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

May 11, 2017

Turtle shells in traditional Latin American music

Turtle shells in traditional Latin American music

Part 02. Chaco


 

The natural region known as Chaco (from Quechua chaku, "hunting place") that stretches across portions of what is today Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, is the homeland of a number of indigenous societies belonging to the Guaykuruan, Mascoyan, Matacoan, Tupian and Zamucoan linguistic families.

In current Paraguay, Szarán (1997) documents turtle shells among the Ayoreo or Ayoréiode people (departments of Boquerón and Alto Paraguay), who use them to make a maraca called xoxo, as well as among the neighboring Chamacoco or Yshyr people (department of Alto Paraguay).

The Chamacoco people used shells of small turtles to build the polarosho or polasho. Also made of hooves, seeds and/or snail shells, the polarosho is a rattle employed by shamans, who tie it to their wrists or ankles, or place it on the end of a stick or around their waists. According to Sequera (2002), the shamans of the Tomárâho people (a Chamacoco subgroup) also take advantage of turtle shells (from Chelonoidis carbonaria, known as enermitak in the Yshyr language) to make their maracas osecha or paikâra.

In Bolivia, the Ayoreo people of the department of Santa Cruz use the shells (usually from Chelonoidis chilensis and Acanthochelys pallidpectoris, but also from Chelonoidis carbonaria and Chelonoidis denticulata) to make jingle bells called orohoró (Bórmida, 2005). They are provided with a wooden clapper made of palo santo (Bulnesia sarmientoi). Ayoreo hunters carry them hanging from their waists to communicate with each other; in addition, they believe that by taking parts of a turtle with them they become increasingly silent. They are also worn to enter as well as to leave the camp during the festival asohsná, one of the few religious ceremonies performed by the Ayoreo.

Each jingle bell is considered either "male" or "female" according to the gender of the turtle, which can be distinguished by the shape of the plastron (the female is flat and the male is sunk).

In the department of Beni, Cavour (1994) quotes the resonador de peta: a shell of a river turtle (called peta in eastern Bolivia) which is struck with a drumstick made of bone, or rubbed with beeswax and played with the fingers.

 

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About this article

Text: Edgardo Civallero.

Image: Turtle shell from the Parapetí River (Bolivia) [www.kringla.nu].

This is the second 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.