About the Quena

Quenas are traditional flutes developed by the people of the Andes mountains. In the past, Incas and many other indigenous pre-Colombians built and played the instrument. It is possible that Quenas were developed as far as the Valdivia period, about 3,000 B.C. However, the only documentation that we have available comes from the many Inca legends about the quena's origin dating from about 1200 A.D. One of the most famous Inca plays concerns Quenas. The play tells of a legendary Inca princess named Ollantay, who fell in love with a commoner. Because of the difference in their social status the two were not allowed to marry, and Ollantay died of unhappiness. Her heartbroken lover regularly visited her tomb to grieve, and one day when there was a strong wind, he heard a weird whistling sound coming from the wind which was blowing through the stones of her tomb and across the bones of her mummy. This gave him the idea of creating a bone flute whose mournful sound would remind him of his love for Ollantay.

The Incas did make some of their Quenas out of human shinbones, usually from slain enemies rather than lovers. Without the technology to drill long bores in hard objects, it is natural that they will have use the materials available with holes already made such as bones. However, the earliest Quenas were also made of reeds, wood, gourds, silver, gold, baked clay, lama or deer ulna-radius, or pelican ulnas. They varied in size from 6 to 60 centimeters and had between three and seven finger holes.

The contemporary Quenas are also made out of many different materials, and are built in three different sizes which are sometimes called Quenacho, Quena and Quenali, or alto, soprano and sopranino. Quenas are basically a pipe, open at both ends, with seven finger holes bored into the length of the pipe, six in the front and one in the back. The mouth-hole, which is at the end of the bore, is a cut made in the top edge of the pipe, similar to the "lip" of a flue pipe. It can be any one of various shapes, depending on the the maker's preferences and the particular sound quality she/he wants to achieve. Each of these shapes of mouth-hole, corresponds to a different harmonic content of the sound produced and thus the quality of the sound on that particular Quena.

Quena-Flute of the Andes
About the Quena | Support | Contact | Store | Links | News