Music, Climate, and Therapy in Kallawaya Cosmology (Part 1): Sonorous Meshwork, Musical Performativity, and the Transformation of Pacha


I am the same as the mountain, Pachamama. Pachamama has fluids which flow through her, and I have fluids which flow through me. Pachamama takes care of my body, and I must give food and drink to Pachamama.

Marcelino Yanahuaya,
quoted in Bastien (1985, 597)


The Kallawaya is a Quechua and Aymara speaking ethnic group known for its naturopathic medical tradition, ancestral agricultural and ritual practices, and famous musical genre called qantu. Today, the Kallawaya region mostly corresponds with the province of Bautista Saavedra in the Northern Andes of the department of La Paz, Bolivia. In 2003 UNESCO officially declared the “Andean Cosmovision of the Kallawaya” a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” Since then, the Kallawaya have received national and international recognition regarding their knowledge as testament to a cultural process that synthesized the medical-religious knowledge of South America.

In relation to the declaration by UNESCO, some scholars have noted a “shrinking definition” (Rösing 2005, 23) of Kallawaya culture that overemphasizes its medical tradition and lacks an integral picture of Kallawaya cosmology. In fact, the Bolivian Viceministry of Culture (2002) particularly emphasizes traditional medicine as something special to some Kallawaya communities, while acknowledging at the same time an overall integrality of practices, including ancient agricultural techniques, social organization, rituality, pottery, textiles, and music, all of which are shared elements of a more general Andean cosmology. In this use, Kallawaya music, especially qantu, is strictly defined in relation to its medical and therapeutic function, without stating how Kallawaya music therapy actually works.

Aside from the overall academic interest in Kallawaya culture (see Callahan 2011), several musicological studies exist. Most of these studies were descriptive (Sato 1982), partially focused on particular musical genres (Bauman 1985; Langevin 1991; Whitney Templemen 1994) or the study of physical sonorous aspects of particular musical ensembles in the region, especially qantu (Mamani Perez 2007). All these studies lack a conceptualization of what music actually means for those who play and enact it. It is worth noting that music appears in such previous ethnographies as somehow accompanying rituals and agrarian practices (see Rösing 1995; Langevin 1992), hence, reducing it to a by-product, rather than acknowledging it as a central social and cosmological activity in its own right. In relation to Kallawaya cosmology, music plays a major role in maintaining reciprocal relationships with a pantheon of spirits and deities. This is particularly important with regard to local climate patterns being direct manifestations of such reciprocal relationships.

In such an anthropological approach to climate, it is particularly important to depart from emic (sic) perspectives. One example is Rivière’s (1997) study about weather, power and society in Aymara communities of the Bolivian high-plateau (Altiplano). To constantly deal with limiting climatic factors and a hazardous agrarian situation, different techniques have been developed over centuries to make the most of the harsh Andean environment. Rivière argues that these techniques cannot be separated from Andean cosmology and relationships with deities and spirits, which are responsible for prosperity and good climatic conditions and are managed by particular people and divination practices aimed at predicting as well as anticipating meteorological events. As I will show, music and musical instruments are particularly crucial during such divination practices, the anticipation of meteorological events and the initiation of seasonal changes.


Musical and sonorous meshwork

The interrelation between music and climate is related to the Quechua time-space terminology. The Quechua word ñawpa refers to past and to space situated in front of ego, thus relating to visibility, whereas qhipa refers to future and to space situated behind ego, thus relating to invisibility (Gifford 1986). Based on this understanding, Stobart (2006) makes an interesting interpretation of the aural axis, which is defined as the “point at which the past and future meet” (Stobart 2006, 32). He claims that the present might be seen as being represented by hearing. If this is so, then, we should rather listen to the sounds of the environment in order to understand the present by means of the visual past and the invisible future. In the present hearing is pivotal. Hence, it would be important to follow sound and music, improving “the quality of our attention to the world” (Adams 2009, 103).

