A guided tour through the sounds of Latin American traditional music, its instruments and performers. By Edgardo Civallero

May 25, 2017

Turtle shells in traditional Latin American music

Turtle shells in traditional Latin American music

Part 03. Peruvian and Colombian lowlands


 

In the lowlands of eastern Peru, the Culina or Madija people living in the upper parts of the rivers Purús and Santa Rosa (department of Ucayali) play the teteco, a shell of motelo (Chelonoidis denticulata) that has one of its ends smeared with resin of the tree cacaraba (Inga feuilleei). The rosined end is rubbed with the fingers. The sound made by the teteco accompanies the melody of a panpipe made of 2 reed tubes, called api (SIL, 1999; Chavez et al., 2008).

In Colombia, according to Miñana Blasco (2009), the Cubeo people from the Vaupés basin (departments of Vaupés and Guaviare and neighboring areas of the Brazilian state of Amazonas) use the shell of the turtles makáku+nbó (macacûùbo or morrocoy, Geochelone carbonaria) and jiákumi (jiacûùbo, Podocnemis expansa) to build idiophones. They are used to perform instrumental music and to accompany popular songs (yiriaino) together with panpipes and whistles made of deer skulls (Mendoza Duque, 1992).

Miñana Blasco also mentions the kjúumuhe of the Bora people (department of Amazonas), a friction idiophone that is no longer in use since the large collective fishing activities where it was played together with a small panpipe are no longer carried out (Novati and Ruiz, 1984).

The Camsá or Camentsá people (departments of Putumayo and Nariño) have an instrument similar to the former one, called torturés (Igualada and Castelví, 1938); the Ika or Arhuaco people (Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta) own the turtle shell kúngüi (Bermudez, 2006); and the Tikuna people from the Colombian "Amazonian Trapezium" (and nearby areas of Brazilian state of Amazonas) possess the turtle shell torí. A gift from the Tikuna mythical hero Yoi or Yoí, the latter is struck with a twig of ubu tree to accompany household songs, or played during community festivals like the yüü, the female initiation. In addition to the last two instruments, Bermudez (1985) also mentions a turtle shell idiophone played by the Inga people (department of Putumayo).

Regarding the Tukano or Yepa-masa people (departments of Vaupés and Guaviare, and the Brazilian state of Amazonas), there are museum references to turtle shells (ICANH, 2012) apparently played by friction ― like the ones collected during the expedition of Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff to the Vaupés area in 1967.

In the department of Vaupés, the Carapana or Karapana people play the ujerica, and the neighboring Barasana, Paneroa or Southern Barasano people, the gu coro. Settled in that same region, the Bara, Waimaja or Northern Barasano, the Piratapuyo or Wa'ikâná and the Tatuyo peoples also use turtle shells as musical instruments; the first ones play them together with a panpipe, and the Piratapuyo call them kuú (ILV, 1973). According to the same source, the Cacua or Kakwâ people (department of Guaviare) play shells to accompany small panpipes with 2-3 tubes, as also do the Macuna or Southern Buhágana people, who call the instrument gusiraga coro. All of them have a piece of beeswax attached to one end and are played by finger or palm friction.

 

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About this article

Text: Edgardo Civallero.

Image: Turtle shell of the Tukano people (Colombia) [ICANH].

This is the third part of the digital book Turtle shells in traditional Latin American music, by Edgardo Civallero, which may be read online on Issuu and freely downloaded here.