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Music, Climate, and Therapy in Kallawaya Cosmology (Part 2): Dysfunction of Seasonal Change, Climatic Reversal, and Musical Worlding


By Sebastian Hachmeyer[1]



Valley of Niñocorin (Sacred Mount Akhamani in the background)



Ecomusicology –  the study of “relationships between music and sonic issues, both textual and performative, related to ecology and the natural environment” (Allen 2011, 419) – offers an interdisciplinary toolkit needed to study music in times of environmental crisis (see also Titon 2013). One of the most profound manifestations of the environmental crisis is anthropogenic (i.e. human-influenced) climate change. The conventional environmental science discourse focuses on fossil fuel combustion and exponential greenhouse gas emissions and on humanity’s impacts on the global atmospheric system: global warming. The impacts of climate change and global warming are plentiful, depending on local contexts: glacier retreat, desertification, water scarcity, sea-level rise, inundation, floods, changing local weather patterns, migration, to mention just a few. Also dependent on local context is how diverse peoples understand climate change and how they produce climate change related knowledge. Many studies of indigenous people and climate change in the Andes take for granted a conventional understanding of climate change and the predominant scientific explanation of its appearance. In such studies (e.g. Lara & Vides-Almonacid 2014; Vidaurre et al. 2013; Nordgren 2011), local knowledge may well serve for climate change impact detection or as an adequate and cost-efficient source for alternative adaptation strategies increasing resilience.

There are ecomusicological studies about the relationship between music, sound and climate change (e.g. Titon 2016; Allen 2013; and various authors in Allen and Dawe 2016). Some themes touched upon are musicians’ evocation to nature as a source of inspiration, dealings of environmental issues in activist music, the ecological (and carbon) footprint of live music, world tours and recordings, the sustainability of prime material use for instrument making (i.e. deforestation and included liberation of CO²), as well as changing animal behavior, especially bird sounds and communication. What all these aspects have in common is that they tie in with naturalist understandings of “Nature” as something universal and objective. Descola (2013) defines naturalism as typical to Western ontologies, which supposes a metaphysical dualism between nature, the domain of necessity, and culture, the domain of spontaneity, separated by metonymic discontinuity (see also Viveiros de Castro 2012). Titon (2013) states that most ecomusicologists accept “Nature” as real, external and objectively knowable. He further argues for a more ecological construction of “Nature” based on a relational epistemology of diversity and interconnectedness. Ethnomusicology can contribute to denaturalize assumptions about “Nature” while studying other-than-Western epistemologies involving sound and music, so called “acoustemologies” (Feld 1993). In an aurally minded society, Ingold (2000, 284) argues, people would express their ideas of knowledge or understanding by drawing on metaphors from the realm of acoustic experience.

Hence, in relation to ecomusicological research, consider the following question: How do diverse peoples engage in local and situated musical practices that produce climate change related knowledge? In the context of the Northern Bolivian Kallawaya, I argue that music is a local and situated knowledge practice” (Strathern 1990) that produces climate change related knowledge in a local relational field. Thus, in order to better understand the present situation of climate change in the Kallawaya region, it is worth listening to the cracking sound of melting glaciers, to bird songs appearing in different time-spaces, to sirens singing songs of rivers drying out, and, ultimately, to music being played with different musical instruments, each of them telling a story about their unique ecology and meaning in a meaningful and “radical different world” (Blaser 2013, 549). In the end, this opens up ontological questions about the very idea of climate change “as we know it” (Viveiros de Castro 2014).

The sonorous and musical meshwork in Kallawaya cosmology

The Kallawayas 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 mainly corresponds with the province of Bautista Saavedra in the Northern Andes of the department of La Paz, Bolivia. As I have shown in part I of the article (Hachmeyer 2017), a musical and sonorous meshwork integrates different dimensions of cyclic life of the immersion in what is called pacha in Quechua. Besides meaning cosmos and time/space, pacha also refers to weather and climate relating to a particular meteorological succession during the main climatic seasons of the year, called ch’aki pacha (dry season) and paray pacha (wet season). For the Kallawayas music (once reduced to a byproduct of rituals and agrarian practices) is an organizational principle of time and the cosmological centrality for the transformation of climatic seasons with their respective meteorological succession. Archer (1964, 29) argues that “we expect a music to be shaped by climate”; but the Kallawayas would respond that they rather expect climate to be shaped by music.