In the Kallawaya region, rural indigenous wind instruments are related to Ankari, the deity of the wind and the messenger of the ancestors being embodied in the mountainous landscape (Rösing 1996, 514). There is an inherent relation between breath and wind as life sustaining movements: “Inhalation is wind becoming breath, exhalation is breath becoming wind” (Ingold 2011, 138). The wind and its close relationship to breath and respiration is all-important for establishing a cosmological equilibrium. Hence, it is worth analyzing how the production of sound and music relates to these interrelated phenomena of wind, breath and respiration, as one might think that the very moment of sonic production is an integral part of breathing. Breathing is a corporal process related to the lungs. As such, it is also directly related to the animating life-force (ajayu)[2], as it is a life-sustaining and prolonging process (Burman 2016).

But breathing also extends beyond the boundaries of the body, as much as the medium in which we breathe is situated “outside” of it. Air and wind can be seen as integral to the corporal process of breathing, as much as breathing can be seen as integral to air and wind, thus the medium. Language and thought are mainly related to heart and lungs, because they originate from knowledge and consciousness. Knowledge and consciousness are closely related to the wind, through which knowledge and consciousness, emotions and thoughts enter the body (Burman 2016). Thus, one might think that the very act of communication, the production and emission of sound and its reception, is equally related to wind and lungs as language, which can be understood as the sound which produces the air expelled by the lungs through making vibrate the vocal strings.

The importance of breathing for musical production becomes also evident within Quechua language. There is no generic word for “music.” Musical instruments are referred to as phukuna, which is also a verb used for playing musical instruments, as it means both “the thing which is blown” and “to blow.” (phukunay) The sound of rural indigenous wind instruments is produced by breathing out or blowing into a bamboo tube, thus producing a stream of air, a wind transforming the animate landscape and communicating with Ankari, who transports people’s offerings and sacrifices to the sacred mountains. These sacred mountains bridge past and present in a twofold sense: As a rocky formation of the earth's surface now changing and transforming with every sun beam, wind, rain or hail, as well as the residence of dead ancestors, called machula in Quechua, the “owner” of these sacred places, which have specific powers over the forces of nature (Rösing 1996).

Sound transports life energy and establishes reciprocal relationships. Reciprocity in the sense of giving and taking is a constant cosmological tension, on which the world’s existence and continuity is founded (Stobart 2006). It is based on an immediate interrelation between both behaviours. While the ancestors give good climate conditions to grow food and hand over authority and responsibility, music and sound may be seen to move in the opposite direction, expressing desire (i.e. for rain) or distress (i.e. during droughts) (Stobart 2006).

In reference to the phenomenological work by the Austrian musicologist Zuckerkandl (1956), Ingold (2011) argues against visions of the earth as being seen as though it was only terrestrial, separated from sky. “Far from facing each other on either side of an impenetrable division between the real and the immaterial, earth and sky are inextricably linked within one indivisible field, integrated along the tangled lifelines of its inhabitants” (Ingold 2011, 74). In the Kallawaya region, this indivisible field can be understood as a complex musical and sonorous “meshwork” (Merton 2010, 2007), which integrates certain dimensions of the immersion in and commingling with what is called pacha in Quechua. Besides the meanings of cosmos and time/space, pacha also refers to weather and climate, in relation to a particular meteorological succession during the main climatic seasons of the year, called ch’aki pacha (dry season) and paray pacha (wet season).

Pacha takes on meanings and appearances according to people, whereas people develop knowledge, skills and identities according to their immersion in pacha (Ingold 2011). The mountains’ animate meaning is related to the embodiment of deities and ancestors, and their appearance is shaped by agricultural labour for maintaining reciprocity and life. The integration between earth and sky through music and sound is in fact a skilled response, because deities and spirits are responsible for local climate and its adequate meteorological succession for agrarian production. Music, formerly reduced to a by-product of rituals and agrarian practices, is an act of cosmic centrality for the transformation of time/space, weather and climate, which is pacha (Oblitas Poblete 1963, 340).[3] Hence, music is primarily understood as an integral mediator of cyclic life, i.e. the climate seasons with their respective meteorological successions, the agrarian cycle with its principal tasks, as well as the cycle of rituals and communitarian feasts.

