Karen’s Cabinet of Curiosities October 2017

2017-10-20-2848Curiosity: Charango

Country of origin: South America (most likely Peru or Bolivia)

Maker: Unknown

Created: possibly late 19th or early 20th century

Measurements: 774mm

Material: armadillo shell, wood and metal



The charango is a small string instrument belonging to the lute family. It is a typical and popular instrument in the Andes of Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and parts of Argentina. It most likely derives from the early guitars that the Europeans, especially the Spanish conquistadors, brought with them from the 16th century onwards. Before, indigenous instruments included the panpipe, notched flutes and double-headed drums but not strings. With its high pitch and smaller size than a guitar, the charango is more in line with the musical aesthetics of the indigenous people and can be carried around more easily.

Since its first conception, the charango has played an important part in the traditions of the campensinos, the indigenous Quechua or Aymara- speaking peasants of the Andes who earn their living mainly with herding llamas and sheep or cultivating barley and potatoes. There is for example the papa tarpuy, the potato-planting ceremony of Canas, a province in Cusco, Peru, during which the charango would be played. In northern Potosí, in the Bolivian Andes, the instrument is associated with the dry winter season (April-September). Agricultural and cultural calendars are published by a variety of organisations indicating the appropriate instrument for each season. Henry Stobard points out that there are rural areas in which up to 12 different instruments are played in the course of the year.

(Click on images to enlarge them.)

In the above-mentioned areas, the charango is also hugely important during courtship. A young man would come into town, typically on market or feast days, dressed in his Sunday best and woo the girls with his musical skills. He would decorate his instrument with colourful ribbons and mirrors to attract the opposite sex. Legend has it that each ribbon represents a conquered girl; interpreted as such, they are very much a sign of machismo. The charango acts as a kind of intermediary between the young man and the target of his affection; talking is not an obligation. A popular tune for courtship, for example in Cusco, is called the tuta kashwa (night dance). If she likes his musical advances, she might simply indicate this with a smile or glance of encouragement. After a while, she will join him, singing along the charango. A group of young couples might get together to dance and sing and, well, take it from there…. To put it bluntly: A young man out and about with his charango is certainly out on the pull. On the other hand, if a boy can’t play the charango, his chances with the girls are slim. Once a man is married, traditionally, he would put his instrument aside as he might be seen as a bohemio, a womaniser and general rake, if he carried on playing.

In order to get the best out of a young man’s charango, he often follows a century-old ritual after its purchase: At night, preferably during a full moon, he places the instrument near a lake, spring or waterfall. He leaves it there overnight together with gifts such as little ornaments, alcohol, coins or coca for the resident sirena. Sirenas are commonly portrayed as beautiful women with fishtails. Probably evolved from combining legends of local water spirits and Greco-Roman mermaids, these creatures are said to be particularly prevalent around the area of Lake Titicaca. Just like the sirens that lured sailors with their sweet songs in Greek mythology, the sirenas possess great musical powers, which they can transfer onto the charango. They will play and tune the instrument, and the next morning the charanguista will reclaim a powerful weapon for courtship. It is said that its sound will be so seductive that no woman can resist it. However, it is important not to interfere with the sirena as her music could also drive you insane if overheard. It is possible that the sirena/mermaid is so strongly associated with the charango, because the stories about these specific enchantresses arrived in South America at the same time as the guitars and mandolins. Hence, the indigenous people might have automatically connected one with the other in their minds.

Traditionally, men would play the instruments and women would sing. Although, rather than seeing this as a subordinate role, they are well respected for their songs and fine voices. The charango is in fact often seen as an accompaniment to the singing rather than the other way around. There are also again certain beliefs as to why a woman should not play the charango: In Tomaycuri, a rural community in northern Potosí, a woman playing the charango might cause dry fields. In nearby Kalankira, she might lose her weaving skills, and a pregnant woman might lose her child if she played the pinkillu (a kind of flute).

Although a typical instrument of the more rural areas of the Andes, the charango would make its way into cities such as Cusco and Puno, south-eastern Peru, during the early decades of the 20th century. Young middle-class mestizos (originally people of mixed European and indigenous parentage) would learn how to play the instrument from campensinos and then take their skills with them when their families moved into town to find work and adapt a more urban lifestyle. Often, the parents would not be particularly enthusiastic about their offspring’s musical taste as the charango was seen as an instrument of the baja pueblo, the ‘lower class people’ – something they would have liked to distance themselves from. Mandolins and guitars were more respected. However, at the same time a new ideology evolved, called indigenismo, among Peruvian artists and intellectuals. The rights of the Andean Indians and indigenous culture became focus of this movement, and its supporters condemned ‘foreign’ and ‘colonial’ values. Consequently, the charango became more respectable and an urban tradition of charango playing developed. The mestizo charanguistas would perform the long-established wanyo (song-dance) of the central Andes and add different genres such as the waltz to their repertoire. That way, they catered towards an urban, elite audience and raised the status of the charango. They also created a new style of playing the charango. Originally, the strings would be strummed, but the mestizos started plucking them instead.