Local climate as a “physical-symbolic complex” (Rivière 1997, 34) is the direct manifestation of established reciprocity with a pantheon of Kallawaya deities and Andean spirits being responsible for adequate climatic conditions favoring agrarian production. Music establishes an emotional and ethical context for ecological relationships that extend into a visible and knowable past (ñawpa) and orients towards an invisible, but hearable, thus anticipatable future (qhipa), depending on the maintenance of reciprocal relationships between human and other-than-human subjectivities (see also Simonett 2016). This is related to what I have called “musical performativity” (Hachmeyer 2017 and 2015), which describes basic conditions required for the success of a “musical speech act.” Musical sound has to be produced by specific instruments relating to a particular time-space condition during the “orchestration of the year” (Stobart 2006), which primarily relates to repercussions on local climate and meteorological events (wind, rain, frost, etc.). Due to the agrocentrism in Kallawaya cosmology, this orchestration of the year plans and integrates different agricultural tasks, during which climate related collective rituals play a major role in securing agrarian production. These rituals literally take place at particular, i.e. sacred, places, in which a specific musical expression (sound, harmony, rhythm, tempo, etc.) can unfold its cosmological potential within a relational and animate world (Rösing 1996).

If music and climate assume such an interdependent relationship, how do Kallawayas perceive changes in these two interdependent realms?

Climate change in an animate world

Descola (2013) defines animism as endowing natural beings with human dispositions and social attributes, where the elementary categories structuring social life organize the relations between humans and natural species, thus defining a social and moral continuity between nature and culture (see also Viveros de Castro 2012). Considering the Andean context, I propose that climate, instead of being a description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant meteorological quantities over a period of time, rather might be seen as a description of relevant human and other-than-human moral qualities, relating to reciprocal relationships with Andean deities and spirits. Climate change would be understood as an unprecedented change in that same moral behaviour between human and other-than-human subjectivities. In Kallawaya cosmology, telluric processes cannot be separated from corporeal processes (Bastien 1985). The body is not considered dualistically as a material vessel of organs apart from mental, emotional or cognitive processes happening in mind. The body, for instance, also comprises the inner self (ibid.). Health, or the “wholeness of body” in Kallawaya terms, is seen as 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.). Fluids of the body are governed by similar dynamics within the environment, so that they “flow back and forth between the body and the mountain” (Bastien 1985, 598). Hence, ultimately, it “extends beyond dualistic confines of inner and outer” (ibid.). Feeling, thinking, and nurturing are processes happening not just inside one’s own body. It might be more adequate to talk about these relationships in terms of an inseparable person-mountain-body unit, as well as corporeal and mental extensions in an ecological approach to feeling, thought, and nurture (cf. Clark & Charmers 1998; Gibson 1979). The person is attached to mountain, as much as the mountain is attached to person, through their bodies, in which fluids, i.e. materials and energy, flow interchangeably. This interchange is basically sustained through agriculture, rituality, and, especially, musical sound reciprocally mediating between the person and the mountain (in which ancestors and deities are literally embodied).

In the case of Kallawaya physiology, reciprocity might be seen as a mental, spiritual, cognitive, material, and particularly sonic exchange between a person in environment and vice versa, having the ultimate goal to blur boundaries between both. Hence, “we can no longer think of the organism, human or otherwise, as a discrete, bounded entity, set over against an environment. It is rather a locus of growth within a field of relations traced out in flows of materials. As such, it has no ‘inside’ or ‘outside’” (Ingold 2013, 10). According to Descola (2013), in the reciprocal mode of interaction, humans and other-than-humans are substitutes for one another, contributing jointly, by their reciprocal exchanges, to the general, in this case climatic equilibrium of the cosmos. Ultimately, the corporeal is not separated from the cognitive, as much as the natural is not separated from the cultural, behavioural or moral. The very adversity or even “sickness” (Vergara Aguilar 2013) of climate (as an expression of pacha) is related to a) an improper circulation of fluids within the person-mountain-body and b) to the sphere of the moral and behavioural, since the universe is a social and moral order governed by moral and ritual law (Radcliffe-Brown 1952).

