Music of the Warao [in delta of the river Orinoco], 4-6

p. 42 (Table 4.1) sacred musical instruments, briefly





strung seeds

worn on ankles

habi sanuka

small calabash-rattle containing seeds

bahanarotu shaman

hebu mataro

large calabash-rattle containing quartz

wisiratu shaman


doubled-headed monkey-skin drum



vertical flute made from deer tibia



vertical flute made from stem



vertical whistle made from crab pincer


harehare (harihari)

horizontal flute made from cane



heteroglottal clarinet made from calabash

nahanamu festival


trumpet made from conch-shell


pp. 43-105 sacred musical instruments, in detail



use of instrument



"as a pole rattle, the sewei "is played ... only during the mysterious dance of Hatabo ..." (Wilbert 1956, 12)."


habi sanuka

"the maraca for the bahanarotu is a maraca ... with feathers from a konoto bird ... . Korokoro is the name in Warao" for the habi sanuka.


hebu mataro

also known as "marimataro", and as "hebu amataro". "The spike that pierces the calabash, forming ... the handle, is made from a stick of wood called haheru (also himaheru) in Warai (apamatillo in Spanish). This is the same type of wood used by the Warao for their fire-making drills".


" "

"The stones inside the container are small quartz pebbles (hoyo in Warau; also kareko, referring to their spiritual properties) ... . ["According to Warao belief, the pebbles inside the rattle (the physical form of the kareko spirits) ... are the spirits." (p. 63)] ... one of my wisiratu teachers, however, said that he uses fifty-three pebbles".


" "

[quoted from Wilbert 1974, 90-91) :] "The shaman blows ... a fragrant resin over scores of small quartz crystals and places these ... into the hollowed-out gourd, invoking for each a particular ancestral spirit believed by the Warao to be embodied in the stone. These quartz crystals are his familiar spirits who assist him in curing ...; indeed, he refers to them as his "family.""


" "

"Selected red and yellow tail feathers taken from a live cotorra parrot ... are sewn into a long sash that is wound around the tip of the stick." ["If the bird is not alive, the rattle will have no curative power" (p. 63).]


" "

"Because the hebu mataro rattle is large, ... it must be gripped and shaken with both hands. ... During the wisiratu’s ecstatic voyages to the cosmos, which take place on the hohonoko or dancing platform, he will hold his rattle vertically to enable his soul to journey straight up".


" "

To contaminate a hebu mataro "would make the spirit of the rattle angry and then it would appear to him in a dream demanding ... compensation."


" "

"the wisiratu breathes into the vertical slits that are held over a female patient and into the horizontal slits that are held over a male. Likewise when the wisiratu extracts the illness-causing hebu, he places one vertical slit on the female patient and sucks the evil hebu into the rattle by sucking into {outward from} the opposite vertical slit. The same procedure, using horizontal slits, is employed when the patient is a male." "the sacred hebu mataro ... is a "head spirit," with its handle as the leg". {another one-legged deity noise-producing deity is the Chinese bovine thunder-deity.}


" "

"the hebu mataro’s capability to produce sparks when vigorously shaken by a wisiratu during a curing ritual" : "the wood of the central shaft of the rattle


" "

has a low flash point; and its dust is ignited by the heat {sparks} produced by the pieces of quartz striking together. ... the sparks are produced by the quartz pebbles striking against each other." {much as the gunpowder in a flintlock musket is ignited by a spark; but the sparks produced from quartz are by the piezo-electric effect}


" "

[quoted from Wilbert 1987a, 178-9 :] "the priest-shaman also feeds a family of tutelary spirits which inhabit his sacred rattle in the form of quartz pebbles. ... Warao shamans retire frequently to their temples to feed the rattle spirits".


" "

"The hebu mataro is traditinally stored within a special basket called a torotoro ... . This is a large rectangular basket with a cover ... . ... (Guss 1989, 235) writes ... : When a Warao shaman prepares a torotoro to receive a rattle, he first lines the inner walls with caranna incense and chants".


" "

"Bolingbroke (1947, 103-4), in his travelogue written between 1799 and 1806, describes a ... calabash rattle ... : "This is a hollowed calabash, with a few ... stones enclosed in it, and a stick thrust through it. With this instrument he [the shaman] rattles, singing meanwhile a prayer to the yawahoo". {cf. name of Nebraska’s WAHOO, "named for a type of shrub used as a medicinal plant by local Indians." (PWN) – ""Wauhoo." It is thought that word comes from the name of a bush which grew along nearby creeks and was used by the Otoe for medicinal purposes." (WN)}


" "

"Brett describes a "sorcerer’s" rattle in 1868 : They [shamans] are each furnished with a large gourd or calabash, which ... has a round stick run through the middle of it ... . The ends of this stick project – one forms the handle of the instrument, and the other has a long string, to which beautiful feathers are attached, wound round it in spiral circles. Within the calabash are a few small round white stones, which rattle when it is shaken ... . The calabash itself is usually painted red. It is regarded with great awe by the ... Indians, who fear ... even to approach the place where it is kept."


