meantime, however, perhaps the most important thing fans of the Andean panflute can learn is that those civilizations sometimes referred to as 'vanished' or 'mysterious' still exist, right now in the 21st century. You have only to travel to Central or South America to see with your own eyes that the direct descendents of the Maya, the Aztecs, the Inca are still very much alive and well. While the reasons Indigenous Peoples moved away from huge ancient city complexes into smaller communities remain poorly understood, the stories, traditions, music, and, in some cases, the religious practices have continued to the present day in an unbroken line. It is time to stop treating these cultures as mere scientific phenomena, and start speaking directly to the modern Indigenous People about their past. In so doing, researchers will quickly see that these Central and South American Peoples share a common story with the Native Americans and First Nations of the North. By dint of their strength, they have survived unbelievable hardships and are continuing the struggle for survival today in the face of betrayal, prejudiced policies and the abuses of corporate multinationals. Perhaps, one day, all Americans will become educated enough to view all Native Peoples as heroes, and exceptionally precious.

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

Recommended Books on the Andean Panpipes

  • Learn To Play The Siku, Andrew Taher
  • Zampoña (panpipe) Book from

Recommended Websites about Native American Music


The Panpipes May Be Right For You If...

  • You have Indigenous ancestry
  • You respect and admire Andean culture
  • You have good, strong lungs
  • You want an instrument on which you can improve with practice
  • You enjoy strong, breathy tones
  • You love Andean folk music
  • You feel you have music inside you waiting to come out

Music has a wonderful ability to cross cultural boundaries and foster understanding and friendship. If you love the sound of the Andean panpipes and wish to learn to play this instrument, your music may help you to connect with new cultures, new ideas, a new sense of yourself and a new outlook on the history of mankind and the Earth. Of special interest for women may be the Andean tradition of pairs of women, each having a small siku to play, forming lifelong bonds in which they would only play with one another. Wouldn't we all like to have such a unique, musical friendship? Perhaps you will get to join a band, playing Andean-style music with friends, or perhaps your panpipes will simply be about self-expression, quieting down and making the music you feel in your heart. signature flute bird

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