Musical sound in pacha synthesizes existential conditions with regard to climate and weather in a transversal sense. Climate as a “physical-symbolic complex” (Rivière 1997, 34) is fundamental to what constitutes human and other-than-human capacities of physical and moral life. In the local climate one can read the social and moral behaviour and the functioning of reciprocity, since the universe is a social and moral order governed by moral and ritual law (Radcliffe-Brown 1952). Regarding the Andean context, climatology is not the study of atmospheric conditions and weather averaged over time, but rather might be seen as the study of human and other-than-human social and moral behaviour averaged over time in relation to Andean deities and spirits.

Weather as the “fluxes of the medium” (Ingold 2011, 138) is fundamental to what constitutes human and other-than-human capacities of sensory perception. Weather contains a moral component, which immediately manifests through music-created reciprocal relationships between human and other-than-human subjectivities. Weather is something you locally live in; something that surrounds and transforms you and the environment (perception, cognitive state, physical being). Therefore, it is equal to sound, also what can be called musical sound. Both are not objects of perception, but mediums in which you perceive (Ingold 2011). Sound and weather are not so much embodied, as the body is ensounded and enweathered (ibid.). Regarding the Andean context, meteorology, then, is not the “study of things in the air,” as proposed by its Greek origin, but rather might be seen as equal to the study of grounded sonic issues that manifest reciprocal and moral relationships between human and other-than-human subjectivities.

Dense Morning Fog in Niñocorin's Valley


Musical performativity and the transformation of pacha

Every climatic season corresponds with expectations of a particular meteorological succession that permits different tasks within the agrarian cycle, i.e. sowing requires different climatic conditions than crop preparation or harvest. These meteorological expectations are culturally and practically embodied, a result of close relationships with the physical environment in a more or less stable climate over centuries. Hence, a “good” climate is defined as an “adequate” climate for agricultural tasks (Vergara Aguilar 2013). In this physical symbolic complex of climate, musical practices assume some sort of performativity in Austin’s (1962) sense. Here, performativity refers to those basic conditions that have to be fulfilled for the success of a communicative and meaningful speech act. Performative utterances do not only delimit themselves to describe a phenomenon; they bring it into being by expressing it. Analogically, musical sound is a performative utterance requiring certain basic conditions that must be fulfilled for the success of the musical (speech) act. Musical sound has to be produced by specific instruments that relate to a particular time-space condition during the “orchestration of the year” (Stobart 2006). Due to the agrocentrism in Andean cosmology, the sequence of the year basically corresponds with different tasks in the cycle of agrarian production and their relation to a conjuncture of individual and collective rituals. These rituals are usually carried out at specific, that is to say sacred places, where music can unfold its cosmological potentiality (Rösing 1996).

Rural indigenous wind instruments in the Kallawaya region are divided according to dry and rainy season. Similar to the cases described in Northern Potosí (see Stobart 2006; Solomon 1997), some in the Kallawaya region – e.g. my host, F.P., who is an elder in Niñocorin, a Kallawaya community famous for its qantu ensemble – refer to different sounds produced by particular musical instruments as calling or sending away rain. In one conversation about the rain ritual qallay, he associated this climate related meaning with the anatomy of rural indigenous wind instruments and their respective sounds:

The embouchure is also called tap, as if it was a tap for the wind. The sound for instance of a pinkillu is very high and can ban the wind which could disperse clouds in paray pacha [rainy season]. The quena, for instance, does not have such a tap, or also the qantu panpipes. They attract the wind, which disperses clouds in ch‘aki pacha (F.P. 2014, personal communication).

As he points out, the embouchure of rainy season duct flutes is also called tap. The sound is much higher and pressed, kind of tapped, which analogically serves as a tap that bans Ankari in rainy season, so that clouds are not dispersed by his breeze, or as Rösing (1996, 215) puts it, to close “the door of the wind.” This sound is illustrated in Niñocorin’s qallay pinkillu ensemble during qallay rain ritual (2014).

The appearance of rainy season duct flutes, especially the pinkillu, coincides with different rituals that should strap/tie up or capture strong winds so that clouds will not be dispersed (Rivière 1997), for instance the rain ritual qallay in Niñocorin and Kaata. Clouds are perceived as bearer of rains, a guarantee for mild temperatures and a protection against frost that would destroy crops early in their season (especially sowing). A particular musical sound anticipates and initiates the (social, spiritual, cognitive, physical, climatic, etc.) transformation of ch’aki pacha.