" "

"the shamanistic rattle of the Taino of Haiti as being so large that it required both hands of the shaman to grip it while playing it. Its sound was also very loud, like that of the hebu mataro."



"the moriki ... is a woven-container idiophone ... constructed from filaments of tirite ... wicker".


ehuru (eruru)

"Fashioned from a hollow log cut into an hourglass shape, the ehuru has two heads that are usually made from the skin of the howler monkey (arawato) ... .



... while traveling ... the drummer ... plays continuously. ... it is used to frighten off the jaguars and evil spirits that lurk in the rain forest ... . The roaring sound of the ehuru with its buzzing snare ... is said to be caused by the spirit of the howler monkey".



"muhusemoi (muhu = bone, semoi = wind instrument), a ductless, edge-blown flute made from the tibia of a deer ... . ... the muhusemoi have three finger holes



"two muhusemoi flutes playing together ... are pitched a fourth apart".



"Another ductless vertical flute, ... constructed from a plant stem (wana), is the hekunukabe (also waro ...). ... It derives its name from the Warao word for a burning piece of carbon because ... pierced by an ember stick. ["The hollowing out ... is ... completed with a piece of burning ember" (p. 94).] ... hekunu, means fire in Warao. ... the hekunukabe is destroyed while the muhusemoi is saved and used over and over again, year after year."



"Another ductless vertical flute, daokohota (daukoho semoi), ... is made from the pincers of the blue crab (congrejo) and can produce only one tone."



"a ductless, cross blown, horizontal or transverse bamboo flute called harihari (hari = toucan) ... as also referred to as ... esemoi harihari, the "flute of the toucan," because its sound is similar to the song of the toucan ... .



... both ends of its bamboo tube are closed and its cross-blown embouchure hole is place between the finger holes – one finger hole is to the left of the embouchure hole and two finger holes are to its right."



There are "several transverse flutes that have notable similarities to the Warao harihari, especially a flute of the Palikur people (Arawak speakers who inhabit the border area between Brazil and French Guiana)."



"This instrument ... is the most sacred aerophone among the Warao. ... the isimoi has a spirit that is the same as the kanobo who is the patron of the village."



"Each isimoi is reconstructed yearly". (It is re-assembled after having been dismantled the praevious year.)

"It has a small stick inside that has to have a hole made in it ... . This is the internal sounding device tube, to



which is affixed the reed. It made made from ohiyobotoro wood ... . Then he makes a thing called eruko from the palm called deao or ao. .. he makes the long reed from the leaf of the sehoro ... . ... Then he takes a small fruit called trist or triste, made from amaro amaro ... . ...



"the air duct, or batoko (meaning pendant ..) ... tube ... is also called nahawaha arototo".



"to complete the isimoi ... the wax (abi in Warao ...) ... is packed tightly around the joint between the duct and the calabash, and the ornamental isimoi arokoihi, the "beard"" is attached.



"the owner of the isimoi is capable of producing two distinct notes ... by increasing and decreasing his air pressure ... . The isimoi’s two main pitches ... are at an interval of an approximate major third (3\1). ... during a contextual performance ... the two isimoi clarinets are pitched a fourth apart."



"Other native American cultures in Venezuela and adjacent areas have heteroglottal single-reed (clarinet-type) instuments ... . The carib-speaking Wai-wai in nearby Guyana, for example, have a simlar instrument, as do the Venezuelan Amazonian Yekuana, also Carib speakers. Among the latter group, their bamboo clarinets known as tekeye: (tekeya) or wanna (wana) are more than a neter in length and are always played in pairs, with one instrument considered male and the other female."



"The heresemoi is ... primarily used for ... giving directions to canoes at night ... signaling the departure and arrival of the crabbing canoes".



"The conch used by the Warao for the heresemoi belongs to the species Strombus eieas Linne ..., which ... must be acquired from as far away as the island of Margarita".



"Wilbert (1976, 341) writes : "... trumpet made from the bark of a of a piece of mangrove aerial root may be substituted.""



"in earlier times a double-chambered ceramic trumpet ... was used by the Warao ... .



An hourglass-shaped Warao trumpet".

Guss 1989 = David N. Guss : To Weave and Sing. Berkeley : U of CA Pr, 1989.

Bolingbroke 1947 = Henry Bolingbroke : A Voyage to Demerary (1799-1806). Georgetown, Demerara, British Guiana, 1947.


WN =

Brett 1868 = William Henry Brett : The Indian Tribes of Guiana. London, 1868.

pp. 60-62 myth (from the Pomeroon River Warao) about hebu mataro (quoted from Roth 1915, pp. 336-8)

p. 60

Komatari obtained a from a calabash-tree a calabash;

p. 61

made for it handles out of timber which "has a milky sap"; ornamented it by "fastening various parrot feathers into cotton twine ... on top of the calabash"; "and put the stones into the calabash."

p. 62

With this calabash, Komatari "took the disease out" of various sick persons.

