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Burst of Breath

Indigenous Ritual Wind Instruments in Lowland South America

Jonathan David Hill

Publication Year: 2011

The first in-depth, comparative, and interdisciplinary study of indigenous Amazonian musical cultures, Burst of Breath showcases new research on the dynamic range of ritual power and social significance of various wind instruments—including flutes, trumpets, clarinets, and whistles—played in sacred rituals and ceremonies in Lowland South America.

The editors provide a detailed overview of the historical significance, scientific classification, shamanic and cosmological associations, and changing social meanings of ritual wind instruments within Amazonian cultures. These essays present a wide perspective that goes beyond better-documented areas such as the Upper Xingu and northwest Amazon. Some of the authors explore the ways ritual wind instruments are used to introduce natural sounds into social contexts and to cross boundaries between verbal and nonverbal communication. Others look at how ritual wind instruments and their music enter into local definitions and negotiations of relations between men, women, kin, insiders, and outsiders.

Closely considering these instruments in their many roles and contexts—in curing and purification, negotiating relations, connecting mythic ancestors and humans today—this volume reveals the power and complexity of the music at the heart of collective rituals across lowland South America.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-46

This book aims to produce a broadly comparative study of ritual wind instruments (flutes, trumpets, clarinets, and bullroarers) that are subject to strict visual and tactile (but not auditory) prohibitions and that are found among indigenous peoples in many areas of Lowland South America. The type of prohibition can vary...

First Movement: Natural Sounds, Wind Instruments, and Social Communication

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pp. 47-48

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1. Speaking Tubes: The Sonorous Language of Yagua Flutes

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pp. 49-68

Recent anthropological literature on Amazonia has shown that one of the specific ways of communicating with spirits (or with some categories of spirits) entails the choice of a nonverbal sound medium (most commonly an acoustic register, the tone of a voice, whistling, and music) rather than a linguistic one (the possible...

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2. Leonardo, the Flute: On the Sexual Life of Sacred Flutes among the Xinguano Indians

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pp. 69-92

What exactly do we mean when we speak of “sacred flutes” or “rituals”? Answering this question is not easy. Difficulties arise from the fact that we are not dealing merely with flutes. Or better, we are not referring merely to the aerophones typologically identified by the number 421 in the Hornbostel-Sachs’s 1914 system...

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3. Soundscaping the World: The Cultural Poetics of Power and Meaning in Wakuénai Flute Music

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pp. 93-122

In this essay I will document and analyze two complementary processes of creating musical soundscapes among the Arawak-speaking Wakuénai of the Upper Rio Negro region in Venezuela.1 The first of these can be called “cultural soundscaping” and is concerned with the creation of local identities through employing...

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4. Hearing without Seeing: Sacred Flutes as the Medium for an Avowed Secret in Curripaco Masculine Ritual

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pp. 123-146

“The most useful science is the art of dissimulation,” wrote a Jesuit philosopher in 1647 (and he added that “passions are an open door to a man’s mind”) (B. Gracian, maxime 98). He insisted that concealment and secrecy can be necessary in ordinary life and even more so in court life. Religions, too, use dissimulation...

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5. Flutes in the Warime: Musical Voices in the Piaroa World

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pp. 147-170

According to written sources from the colonial period, indigenous Arawak and Sáliva peoples living in the Orinoco basin were performing different forms of Yuruparí rituals at the time of contact with Europeans (Gilij 1965; Gumilla 1988; Humboldt 1991; Romero Moreno 1993). The Warime, a specific variety of Yuruparí...

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6. Desire in Music: Soul-Speaking and the Power of Secrecy

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pp. 171-198

To to ki su´, the white-tailed trogon, began to sing that morning, forcefully and before any other bird. We had been walking for six days in the forest and had camped south of the River of Fire Ants the night before. While crossing the river, we had seen a nearly four-meter-long coral snake skirting an oxbow by a steep...

Second Movement

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pp. 199-200

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7. Archetypal Agents of Affinity: “Sacred” Musical Instruments in the Guianas?

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pp. 201-218

The central Guianas are not a classic area for the study of sacred aerophone cults, and this is arguably because musical instruments there are not really sacred and the rituals that are associated with them are not really about the instruments themselves (as, say, the property of a given clan), the latter being merely tools in ceremonies...

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8. From Flutes to Boom Boxes: Musical Symbolism and Change among the Waiwai of Southern Guyana

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pp. 219-238

Flute music has long held a special place in Waiwai expressions of selfhood and identity. As a medium of communication among men and between men and women, its significance persists and is still recognized by all village members. The use of the flute in dialogue, narrative, seduction, and hunting identifies it as a key...

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9. From Musical Poetics to Deep Language: The Ritual of the Wauja Sacred Flutes

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pp. 239-256

This chapter discusses some aspects of the ritual of the sacred flutes among the Wauja Indians of the Upper Xingu. The universe of the sacred flutes of the Wauja, known as kawoká, is congruent with the “sacred flute complex” observed in other societies of the Upper Xingu and among other peoples of the South...

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10. The Ritual of Iamurikuma and the Kawoká Flutes

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pp. 257-276

The iamurikuma ritual, practiced by the Wauja women, is understood as one side of a ritual-musical complex that allows humans to interact with apapaatai (spirits), which are considered to be both dangerous sources of disease and creative forces governing the fertility of nature (see Robin Wright’s essay, this volume)...

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11. Spirits, Ritual Staging,and the Transformative Power of Music in the Upper Xingu Region

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pp. 277-300

This essay aims to develop a better comprehension of the “complex of the secret flutes” in the Upper Xingu region by highlighting their ritual counterpart, the women’s music and dance, iamurikuma (cf. Menezes Bastos, this volume). The male ritual complex has gained much attention because of its gender exclusivity and...

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12. An “Inca” Instrument at a “Nawa” Feast: Marubo Flutes and Alterity in Amazonian Context

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pp. 301-324

This chapter explores the connections between flute use and concepts of alterity in Amazonia by analyzing a Marubo headman’s comments on flute use. The Marubo, a Panoan society of the Javari River basin in western Brazil, do not have sacred flutes, but their youths play flutes in informal settings such as manioc beer...

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13. Arawakan Flute Cults of Lowland South America: The Domestication of Predationa nd the Production of Agentivity

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pp. 325-354

This chapter presents a comparative view of the centrality of aerophones in the cosmologies and ritual lives of five Arawak-speaking societies of Amazonia: (1) the Wauja of the upper Xingu among whom aerophones, masks, and manufactured objects are attributed agentivity in distinct ritual contexts, many of which...

Coda: Historical and Comparative Perspectives

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pp. 355-356

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14. Sacred Musical Instruments in Museums: Are They Sacred?

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pp. 357-370

In the South American collections of the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna, there are ten ritual musical instruments from the Amazon. Their presence in a museum collection is remarkable, or perhaps even disturbing, because of the way they are culturally constructed: they are regarded as a community’s most meaningful...

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15. Mystery Instruments

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pp. 371-394

The following essay takes the form of commentaries upon the chapters of this volume. Grounded in the rich ethnography and the high quality analysis in these texts, I permit myself a degree of temerity in my interpretations. The commentaries that follow are written from the point of view afforded by my experience...

The Contributors

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pp. 395-400


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pp. 401-433

E-ISBN-13: 9780803238268
E-ISBN-10: 0803238266
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803220928
Print-ISBN-10: 0803220928

Page Count: 440
Illustrations: 26 illustrations, 1 map, 2 tables, 5 figures
Publication Year: 2011