As my host explains, dry season notched-end flutes (i.e. quena), traverse flutes (i.e. pifano) or qantu panpipes do not have such a tapTheir sound is more direct, streaming and fluent, as Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble illustrates (2014).

Thus, it attracts Ankari in order to blow away clouds, so that frost can arrive in appropriate times (i.e. preparation of dehydrated potatoes called ch’uño). Around Carnival heavy wooden duct flutes called tarqas appear, which are said to invoke the calming of rains with their rich vibrant sound (Stobart 2006). This manifests the beginning of the transformation of paray pacha. Although the land turns yellowed, dried up and bare, it is a time of abundance because of harvest (ibid.). From April onwards, dry season instruments appear during the first harvest of the new agricultural year. Hence, those dry season instruments anticipate and initiate the (social, spiritual, cognitive, physical, climatic, etc.) transformation of paray pacha.


Qantu music in Kallawaya cosmology

Panpipes are strictly related to harvest, a relationship also observed in other regions in the Bolivian highlands (see e.g. Mújica 2014). My host says that

with much precision qantu panpipes are played around harvest time, during irwi, the festivity and first harvest of the year. Qantu panpipes store vital energy, which is liberated during paray pacha and the growing of agricultural crops (F.P. 2014, personal communication).[4]

Qantu music, as with the ensemble from Charazani (see Baumann 1985), is typically played by an ensemble of around 25 musicians playing panpipes called qantuphukuna, drums called wankara and a heavy metal triangle called ch’inisku. The typical quint harmony is based on parallel fifths, fourths and octaves giving the qantu ensemble its “special brilliance and character proper to the musical themes of this region” (Cavour 2010, 39). The ensemble consists of six registers played in pair and complementarity of panpipes with 6 and 7 tubes.

Thus, the whole quint harmony is produced by a six-voice polyphony. These two panpipes played in complementarity have a range of 13 notes, so that every register, if interlocked, produces heptatonic scales. The hocket technique, in which two or more voices share the production of a scale or a melody, is a dominant performance pattern within qantu music. In the Kallawaya region it is called “answering” from the Spanish word contestar. Although sometimes played in hexa- or heptatonic scales, in most of the qantu melodies the structural principles of the pentatonic pattern dominates (Baumann 1985).

The qantu panpipes are divided into three parts so that basic and corresponding registers overlap. The structure of qantu songs is also divided into three parts including slight interpretations and variations (Whitney Templeman 1994). This division into three parts has a symbolic and pragmatic reason and is related to the spiritual and natural environment. Bastien (1978) explains that the Kallawaya ayllus, an ancestral political and social organization of several interrelated communities, are organized like a human body with lakes being eyes and communities being other parts of the body. This exchange relation between different parts of the mountain provides for a complementarity of goods and a balanced diet. Analogically, the division of qantu panpipes is necessary for the musicians to answer each other during the course of performance and to produce the typical melodic line of the qantu song through hocketing (Whitney Templeman 1994). The typical cadential motive of the qantu song is referred to as “resting,” and musicians and instruments do indeed rest.

During the musical participation in a community setting, young people socialize and promote those social conditions that favor an egalitarian development in order to finally convert into proper members of the human and ancestral community, establishing reciprocity through music (Stobart 2006). In this sense, social integration through musical participation is seen as one of the principle purposes of these local and situated musical practices (Turino 1989), implying a lived experience with the environment relating to an ancestral presence. These situated and local musical practices do not depend so much on the precision of instruments or the musician’s experience, but on the fact of equilibrating instruments and sounds by the guidance of older members.

As these social and musicological aspects of qantu music are important to understand the functioning of such a qantu ensemble, some acoustic aspects should be highlighted in order to understand the particular auditory experience. Harmony in “Western” music theory is the use of simultaneous pitches, tones or notes based on certain rules during the composition and performance, which requires a well-tempered tuning in one of the standardized frequencies (nowadays mainly 440 Hz). As a matter of fact, qantu panpipes were traditionally made with wooden measure sticks, which ultimately results in making musical instruments whose pitches are not standardized.