Roth 1915 = Walter E. Roth : "An Inquiry into the Animism and Folk-lore of the Guiana Indians". 30th ANNUAL REPORT OF THE BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY, 1916-7. pp. 103-386. Washington (DC).

p. 82 (summarized on p. 69) moriki & daukoho in "Usirumani, the woman of the hog plum tree" (quoted from Wilbert 1970, 377-8, narrative 172)

"When he [the religious practitioner named Imanaidarotu, Lord of the Dark Night] returned in his canoe, he heard music nearby, music of ... the Warau esemoi daukoho, ... accompanied by dance (basket) rattles. Imanaidarotu approached the place of the music that turned out to be the house of the other shaman, Hokohiarotu, Lord of the Sun."

pp. 83-85 myths about harihari

p. 83

[quoted from Wilbert 1970, 286, narrative 140 :] "Wau-uta [a female shaman] made the child [Haburi] grow all at once into a youth, and gave him a harri-harri to blow".

p. 84

[quoted from Wilbert 1970, 301, narrative 144 :] "Mayakoto carried with him a kind of flute, hariharisemoy, ... he blew it from a long distance to tell his wives that he was coming back bringing morocoto [fish]. ... But one day ...

p. 85

the evil spirit Hahuba appeared to him while he was fishing. Hahuba snatched the morocotos from him and swallowed Mayakoto as well." Then he went, disguised as Mayakoto, "to the latter’s house" and to the wives.

p. 105 musical bow in origin-myth of bahanarotu shamanism (quoted from Wilbert 1985, 155)

"Upon approaching the oval house in the sky, the journeying novice became fascinated by the music making inside the house where the creator bird played his musical bow." [This musical bow "the Guyana Warao ... called a tarimba." (p. 104)]

pp. 114-115 myth about maraka "The wrong rattle, the bush-hog, and the baby" (quoted from Wilbert 1970, 82-5, narrative 27)

p. 114

Siwara, a hebu bush spirit posing as a Warao male human, temporarily left in the custody of his human wife "four rattles used for bush-hog only." His human wife, fleeing the inadvertently summoned bush-hogs, had forgotten her baby,

p. 115

which the hogs tore in pieces and devoured. ... Siwara ... left them. It is very hard for them to get food now."

p. 134 nahakara

"Nahakara ... objective was to push one’s opponent away or down, although the Warao used rafted wooden combat shields."

pp. 142-144 hoerekitane (lullabye) frightening child to sleep, with bogeys

p. 142

"This spirit doesn’t have flesh, it is pure bones, and it is there at the tree top. ... this spirit of the tree tops ... can eat you from within. ... Go to sleep".

p. 143

"a tree ... carries a spirit, a thin one, which has no flesh, but is pure bones. A child’s cry can attract it."

p. 144

"the Warau lullabies warn young children about supernatural dangers".

writings by Johannes Wilbert quoted from :-

(1965) "Los instrumentos musicales de los warrau". ANTROPOLO`GICA 1(1956):2-22.

(1969) Textos folklo`ricos de los indios Warao. U of CA, Los Angeles, Latin American Center, vol. 12. 1969.

(1970) Folk Literature of the Warao Indians. U of CA at Los Angeles, Latin American Center, vol. 15. 1970.

(1972b) "Tobacco and Shamanistic Ecstasy among the Warao Indians". In :- Peter T. Furst (ed.) : Flesh of the Gods. pp. 55-83. NY : Praeger, 1972.

(1974) "The Calabash of Ruffled Feathers." In :- Anne Trueblood (ed.) : Stones, Bones, and Skin. pp. 90-3. Toronto : Artscanada, 1974.

(1975a) "Eschatology in a Participatory Universe : Destinies of the Soul among the Warao Indians of Venezuela." In :- Elizabeth b. Benson (ed.) : Death and the Afterlife in Pre-Columbian America. pp. 163-89. Dunbarton Oaks Research Library, 1975.

(1976) "To Become a Maker of Canoes". In :- Johannes Wilbert (ed.) : Enculturation in Latin America. LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES, vol. 37. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 1976.

(1977) "Navigation of the Winter Sun". In :- Elizabeth P. Benson (ed.) : The Sea in the Pre-Columbian World. pp. 17-46. Dunbarton Oaks Research Library, 1977.

(1983) "Warao Ethnopharmacology". JOURNAL OF ETHNOPHARMACOLOGY 8(1983):357-61.

(1985) "The House of the Swallow-Tailed Kite". In :- Gary Urton (ed.) : Animal Myths and Metaphors in South America. pp. 145-82. Salt Lake City : U of UT Pr, 1985.

(1987a) Tobacco and Shamanism in South America. New Haven : Yale U Pr, 1987.

Dale A. Olsen : Music of the Warao of Venezuela. U Pr of FL, Gainesville, 1996.