Dysfunction of seasonal change

A good climate among the Kallawaya is an adequate climate for agrarian production. Hence, it is worth looking at how local testimonies report about changes in such a typical meteorological succession, usually allowing for particular agricultural tasks. My host in Niñocorin explains that

this is a real problem. In times of sowing it is not raining. Sometimes we repeat qallay [rain ritual practiced in November], because it doesn’t rain. The watapurichiq [collective ritualist of the community] once said that it is as if weather does not correspond to our rituals, and that seasonal changes don’t work. But then, during times of crop growth, a lot of rain impedes the correct preparation of crops, as soil turns into mud. And also after Carnival, where rain normally diminishes, heavy rains and especially hailstorms destroy our agricultural yields right before harvest. (F.P. 2014, personal communication)

After harvest, special and ancestral preservation techniques require strong and continuous frost over several nights (e.g. dehydration of potatoes that convert into ch’uño). This process of dehydration is sometimes interrupted because of mild winters and an absence of strong frosts. It becomes obvious that climate change impacts undermine the reproduction of indigenous technologies and knowledge. This is evident during such processes of food conservation, but also with regard to ritual practices, as my host indicated. The repetition of rain rituals is related to prolonged droughts during sowing and a delayed transformation from dry to rainy season (see also Nordgren 2011).

Against this background of adverse climatic conditions for agrarian production, Rösing (1996, 52) states that Kallawaya ritualists argue that prolonged droughts during times of sowing are caused by a “cultural and moral decomposition.” Furthermore, local people from different Kallawaya communities perceive adverse climatic conditions as “pain and penalty” of deities and spirits, as reciprocal bonds have been interrupted (ibid.). The abandonment of ritual practices as something “backward” after the agrarian reforms of 1952 coincided with one of the heaviest droughts of the twentieth century, which people related directly to abandoning ritual practices, especially rain rituals such as qallay in Niñocorin and Kaata (Spedding & Llanos 1999, 105f). The very adversity of local climate is related to human failure and irreverence with respect to the cosmological tension of reciprocity in such a relational local field (see also Rivière 1997).

Hence, changing climatic conditions are about changing human and other-than-human relationships in an animate world. Such changes tell a story about patterns of moral and behavioral deterioration. Given this local understanding of adversity within this specific physical-symbolic complex of climate, it is worth looking at how this moral and behavioral change manifests itself in the sphere of music as the mediator of cyclic life and seasonal change.

Musical change as indicator of moral and behavioral change

Merriam (1964) proposes a model of musical analysis indicating emic aspects of musical change grounded in an analysis of musical dynamics, which mainly focus on the conceptualization of music, the behavior in relation to it, and musical sound. In relation to Kallawaya music, analyzing these aspects implies discussing changes in musical performativity and social relevance. Although a performative understanding of musical practices in relation to agriculture and spirituality is still vivid to some degree, it is possible to identify certain changes. First and foremost, the time-space condition of music is partially disarticulated, as a musical instrument appears at “wrong times” or “out of its season.” After a patronal feast in a vicinal community, where Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble were contracted to play in middle of November, my host argued that

this is always like this. If there is a contract to be fulfilled, they would do it. They play qantu out of its season, it does not give them a lot of importance. They always play qantu all the time, as Charazani [the regional capital] always plays its pifano, or Cañizaya [a community close to mount Akhamani] its chatre. And then they wonder why it is not raining. (F. P. 2014, personal communication)

This generalization of music during the orchestration of the year would consequentially cause certain repercussions on the local climate and agrarian production. My host, for instance, argues that playing qantu panpipes at the end of dry season in November or during rainy season in general prevents it from raining, which would drastically diminish the agricultural yield (for similar testimonies see also Langevin 1991).

Regarding behaviors in relation to music, this generalization of musical genres and instruments can be related to a transformation of former meanings of music making in relation to agrarian production and rituality. For example, consider, among others, musical re-interpretations within younger generations, relating musical practices to social and civil acts and the creation of new Kallawaya identities, and a regional specialization on musical instruments and genres alongside different communities that would always present their specialization during public festivities. Hence, with regard to this shift in meaning of music making, it is worth looking at the contemporary social relevance of music.