Thus, notes produce acoustic beats that give the sonorous perception of a “detuned” ensemble. The work of the physician and musicologist Arnaud Gérard (2002) suggests intentionality in the construction of such qantu panpipes that reproduce sonorous and multi-harmonic patterns. From an ecological point of view, the sonorous and microtonal diversity of such autochthonous music form reciprocal relationships impacting both local climate patterns and humans’ bodies and well-being. In other words, qantu is both climatological and music therapeutic.


Music therapy, the person-mountain-body and participatory music

The topic of qantu music as music therapy requires some profound understanding of how diverse sonorous aspects (frequencies, harmony, micro-tonalities, rhythms, etc.) can have certain effects on the human body in an acoustic or biochemical sense. Surely, the therapeutic function also has to respond to some sort of musical performativity as depicted above. Yet, subsequent research within the fields of study such as bioacoustics or acoustic ecology is indispensable here. In the oral tradition it is said that qantu music casts away depression and melancholy, although the sound of a qantu ensemble is sometimes referred to as melancholic itself (especially by a “Western” hearer). This is related to a tuning ritual of new qantu panpipes, which have to be bathed in rosemary water, since rosemary is considered by Kallawaya healers as an herb containing qualities of casting away depression and melancholy. During the ritual bath, these qualities are said to be incorporated into qantu panpipes, which posteriorly assume the same qualities as the herb.

It is worth asking if the therapeutic functions are only the result of a sonorous particularity of qantu music, that is a result of the very notion of “attunement” (see Grimley 2011, 398). Healing also relates to the Kallawaya body concept, which is related to how Kallawaya see the mountains on which they live in constant correspondence. Bastien (1985) explains that Kallawayas understand the physiology of their own bodies based on how they see and perceive the physiology of the mountain (recall the epigraph). Fluids in the body are governed by similar dynamics within the environment. They flow back and forth between the body and the mountain, uniting both within an ecological web. The wholeness of the body (health in Kallawaya terms) is a process in which centripetal and centrifugal forces pull together and disperse fluids that provide emotions, thought, nutrients, and lubricants for the members of the body (ibid).

Bastien (1985) argues that centripetal and centrifugal forces of circulation are expressed by the dance of flute players, especially during the rain ritual khallay chajmay in Kaata, similar to the one in Niñocorin mentioned above (see also Bastien 1979). The flute players would dance in a row with a spiral, inward-directed counterclockwise movement, followed by an outward-directed clockwise movement, which should symbolize a spring that winds tightly inward and then releases itself outward (ibid.). This would be a symbolic metaphor of centripetal movements with a centralized focus in one direction, and of centrifugal movements with dispersal to the peripheries in the other direction, representing body fluids that distill in the center and disperse to the parts. Almost similarly, my host in Niñocorin explains the meaning of pinkillu flutes and dance during qallay in Niñocorin. While verbally explaining the particular dance performance, he picks up a tiny stone and draws four figures on Niñocorin’s main square that represent his explanation:

Quallay Dance

The very common pair dance is a rather recent change. In former times, we mostly danced in a row. But this is going to be lost, also because of how the main square is built in other communities, with a park in the middle and benches. We maintain this type of dance here in Niñocorin, especially during qallay. The dancers [D], musicians [M] and the flag bearer [F] form a pageant and dance in a row like a meander of a river striping up and down the whole main square two times until the musicians finally form a circle in the middle of the square and the dancers and flag bearers dance around them, in this direction [draws a circle counterclockwise] and then in this direction [draws a circle clockwise]” (F.P. 2014, personal communication).

The similarity between these two explanations is striking. The only difference may lay in the fact that the musicians in Niñocorin do not particularly participate in the centripetal and centrifugal movements as indicated by Bastien (1985). With such an understanding of body, diseases are related to some sort of improper circulation or mixing of fluids so that music and dance might be seen as making them properly fluent and circulating again. As a matter of fact, the same inward- and outward-directed movements are also constantly repeated by qantu panpipe players during their musical performance (see Langevin 1991).

This is why I argue for an understanding of qantu music’s therapeutic functions in relation to playing and engaging in music with a particular participatory format (Turino 2008). Turino (2008, 26) defines participatory performance as a “style of artistic practice in which there are no artist-audience distinctions, only participants and potential participants performing different roles […].” As a musician of Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble puts it succinctly, making reference to an act of participatory performance:

I don’t think that it is only qantu that heals. I believe that everybody has its own particular kind of music, which he or she responds to in a particular positive manner and likes to play or dance” (M.R. 2014, personal communication).

