This dissertation introduces an Andean transverse flute tradition of northern
Ecuador that has been routinely overlooked throughout a long history of scholarship published on the Otavalan region and its Kichwa–speaking inhabitants. Ethnographic data was collected through a variety of methods over the course of eight cumulative months of fieldwork in Ecuador, as well as an additional three and a half years during which I co–produced an album with flute masters from the Hatun Kotama Cultural Center and Smithsonian Folkways, consulted in the development of a living museum exhibit for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and maintained regular contact with my host family and Otavalan friends via email, social media, and telecommunications.
Although some people have dismissed the tradition as trivial or melancholic,
flutists emphasize that flauta music performs a central role in giving life to life and maintaining a cosmic balance. In order to examine how this is achieved, I base the theoretical approach of the dissertation on three central concepts. The first is the idea that relationships of all kinds are sung into being through musical performance, which Ellen Basso develops in her work with the Kalopalo of lowland South America (1981:288). In particular, I examine how these relationships between humans, their environment, and spiritual world are gendered. In doing so, I apply Kotama local scholar and yachak (one who knows) Katsa Cachiguango’s concept of the pariverso (the “pair-verse” instead of “universe,” describing the more common term yanantin in Andean studies) as well as Otavalan scholar Luz María De la Torre’s theory of a distinct Kichwa sense of gender, which is dynamic and exists on a flexible spectrum (Cachiguango and Pontón 2010; De la Torre 2010). These three ideas inform my analysis of who plays the transverse flute and why (Chapter 3), the construction of the flutes and gendering of material culture (Chapter 4), and the gendering of sound and Kichwa musical aesthetics (Chapter 5). Finally, I consider how the contemporary revitalization efforts of flauta music, led by the Hatun Kotama Cultural Center and flute ensemble, give life to the Kichwa language and Kichwa cultural institutions (Chapter 6).