Object: Flute

E/1956/25/1
Quena, flute
Peru: Inca, Quechua
Materials: Copper

Traditionally constructed from bone, ceramic or cane, this flute known as the quena is considered a fundamental aspect of South American music. Research suggests that it was developed during the reign of the Inca Empire, which spanned over a vast portion of the continent, and was centralized in the Andes Mountains of Peru. There is evidence, however, that notched flutes similar to the quena were being used by the Moche culture along the Peruvian coast, dating back to 100 CE.

In the mid 15th century, a power began to rise in the mountains of Peru, eventually becoming the Inca Empire, ranging from Columbia in the north all the way to Chile in the South. The Incas were very successful at maintaining control over the various indigenous peoples within their empire, and had an extremely effective method of food production and storage. They also were skilled architects, erecting temples, cities and complex road systems with precision. The Inca people, along with their technological and agricultural advancements, were highly ritualistic. Dancing and music at festivals is likely how the quena flute became integrated into the Inca culture, and later dispersed to other regions in the Americas.

This particular instrument is a contemporary version of the traditional quena, and like many others, is made of copper. A distinct feature of quena flutes is a notch in the mouthpiece, typically in a U, V or square shape. The different shapes of the notch result in slightly different acoustics, but all quenas produce a light, lyrical, bird-like sound. While the quena is historically significant, it continues to be in use today throughout South America, in both traditional festivals in the Andean region and also incorporated into contemporary, popular music. [Kristina Sokolowsky]

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