Hence, not only rosemary incorporated in qantu panpipes determines a person’s healing process. Moreover, such healing results from practicing and enacting participatory music as a social activity, which implies that certain lived experiences and “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi 1996) are similarly important for physical and spiritual healing, especially in relation to Kallawaya cosmology and body concepts.



After reviewing Quechua time-space terminology and Kallawaya cosmology, I have considered the specific relationship between music, climate and weather in relation to healing and divination practices, in which music plays a major role. This music is a meshwork integrating different dimensions of cyclic life in pacha; this meshwork is related to how Kallawayas perceive music and sound as gathering particular symbolic meanings in relation to the environment. If music and local climate assume such an intimacy and coexisting relationship, it is worth considering how Kallawayas perceive changes in music and local climate. As Bastien (1985) argues, the body metaphor provides a structural basis for why Kallawayas prepare mesas (ritual tables) with offerings to feed the earth and the mountains when they are sick. Telluric processes are in constant interchange with corporeal processes.

When fluids flow back and forth within and between the person and the mountain, then, diseases of the person-mountain-body are results from the relationships between person and mountain. This becomes important when talking about adverse local climatic conditions: If they are not adequate for agrarian production, then the blame rests on human fallacies in relation to spirits and deities in pacha. This is why Kallawayas sometimes claim that the mountain, or in this case the climate as an expression of pacha, is somehow considered as being “sick” (Vergara Aguilar 2013).

When considering current manifestations of anthropogenic climate change (see Vidaurre et al. 2013), there are possibilities for further research, which I explore in part two.



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[1] PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology at the Musicological Institute of Goethe-University Frankfurt (Germany). B.A. in Social Sciences and Economy at Erfurt University (Germany), with a specialization in environmental sociology, M.Sc. in Human Ecology at Lund University (Sweden), with specific research interests in environmental anthropology and political ecology. Contact:

[2] Ajayu is an Aymara word, which was also used by my interlocutors in the Kallawaya region, where in some highland communities Aymara is spoken, too. Some interlocutors also used the Quechua word qamas. According to Burman (2016), qamasa is the part of ajayu indicating courage and strength. Langevin (1991) shows how Quechua and Aymara nomenclature of musical instruments and registers intermix in the Kallawaya region. So, I might add, does ritual terminology.

[3] Oblitas Poblete (1963) also describes a dance called “Para Wajaj” or “Pacha Cutichej,” which can be interpreted as “the one who turns the weather/time [in the cosmological understanding pacha]” (see also Sigl & Salazar 2012). Sigl & Salazar (2012, 437) argue that this dance was once played in order to “convert dry season into wet season.” As van den Berg (1989) argues in his monumental book about ritual and agrarian practices: Playing music in the context of agrarian activities and rituals is not simply an act of amusement; it is not about just giving more importance to these activities or rituals. It is rather another effort to guaranty a good harvest and the continuation of life. Mújica (2014, 174) states that “musical instruments are the coordinators of weather/time.”

[4] Elsewhere (Hachmeyer 2016) I intend to explain the process of “conditioned incorporation” (Burman 2016) of qantu music into the cosmology of the Kallawaya. It is evident from other sources (Baumann 1985; Langevin 1992) that qantu music appeared in Bautista Saavedra province around 1930 in times of large-land holdings and colonial domination.



In Kallawaya cosmology autochthonous (indigenous rural) musical practices are closely related to the social, natural and spiritual environment. This is evident from processes surrounding the construction and tuning of musical instruments, activities in the cycle of agrarian production, collective ritual and healing practices, and communications with ancestors and deities relating to local weather events and climate. This first part of the article examines how a particular musical performativity organizes the orchestration of the year as an integral part of the Kallawaya musical and sonorous meshwork. Musical sound is crucial for the transformation of pacha and is primarily understood as an integral mediator of cyclic life, i.e. the climate seasons with their respective meteorological successions, the agrarian cycle with its principal tasks, as well as the cycle of rituals and communitarian feasts. In relation to Kallawaya body concepts, music with a particular participatory format plays an important role in healing as music therapy.

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