In the past, the charango was generally made from the dried shell (carapace) of an armadillo, just like our curiosity. These days they are usually made from wood. They normally have five pairs of strings, but there are variations, and this one seems to have had only four sets of strings; unfortunately, they are missing. Strings are usually made from nylon or metal, depending on which playing style (strumming or plucking) and sound the charango player prefers. They are often richly decorated with carvings and/or inlays. The only ornamentation our charango has is a bridge in form of a lizard or salamander.

(Click in images to enlarge them.)

Some of the articles and books I read about the charango during my research go back to the early 1980s. The newest was published in 2008. Maybe a some of the above-mentioned traditions and beliefs have diminished or even vanished since then, and it is already indicated in the Henry Stobart’s 2008 article that women play the charango and that men sing these days, too. However, as the charango has such a tradition and now popular status in many Latin American areas, I thought it important and rather fascinating to include some old beliefs and superstitions as well.

It is just a shame that our charango won’t woo anybody anymore as its missing strings have condemned it to everlasting silence…

These youtube links show a great variety of charango players:

Alfredo Coca

Luciel Izumi

Ernesto Cavour

Feria y Festival del Charango Nacional E Internacional Aiquile 2016

La Mas Grande Orquesta


Broughton, Simon et al, eds. World Music – Volume 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific – The Rough Guide. Rough Guides, 2000.

Stobart, Henry. “In Touch with the Earth? Musical Instruments, Gender and Fertility in the Bolivian Andes.” Ethnomusicology Forum, vol. 17, no. 1., 2008, pp. 67-94. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20184606. Accessed 09 Oct. 2017.

—. “The Llama’s Flute: Musical Misunderstandings in the Andes.” Early Music, vol. 24, no 3, 1996, pp. 470-482. JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3128262. Accessed 09 Oct. 2017.

— and Howard, Rosaleen, eds. Knowledge and Learning in the Andes: Ethnographic Perspectives. Liverpool UP, 2003. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ABER/detail.action?docID=380586. Accessed 13 Oct. 2017.

Torino, Tom. Moving Away from Silence: Music of the Peruvian Altiplano and the Experience of Urban Migration. University of Chicago P, 2014. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ABER/detail.action?docID=486000. Accessed 13 Oct. 2017.

—. “The Urban-Mestizo Charango Tradition in Southern Peru: A Statement of Shifting Identity.” Ethnomusicology, vol. 28, no. 2, 1984, pp. 253-270. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/850760. Accessed 09 Oct. 2017.

—. “The Charango and the Sirena: Music, Magic, and the Power of Love.” Latin American Music Review/ Revista de Musica Latinoamericana, vol. 4, no 1, 1983, pp. 81-119. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/780281?sid=primo&origin=crossref. Accessed 09 Oct. 2017.



Free ‘Mighty Joe Young’ Workshops

Mighty Joe Young poster


“Re-animating ‘Mighty Joe Young’”: Free stop-motion animation workshops by Holden Holcombe, School of Art

Workshop 1: 28th and 29th November

Workshop 2: 12th and 13th December

For bookings, please contact Holden Holcombe: hoh10@aber.ac.uk

“Imaginary Worlds”: Free illustration workshops by Chris Iliff, School of Art

Workshop 1: Creating believable characters – 30th November
Workshop 2: Designing worlds to be lived in – 7th December

Time: 10:30 – 12:30

Location: To be decided

For bookings, please contact Chris Iliff: chi@aber.ac.uk

Karen’s Cabinet of Curiosities September 2017

Mask VCuriosity: Noh mask

Country of origin: Japan

Created: 19th century or early 20th century (?)