Here, I would like to take Gutiérrez’s (1991) idea of endogenous and exogenous dynamics within Andean music performance as a starting point. Gutiérrez (1991) states that the brass band can be considered a perfect example of the endogenous dynamic of music in Bolivian rural societies. This endogenous dynamic is caused by contact with a “Western” music culture and can be seen as an attempt to maintain rhythm and melody with well-tempered instruments (see also Mújica 2014). Rather than being considered an expression of an acultural entity (cf. Gutiérrez 1991), brass bands are primarily considered more prestigious than autochthonous music ensembles, as they are considered the more expensive and louder option (Stobart 2006). Moreover, brass band musicians are affirmed certain professionalism with regard to playing instruments, which might be related to formal learning processes. One musician from Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble argued during an akhulliku, the collective act of coca leaf chewing (which provided a context for my focus group discussions),

we are often not considered proper musicians. It would help us if we got some recognition for us, like the Kallawaya healers, they got recognition of their practices. Then, nobody would say that only brass bands consist of musicians. (M.R. 2015, personal communication)

This can be interpreted as a sort of discrimination towards rural indigenous music that seems to lack socio-economic status and professionalism. Hence, the endogenous dynamics go far beyond the insertion of well-tempered instruments and the reproduction of certain elements within brass band music. In the context of the Kallawaya, endogenous dynamics are moreover finely nuanced around the perception of precision, professionalism, and participation within autochthonous music groups in relation to such a comparison with brass band music (Hachmeyer 2015).

Integration through musical participation is understood as one of the main purposes of musical practices in indigenous communities (Stobart 2006). Participation does not so much depend on the precision and professionalism of instruments and practitioners (Turino 1989). Turino (2008) divides between two fields of live performance: participatory and representational performance.[2] The former is sometimes related to “hobby” musicians while the latter is sometimes related to “professional” musicians.[3] Based on Turino’s (2008) conceptualization of live performance, an analysis of Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble should highlight this fundamental behavioral shift.


Participatory Performance Representational Performance

Frequency of rehearsal

Main participation in dance

Rhythm: ostinato and constant

Short sectional forms

Dense Texture

Minimization of individual virtuosity

Importance of sound

Disappearing of ad hoc integration

Professionalism and precision

Formalized learning

Individual and anthropocentric creativity

Centralized leadership

Social Activity Object, Commodity

Some characteristics of participatory performance have been maintained, basically those corresponding to the song structure, which are a constant ostinato rhythm, short sectional forms, the dense texture and the related minimization of individual virtuosity. The main participatory element is dance, which integrates a majority of people with an active and performative role. Rehearsals are infrequent, although they might increase in the context of representational performances. On the contrary, some aspects changed towards representational performances. First and foremost, musical sound becomes more important, so that an untypical sound quality is introduced (Turino 1989), manifesting itself through the disappearance of ad hoc integration and a precision of instruments, as well as a professionalization of musicians. The latter might correspond to formalized learning processes, which replaces practical and embodied learning in a collective situation (can be interpreted as a means to counter discrimination in comparison with brass band music). Moreover, the social organization and leadership is centralized around the “president,” who assumes most administrative and organizational tasks (which also might relate to the social organization of brass bands).

According to Gutiérrez (1991), the formation of a Bolivian identity of folklore and neo-folklore involves exogenous dynamics that generate competition, change music’s logic towards an artistic ideal of individual and temporary pleasure, and elaborate a music for every audience, moment, and place (see also Mújica 2014). In a heritage context, legitimate cultural expressions and cultural rights are conceptualized in terms of past history and the continuity of present actors with that past history (Llanos & Spedding 2009). In this sense, potential conflicts arise over the proper and “real” musical expression of qantu music, being related to conflicts over the legitimacy of expressing “real” Kallawaya identity through music. This is why some actors (mainly musicians from rural indigenous music ensembles, the elderly, etc.) define musical re-negotiations as “stylization” of or “alienation” from a certain ideal of rural indigenous music corresponding to a particular symbolic meaning and social relevance (in relation to agrarian production and rituality).[4] Talking about the transmission of musical practices during another focus group session, one musician of Niñocorin’s qantu ensemble argues that

we play original qantu music, with panpipes, drums and ch’inisku [metal triangle]. Yes, there are some youngsters who play qantu, but rather with modern instruments, like guitar and charango, or even with keyboards, but this is not original, and not proper to our context. (P.A. 2014, personal communication)

Pachakuti as climate reversal or turning

These tendencies in the realm of music reflect certain conceptual and behavioral changes that are perceived by some involved actors as “loss of tradition” and thus have certain adverse repercussions on local climate patterns. Analogically, this means a rupture of a constant cosmological equilibrium, which is firstly noted within climatic conditions, as they are direct manifestations of reciprocal relationships between human and other-than-human subjectivities manifested through musical sound. Against this background, the loss of ritual and musical tradition is directly related to adverse climatic conditions.

