Ancestral Sounds of the Tunkul
Ancestral Sounds of the Tunkul
The Tunkul is a musical instrument of pre-Hispanic origin, there is evidence that this has been interpreted by the Maya since the Classic Period (250-900 AD) until today. According to the classification proposed by Hornbostel and Sachs (Hornbostel and Sachs 1988, 553-590), tunkul is classified within the organological group of idiophones; which are the instruments whose sound is produced by the vibration of the instrument itself.
The tunkul consists of a hollowed trunk, which has two tongues made by means of incisions forming an "H", this is percussed with a drumstick at different points of the tongues, generating different harmonics and tones. To be executed the tunkul is placed parallel to the ground. (Carrillo, Zalaquett and Sotelo 2014, 113)
According to Diego de Landa, the Yucatecan Mayans have “a hollow stick kettledrum, of a heavy and sad sound, that they stain with a long stick with milk from a tree put out” (Landa 1994, 117). It is unknown how useful it was in pre-Hispanic times, since there are few representations of tunkul in the archaeological record. Arrivillaga identifies a character performing a tunkul in the polychrome vessel of the Justin Kerr collection (Arrivillaga 2006, 19). He has been represented in Mayan art through sculptures, as in Copan and in censers, as in a copy of Kaminaljuyú. (Carrillo, Zalaquett and Sotelo 2014, 144)
This is still used in different regions of the Maya area, although of course, cultural and possibly technical execution contexts have changed over the centuries, especially after European contact; the colonizers considered Mayan musical practices pagan and satanic, and were trying to eliminate them progressively.
This is still used in different regions of the Maya area, although of course, cultural and possibly technical execution contexts have changed over the centuries, especially after European contact; the colonizers considered Mayan musical practices pagan and satanic, and were trying to eliminate them progressively. In the nineteenth century the instrument has survived the implementation of modernity in Guatemala when it was associated with "superstitious practices of the Indians"; then despite the ladinization of the twentieth century, tunk’ul continued to be used in different cultural contexts such as celebrations and carnivals. Currently, tunkul has an important meaning within the Maya, who consider it as an animated entity, with its own will and voice. (Carrillo, Zalaquett and Sotelo 2014, 147)
Arrivillaga, Alfonso. Aj'. Instrumentos Musicales Mayas. Chiapas: Universidad Intercultural de Chiapas, 2006.
Carrillo, Juan, Francisca Zalaquett, y Laura Sotelo. «Los sonidos del Tunkul. Códigos acústicos mayas de la península de Yucatán.» En Entramados sonoros de tradición mesoamericana. Identidades, imágenes y contexto, de Francisca Zalaquett, Martha Nájera y Laura Sotelo, 111-148. Mëxico: Centro de Estudios Mayas, Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México., 2014.
Hornbostel, Erich, y Curt Sachs. «Systematik der Musikinstrument: ein Versuch.» Zeitschrift für Ethnologiez, vol. 46, 1988: 553-590.
Landa, Fray Diego. Relación de las cosas de Yucatán. México: Porrúa, 1994.