Measurements: 405mm x 382mm

Material: Wood, gesso, horsehair, glass, paint, papier mâché




Noh is the name of the classical Japanese form of theatre. It developed from the earlier performance styles Dengaku no Noh (field music performance) and Sarugaku (“monkey music”) during the 14th century. During Dengaku, there would be acrobatics and juggling; Sarugaku had comical components and had developed from Shinto rituals. Whereas Dengaku performers would alternate the singing and the more physical parts of their show, Sarugaku actors sung and danced/mimed simultaneously; after 1420, they would also be supported by a choir. Sarugaku also became more serious over the decades and began to supplant Dengaku in the second half of the 14th century. Father and son Kan’ami Kiyosugu (1333-84) and Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443) were famous actors of their time and are chiefly responsible for outlining the rules and conventions of the austere, dramatic art of Noh, which are still being adhered to today. Zeami explains, for example, that “the writing of No consists of three stages: choice of “seed” (subject), construction and composition. The “seed” is the story on which the play is based. This story must be well considered and divided into Introduction, Development and Climax. …Then the words must be put together and the music joined to them.” (The No Plays of Japan, Arthur Waley)

Uki-e no kyogen no zu 浮絵能狂言之図 (Perspective Picture of a No Performance) ©Trustees of the British Museum
Uki-e no kyogen no zu 浮絵能狂言之図 (Perspective Picture of a No Performance), woodblock print, Japan, 1780s ©Trustees of the British Museum

A Noh play has strictly defined roles; the lead is the shite, the subaltern who explains the story is the waki. Both have adjuncts, tsure. A shite’s companion is called tomo and everyday characters such as boatmen or sword-bearers are kyogen. Sometimes boy actors are used for characters such as emperors; those are called kokata. In addition, there are a choir that sings, or rather chants, in support of the lead and musicians, usually including a flute, two hand-drums and a stick-drum. The plays can broadly be divided into five categories: Kami No deal with deities; Shura No are battle plays, Kazura No, ‘wig’ plays, stories about beautiful women, Zatsu, which includes a variety of topics and Kiri or Kichiku No, stories concerning supernatural beings. John Mack and Arthur Waley have written about the history and development of Noh in much more detail, especially Waley’s book quotes extensively from Zeami’s treatises. You can find information regarding their books below in the ‘Sources’.

Masks were already used in Dengaku and Sarugaku and previous performance styles such as Bugaku (ca. 794-1185) and the even earlier Gigaku. Noh masks are carved out of a single piece of Japanese cypress wood. After having carved the masks to the desired thickness, holes for the mouth, eyes and nose are inserted. Then they are covered with a mixture of gesso and glue and sanded down to their final shape. Lastly, they are painted in the colours of the characters they represent and features such as the hairline and eyebrows and the area around the eyes are indicated with black ink. Hair or inlaid metallic eyes might be added and some parts might be gilded. Masks tend to be light only covering the face whilst wigs and other headgear are sometimes also worn. Costumes complete the transformation of the performer into the character.

(Click on above images to enlarge them.)

Altogether, there are about 450 different Noh masks, and the subtle variations determine, for example, a character’s social rank and age. It is the actor’s task to bring their fixed expressions to life; tilting the mask upwards indicates happiness or laughter, tilting the mask down means sadness or grief. Gestures and movements are also used to convey emotions. Before a performance, the actor would contemplate the mask in his room in front of the mirror, becoming one with the role. According to Waley, only the shite, his tsure and his tomo wear masks, never one of the other characters. As Eric C. Rath points out there are roughly five different groups of masks: Okina (all masks used for the “three rites,” shikisanban), demon, old men (jo), men and women.

Traditionally, only men perform in Noh theatre. Playing women is the greatest challenge for them. Zeami’s instructions, taken from Waley’s book, on how a female part should be acted, is well worth quoting, I think:

“Women should be impersonated by a young actor. … It is very difficult to play the part of a Princess or lady-in-waiting, for little opportunity presents itself of studying their august behaviour and appearance. Great pains must be taken to see that robes and cloaks are worn in the correct way. These things do not depend on the actor’s fancy but must be carefully ascertained. The appearance of ordinary ladies such as one is used to see about one is easy to imitate. … In acting the part of a dancing-girl, mad-woman or the like, whether he carry the fan or some fancy thing (a flowering branch, for instance) the actor must carry it loosely; his skirts must trail low so as to hide his feet; his knees and back must not be bent, his body must be poised gracefully. As regards the way he holds himself – if he bends back, it looks bad when he faces the audience; if he stoops, it looks bad from behind. But he will not look like a woman if he holds his head too stiffly. His sleeves should be as long as possible, so that he never shows his fingers.”

In her book, Susan Stevie lists the various female masks: “The Omi-Onna is for a woman with a lover’s disturbed heart; Masukami for a female character on the brink of madness, or possessed by a spirit; Fukai is for middleaged female characters who would have experienced the highs and lows of love and life; and Magojiro is used to portray slightly more mature young women.” Rath notes that ““mud eyes” (deigan) and “long hair” (masukami) portray suffering and deranged women”. The latter reminds me strongly of the depiction of ‘fallen women’ in Victorian images; they are often shown with loose, disarranged hair and/or uncovered head.