In the Kallawaya region, there is a distinction between personal and collective rituals. While personal rituals are directed towards healing, collective rituals are directed towards the wellbeing of the whole community, such as adequate climate conditions relating to agrarian production. These collective rituals are divided between cyclic and temporal rituals. Cyclic rituals take place every year and relate to the cycle of agrarian production. Temporal rituals take place, for instance, when a calamity occurs, such as the lack of rain for sowing or crop growth (e.g. the repetition of qallay rain ritual). These temporal rituals need to be invoked by the community council or the collective ritualist, the watapurichiq. Since the watapurichiq is sometimes referred to as machula (meaning grandfather in Quechua), he is considered the ancestors’ representative or the “man of enlacement” (Rösing 1996, 64) who is able to communicate between worlds. The Quechua word watapurichiq literally means “one who makes the year walk” (Rösing 1996, 537). Therefore, he is also called the authority of pacha (especially in the sense of climate/weather) (Vergara Aguilar 2013). Against this background a loss of ritual tradition might be seen as if there is no one making the year walk or proceeding with the cyclic stations of life, thus a situation of being in a vital limbo or of not being able to predict what is going to happen next in life. This feeling of unpredictability is directly associated with climate change. One farmer in Inca Rosa, another Kallawaya community a two-hour hike south of Niñocorin, stated in early March that

we cannot predict weather. This is horrible. We, as farmers, are very vulnerable to these rapid changes in weather. It continues raining without end. Look, the problem is, what shall we do? We need to use all these pesticides and everything against fungus, plagues or diseases that appear as never before. (F.I. 2015, personal communication)

The introduction of new synthetic agricultural technologies is considered necessary to confront climate change impacts, because local, ancestral and appropriate technology apparently reaches its limits. The “unreadability” of meteorological events is also related to the use of local biological indicators. Talking about the whistle of a bird locally known as chiwanku (the glossy-black thrush, Turdus serranus) announcing the proper time of sowing, my host in Niñocorin explains that

the chiwanku is not announcing anymore the correct time of sowing. For us, it is not an indicator anymore, because the chiwanku itself seems to be confused about all these changes. [Laughs.] When, then, should we sow? We do not exactly know this. The only thing we can do is wait for an appropriate time, we have to wait for rain. You know, actually it would be good if the climate once and for all changed, because afterwards we could properly read nature again to make proper decisions. (F.P. 2014, personal communication)

What my host expresses here, i.e. the wish that the climate finally changes once and for all, can be interpreted as a return to stable and predictable climatic conditions in an unknown future. It might symbolize a re-balancing of the world through a tumultuous turn of adverse climatic events, which can be referred to with the Andean concept of pachakuti (world turning). In this context pachakuti could be interpreted as the restoration of the world’s balance by means of a climatic reversal or turning.


How should these empirical findings be interpreted against the background of a climate justice discourse in relation to indigenous peoples? At first glance, these empirical findings obviously might be interpreted as if less privileged people blame themselves for something to which they have contributed very little, as indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable confronting the most direct impacts of climate change (Burman 2015). Within such (ethnomusicological) contributions to climate change, we see some sort of crisis of (ethnomusicological) knowledge (Salmon 2013). All ethnographic data with regard to climate change and local knowledge run the risk of consequentially being downplayed as a system of beliefs or an inferior and illusive cultural (mis-)representation of one universal reality of climate change already sufficiently explained by positivist climate sciences. This is somewhat similar to what Latour (1991) calls “particular universalism,” stating that one specific “Culture” has privileged access to “Nature.” And this is why the critique also goes like this: Local knowledge may well recognize the existence of climate change, but different “cultural perceptions” may even lead to its denial (see e.g. Baer & Reuter 2015; Milton 1996).

