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huilacapitztli

(1955), invaluable for its numerous illustrations,identifies only one of the six ocarinas pictured in the chapter on huilacapitztli as Aztec.Front and rear views of a five-note clay specimen shaped like a human head (eyes closed,mouth wide open)appear on pages 72-73 to show what an Aztec ocarina in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia looks like.The rest of the ocarinas illustrated in this chapter prove the popularity of the instrument in the Mayan and certain Gulf Coast cultures,but not in the Valley of Mexico.

This dispersal can scarcely startle the reader who already knows Raoul d'Harcourt's article,"Sifflets et ocarinas de Nicaragua et du Mexique"(Journal de la Société des Américanistes,n.s.,XXX111 [12941],165-172,with two plates).D'Harcourt agreed to write it after the Musée de l'Homme obtained in 1938 five exquisite ocarinas from the island of Olmetepe in Lake Nicaragua.Such unusual features as their large size (ranging to 20cm) ,their carefully executed mouthpieces and their refined finger holes assured d'Harcourt that these newly aquired specimens deserved an article of thier own,dispite his having had already,a decade earlier,devoted an essay to pre-Hispanic ocarinas found elsewhere in South America and in Colombia.Two of the newly obtained instruments from Olmetepe emitted no less than eight pitches each.Found on the the largest isle in the only lake anywhere which contains freshwater sharks,these ocarinas boast animal shapes no less weird than the sharks.In ascending order,the pitches emitted by ocarina D.38.19.24 in the Musée de l'Homme collection approximate a European major scale (the supertonic doubly sharped) : B,D,Eb,E,F#,Ab,Bb,B. The pitches of the other (D.38.19.23) spell all notes in an overtone series through three octaves (except the eleventh partial) : C,G,A,Bb,B,C,D,E

So far as the rest of this Nicaraguan quintet is concerned,d'Harcourt found one uttering seven pitches and the other two uttering six.With this evidence in hand,not even he could any longer defend the favorite thesis of those many Americanists who had heretofore straitjacketed all New World indigenous music within the confines of the pentatonic scale.Instead, he was forced to concur with E.M.von Hornbostel that a wide variety did prevail in the choice of notes for New World fixed-pitch instruments,especially in areas where a fixed-pitch instrument such as the ocarina reached its apogee of public favor.

Obviously,it reached its apex in what are now Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

The only two provably Mexican ocarinas at the Misée de l'Homme which d'Harcourt found worth describing cannot compare with those from Central America in the same collection. more to the point,neither of the two "Mexican" ocarinas he describes can be Aztec,nor is any ocarina an Aztec cultural artifact among those chosen for pitch analysis in 'Instrumentos musicales precortesianos' (1955,pp.163-164). The ocarinas described and illustrated in Frans Blom's 'The Conquest of Yucatan" (Boston:Houghton Mifflia,1936),page 136 and plate IV,not only precede the Aztec invasion of the Valley of Mexico by a millenium,but also have nothing to do with Yucatan,the Ulúa River valley in northern Honduras having been the area where they came to light.

Under these circumstances, the idea must be surrendered that either the Aztecs themselves or their close allies took fondly to the ocarina - that is to say the globular flute so often given anthropomorphic or zoomorphic shape in Central America. It is not even certain that the term 'huilacapitztli' - translated to mean simply "flute or fife" in Molina's 1571 Náhuatl - Spanish dictionary - should nowadays be applied to ocarinas.When 'Canto,danza y música precortesianos' (p.338) calls "bird-shaped ocarinas" 'huilacapitztli',the author may be right,but Stanford's analysis of roots (Yearbook II,p.111) makes "a cane or reed vertical flute" much the more probable sense.

The native painting that accompanies Sahagún's Book II,chapter 24 (Anderson and Dibble,op.cit.,1951 illustration 17,after p.102),shows no broken ocarinas.Yet the corresponding Náhuatl text distinctly specifies that the handsome youth broke first his tlapitzalli,then his huilacapitztli,as he ascended the temple steps to his doom.Anderson and Dibble here translate these two words as "flute,whistle" (p.68) .But when the plural of huilacapitztli recurs in chapter 35 of this same Book 2 - The Ceremonies (p.141),they are content to let it mean simply "flutes".For allowing it to signify "flutes" generically,they stand on Sahagún's own example.In his Spanish translation,he gave only 'flautas',thereby discouraging any finer distinction.

Both tlapitzalli and huilacapitztli turn up in 'Cantares en idioma mexicano',frequently in poetical compounds.The combination 'chalchiuh hhuilacapitztli intrudes in the first strophe of a song (XXXIII) subtitled "Huexotzincos come begging Montezuma's aid against the Tlaxcalans" (1507).This twenty-three letter combination means "green jewel flute".Schultze Jena interprets another thirty-six letter combination of morphs,'chalchiuh huilacapitzhue huetzcaticate' to mean "they are trilling on the green jewel flute"......

"L'ocarina à cínq sons dans l'Amérique préhispanique",Journal de la Société des Américanistes,n.s.,XXII/2 (1950),347-364,with six plates.

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