The mask in our collection represents Hannya, one of those characters with messy hair. In addition to the strands of hair attached to the mask, the actor would often wear a wig of wild hair as well. Hannya is not so much a person, but rather the personification of the jealousy and fury a scorned woman might feel. The moment the protagonist dons this mask, usually in the second act, the spectator knows that the once (usually beautiful) demure woman the actor had portrayed before has become out of control, full of hatred and aggression. The skin tone of the mask depends on the social status of the woman; white symbolises a lady of high rank, red a woman of lesser status and, as Rath explains, “where the Hannya is a dangerous demon and not the spirit of a jealous woman, a very dark-skinned ‘black Hannya’ is used.” Looking at our exemplar, I guess it might be one of the latter. The bulging eyes, horns, fierce, fanged mouth and deep frown are further typical characteristics.

There are various ideas about the origin of the name ‘Hannya’. One is that the mask as it is known today was developed by a monk from Nara called Hannya-bo during the Muromachi era (ca. 1330s-1573). He lived approximately during the late 15th and early 16th century. Thus, the name of the mask carver was adapted for the personification. Apparently, there had already been earlier forms during the Kamakura era (1192-1333) whose features where less refined and accomplished. Rath suggests that the word derives from the Sanskrit word for wisdom, pranja, “as in the Prajna Parmitra in the esoteric Buddhist text known in English as the Perfection of Wisdom.” He further explains that Hannya is closely linked to the snake, a Tantric metaphor for fertility and the gaining of wisdom. Hence, the actor representing Hannya also wears a silk costume with a ‘scaly’ pattern, and the mask is kept in a bag of the same material. According to Rath, the most fearful version of Hannya is the ‘Ja’ or ‘serpent’.

Plays that include the Hannya masks are Aoi no Ue, Dojoji, Kurozaka and Momijigair. The first includes the famous character of Lady Rokujo who transforms into Hannya because she is betrayed by her husband Prince Genji. A translation of the play can be found in Arthur Waley’s book. The photo shows a typical robe style that would be worn by her rival Aoi. Dojoji tells the story of the girl Kiyohime whose father teases her about marrying a priest called Anchin. However, Anchin is not interested in marrying the girl; he flees to his temple and hides under a bell. Kiyohime follows him and, in her fury, turns into Hannya. Serpent-like she wraps herself around the bell, and the heat of her anger melts the bell and kills the reluctant lover. Eventually, only the prayers of the other priests can defeat Hannya and she disappears.

(Click on above images to enlarge them.)

Masks IIIAs so often with early gifts and bequests for the university’s collection, we don’t have a lot of information regarding the origin of the mask. The sticker on the margin on the back mentions the name ‘Black-Roberts’ and the year 1912 (see photo). A search in the university’s annual reports reveals an entry for the 1913-14:

“Gifts and loans to the Museum include:-

1.The Black-Roberts Collection of Weapons, containing about ninety objects, loaned to the Museum by the Misses Black-Roberts, and collected by the late Dr. Black-Roberts, and old student of the College.”

I can only assume that the mask formed part of that collection and that the loan turned into a permanent one. I can also only guess that our mask represents Hannya as there are several other masks of Noh theatre that look similar, for example, Fudo, the God of Fire, Shikami, a malicious spirit or monster, and Shishiguchi, a demon or goblin. However, as the Hannya mask is one of the most famous ones and the features seem to fit, I decided that is was her, the evil, jealous spirit or demon of a woman. She certainly seems the most interesting one. As playwright and poet William Congreve (1670-1729) put it so aptly, “Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”


Coldiron, Margaret. “Lions, Wichtes and Happy Old Men: Some Parallels between Balinese and Japanese Ritual Masks”. Asian Theatre Studies, vol. 22, no 2, 2005, pp. 227-248. JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/stable/4137132. Accessed 26 Sep. 2017.

Mack, John et al. Masks: The Art of Expression. The British Museum P, 1996.

Rath, Eric C. The Ethos of noh: Actors and Their Art. Harvard UP, 2004.

Suan, Stevie. The Anime Paradox : Patterns and Practices Through the Lens of Traditional Japanese Theater, BRILL, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, .

Created from aber on 2017-09-26 08:43:01.

Waley, Arthur. The No Plays of Japan. George Allen and Unwin, 1921.