Undoubtedly, in a capitalist world-system that diffuses its economic and rationalist logic into every single corner of the world, scientific knowledge as its epistemological backup also circulates within the Kallawaya region, diffused by national and international actors. While the question of whether these people playing “wrong” musical instruments at “wrong” times are responsible for climate change in that specific local context does not make any sense, if you tie local realties (ontologies) to your theoretical and conceptual framework (an attempt to take the people seriously you work with), it would still be an important question to ask with regard to indigenous peoples, climate justice, and colonialism. Beyond the monolithic concept of climate change as a universal reality, various peoples experience, understand, and address climate changes in local contexts and discuss issues of climate justice in local relational fields, turning into spaces of political struggles, not only about the production of legitimate climate-related knowledge but also over “what there is” (Blaser 2013, 561), about the natures or realities of climate change, and about their legitimate explanations (Burman 2015).

In Latin America, there is a body of scholarly literature discussing issues surrounding epistemic dimensions of continuous colonial domination and the existence of epistemic violence (Burman 2016 and 2015; de Sosa Santos 2012; Mignolo 2009 and 2000). Indigenous peoples are the most vulnerable to climate changes, but indigenous knowledge, although regarded as an alternative and viable source of adaptation strategies for climate change, is rarely seen as being equal compared to “Western” scientific knowledge (Burman 2015). Both might coexist in a certain context, but they do not always assume an egalitarian and symmetric relationship as the word “coexistence” suggests (ibid.). Still, it is not only about how to know, but also about what to know. This is why Burman (2016) argues that there is something missing in the debate about the “coloniality of knowledge” – that is, questions of an ontological nature.

Stobart (2006, 52) argues in the context of Northern Potosí that the “use of musical instruments to influence atmospheric phenomena was conceived at a highly practical level.” This is indeed true, but concrete and situated practices are embedded in concrete places in a “dwelt-in-world” (Ingold 2011, 42) and are therefore ontologically informed and materially conditioned (Burman 2016). Knowledge and reality, Burman (2016) argues, are mutually formative, playing major roles in constituting each other. The local and situated musical “knowledge practice” correlates with the constitution of a certain ensounded reality. This raises further ontological questions about the natures of climate change and the particular reality, which is constituted by music as a local and situated knowledge practice. Obviously, “climate change” discussed by indigenous peoples such as the Kallawayas is not the same thing as “climate change” discussed by scientists or environmentalists. Here, “climate change” emerges as a different reality depending on the (knowledge) practice under consideration (Mol 2002).

I prefer to frame these empirical findings in terms of the political dimensions of potential ontological conflicts. Drawing on the ontological turn in social theory (e.g. Escobar 2007) and on the project of political ontology (e.g. Blaser 2013), an ontological conflict is not a conflict between different cultural perceptions about one single, objective, and universal nature; rather, it is about conflicts between different worlds in what Strathern (2004) calls the “pluriverse.” Similar to the coloniality of knowledge, Burman (2016) argues that there also exist ontological dimensions of continuous colonial domination. Drawing on Viveiros de Castro’s (2014, 10) notion of “war of worlds,” Burman (2016, 10) states that a dominant reality “imposes itself on other realities in an ontocidal process of colonial ontological warfare.” In this sense, ontology is not “just another word for culture” (Carrithers et al. 2010), as culture is somehow taking for granted its own ontological status (in terms of Cartesian metaphysics) (Blaser 2013); rather than thinking about ontology in the same manner as culture – i.e. as objective, reified, discrete, and mutually excluding – ontology could instead be conceptualized as a constant and ongoing formation of premises, which “overlap, intersect and connect” (Burman 2016) and which form “complex interplays” and “multiple engagements” (Jensen & Morita 2012, 365). Hence, it might be better to talk about “ways of worlding” (Blaser 2013, 551) in a processional sense. Understood in its epistemological dimension, music making is always knowledge making about a particular world (“acoustemologies”). But understood in relation to its ontological dimension, music making, consequentially, also has to be musical worlding.

Another aspect of the concept of ontology might be of consideration here. Holbraad (cited in Blaser 2013, 551) states that ontology as a concept

gets us out of the absurd position of thinking that what makes ethnographic subjects most interesting is that they get stuff wrong. Rather, on this account, the fact that the people we study may say or do things that to us appear as wrong just indicates that we have reached the limits of our own conceptual repertoire.

