Handmade didgeridoos & Mayan Trumpets

Gerardo Garduño: Didgeridoo / Alberto Yarleke: Flute, Ocarinas. Mexico City, Mexico

The Mayan Trompet, or Hom-Tahs, is a mystery that has yet to be completely deciphered. The strong graphic representations in the Bonampak murals, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, and the investigations carried out by Dr. Justin Kerr, photographer and expert in Mayan pottery, indicate that these trumpets were very important for the Mayans. The instrument likely played a role in both instrumental and vocal musical pieces, closely tied to magical and religious ceremonies, celebrations and battles.

Of the four rooms with painted murals in the arqueological ruins of Bonampak, the trompet is represented in three of the rooms. The murals also clearly show how the instrument was used, its shape and its dimensions. It also shows that the people who played the instruments may have been musicians for the court, which was the heart of many social events. These murals were painted on December 14, 790 A.D., during the late classical period (800-850 A.D.)

Fragmento: Mural de Bonampak, Chiapas, México.  (Muro norte. cuarto 3)

Fragmento: Mural de Bonampak, Chiapas, México. (Muro norte. cuarto 3)

The Hom-Tahs were in use 800 years prior to the arrival of Columbus, 658 years before Leonardo da Vinci.

The Spaniards saw and heard these instruments during the conquest. In 1544, Fray Diego de Landa ordered the burning of many books and poetry which had information about different aspects of the Mayan civilization. He later decided to recover the customs in order to understand them and began to record information about the Mayan culture on the Yucatan peninsula at the time of the conquest. He wrote the book, “Relación de las cosas de Yucatán” in 1566 in which he said: “……and they have long thin trompets made of hollow material, with a long twisted squash (shape) at the end……its sound is somber and sad.”

It is difficult to find instruments or any other historical data from this time period that would indicate the exact way in which the instrument was played, and the way in which the instrument was originally constructed. However, given the way in which the Mayans used all parts of the Agave plant, known as Kí´in Mayan; “in the Yucatan, Kí´ means “sweet or delicious”, and is used to refer to fermented beverages. Since Kí´or Kíj is the word in Mayan for agave, it is possible that pulque (a fermented beverage made from the agave plant) may have been one of the alcoholic beverages of the Mayans that lived in the low lands.”(1) Given that the agave provided food, medicine, and textiles, without a doubt the Mayans also used the flowering stalk of this plant to create the instrument. For someone who has held the trompet made from the agave plant, it is clearly very easy to hold the instrument in the way that it is portrayed in the murals and on the pottery.

There is still a lot to learn about this instrument. The one piece of information that we do have about this instrument are the murals that remain intact until this day –  these murals are a means in which we can listen to the “voice of the gods.”

My experience making musical instrument:

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