As a heuristic device, Salmon (2013) refers to an “ontological delegation,” which forces the scholar to risk the robustness and transportability of one’s own ontological assumptions by letting them be counter-analyzed by indigenous knowledge practices with their own requisites, propositions, and postulates (see also Viveiros de Castro 2014). But why should it be necessary to do so, apart from “betraying otherwise the existing multiplicity of words or realities” (Blaser 2013, 551)?

If the environmental crisis – and its most profound manifestation: climate change –  is first and foremost a “crisis of reason” (Plumwood 2002) of a dominant anthropocentric culture believed to have privileged access over nature (see also Allen 2014 and 2011), then issues of epistemic and ontological violence (including acts of disobedience from the subaltern) should be addressed in order to properly discuss social and climate justice in relation to indigenous peoples. Such peoples’ knowledge may well serve for climate change adaptation, yet too often their reality of climate change is not allowed to exist (Burman 2016). As Burman (2016) argues (drawing on de Sousa Santos 2012), there cannot be global social and climate justice without global cognitive justice (i.e. epistemological and ontological justice). The ontological turn in social theory is surely debatable and controversial. But I think that it is worth asking if  a radical critique of the capitalist world-system necessarily should be articulated form within ontological premises underpinning unsustainable mechanisms (i.e. unequal ecological exchange or environmental waste disposal) and the social organization of production and consumption of that very capitalist world-system (Burman 2016).

While in the confines of this essay I cannot address fully this ongoing anthropological debate, I do think that ecomusicological perspectives do well to overcome the naturalist cradle of its foundation in order to a) actively participate in contemporaneous and interdisciplinary academic debates relating to the environmental crisis and sustainability, and b) to do justice to the discipline’s critical outlines ultimately aiming at transcending the academic sphere in order to be fruitfully informed by other-than-academic, critical, and disobedient musical artists and thinkers from the subaltern. Ontological questions do very much inform ecomusicological research: the “Natures” we talk about are indeed very important.



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[1] PhD Candidate in the Music Department, Royal Holloway University of London. B.A. in Social Sciences and Economics at Erfurt University (Germany), specialization in environmental sociology, M.Sc. in Human Ecology at Lund University (Sweden), specialization in environmental anthropology and political ecology. Contact:

[2] “Briefly defined, participatory performance is a style of artistic practice in which there are no artist-audience distinctions, only participants and potential participants performing different roles, and the primary goal is to involve the maximum number of people in some performance role. Representational performance, in contrast, refers to situation, where one group of people, the artists, prepare and provide music for another group, the audience, who do not participate in making the music or dancing.” (Turino 2008, 26)

[3] Turino (2008, 28) overtly argues against such a distinction, but considers it as somehow existing.

[4] Against the background of a certain musical performativity, it is worth looking at the repercussions of such exogenous dynamics on the sound of qantu music during processes such as folklorization, a theme which I explore in detail elsewhere (Hachmeyer 2015). Because of the framework of this essay, it is not possible to go further into detail. The main repercussions are: Substitution of musical instruments, performance techniques, harmony, rhythm and tempo, as well as change of music’s communication strategy.



In Kallawaya cosmology autochthonous (indigenous) musical practices are closely related to the social, natural, and spiritual environment. This is evident from processes surrounding the construction and tuning of 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 article examines the interrelation between musical and climate change in the Kallawaya region. The impacts of musical sound on local weather events are of great importance to understand the complexity of climate change in this local context. The Northern Bolivian Kallawayas refer to changes in climate as a complex of alterations in local human and non-human relationships based on a rupture of reciprocal relationships in an animate world, in which music plays an important role for the cosmological equilibrium. This situation demonstrates the relevance of indigenous knowledge and cosmologies in relation to climate change discourses, particularly regarding questions of climate justice.

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





By Sebastian Hachmeyer[1]


Sunrise over Niñocorin’s Main Square


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 tap. Their 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 the Music Department, Royal Holloway University of London. B.A. in Social Sciences and Economics at Erfurt University (Germany), specialization in environmental sociology, M.Sc. in Human Ecology at Lund University (Sweden), specialization in environmental anthropology and political ecology.

[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.