This blog is dedicated to the sublime instruments called nose flutes and which produce the most divine sound ever. We have chosen to discard all the native models from S. Pacific and Asia, for they need fingering to be played. We'll concentrate on "buccal cavity driven" nose flutes : the well patented and trademarked metal or plastic ones, plus, by a condemnable indulgence, some wooden craft or home-made productions.

May 24, 2016

Pataxós: Become Invisible with a Nose Flute!

Long time ago, we posted about the Tupi Guaranis people and about their nose flute, which is allegedly the first 'buccal driven pitched', dating of... before Columbus. The ethnomusicologist Randy Raine-Reusch had answered us « there is no record of how long it has been used in Brazil, which suggests that it is longer than when Europeans made first contact. »

But there is another Brazilian tribe which makes a great use of nose flutes, the Pataxós (pronounced 'Patashós'). They do not live in the same area as the Tupi Guaranis, and do not share the same language (almost extinct), speaking the Maxakalí, linked to Macro-Gê.
But I think there is no offense towards any of these nations, to write they share(d) a lot of traditions and life activities.

Two Pataxós men, and a Tupi Guarani woman:

The Pataxós met the first Portuguese on 24th of April, 1500, according to the Voyage pittoresque et historique au Brésil, by the french artist J. B. Debret, 1834:

Debret depicted the Pataxós as primitive savages, which was not true at all. The Dr. Herman Ten Kate, in his article Sur Quelques peintres ethnographes dans l'Amérique du Sud, in L'Anthropologie, 1911, will refute Debret's vision, as totally ridiculous « The composition (Fig. 20) intitled Botocoudos, Puris, Patachos and Macharis, representing a sylvan banquet of these indians, is ridiculous. This grimacing group, gorging around the fire, devouring all sorts of game, leads to think more of a meeting of frenetic anthropopithecus than of savages. »

'Botocoudos, Puris, Patachos and Macharis' by Debret:

Pataxós' hut, by Debret:

The other historical source is the book Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, wrote in 1820, after his travel to Brazil.

It is interesting to read in Maximilian's book that Frequently, these savages [the Pataxós] counterfeited the voices of owls, capueira and other birds, mainly the ones that are heard only at evening

Unfortunately, neither Debret nor Prince Maximilian mentioned some kind of nose bird call...

This website does: Índios da tribo Pataxó, da Bahia, mostraram ao G1 como fazem para se comunicar no meio da mata preservada na região de Porto Seguro (BA). Eles usam um apito de madeira para imitar o som de pássaros. O repertório é incontável, segundo o indígena Itaguari (...), that is (more or less): Indians of the Pataxó tribe, of Bahia, showed the G1 as they do to communicate in the preserved woods in the region of Porto Seguro (BA). They use a wooden whistle to imitate the sound of birds. The repertoire is uncountable, according to the Indian Itaguari (...)

More, O índio pataxó disse que usa o som dos pássaros para ficar "invisível" na floresta. "Esse é nosso jeito de chamar alguém da família que está na mata e também nos ajuda a atrair pássaros enquanto caçamos", afirmou Itaguari.
The Pataxó Indian said he uses the sound of birds to be 'invisible' in the forest. 'This is our way of calling someone of the family who is in the woods and also helps us attract birds while we hunt', Itaguari said.

Indeed, there are many pictures showing Pataxós playing a nose flute, with or without their traditional costume...

… and as many videos showing them imitating birds (well, they do not become invisible in the videos, but it's because they are not in the forest):

You should also watch this one and that one. And also this one. But if you prefer the Pataxós dressed in a modern way, try this one and that one.

As you can see, there are many. And when you cannot see a nose flute in a Pataxó video, you generally can hear one.

Whistle Zabelê - unusual sound instrument that is played with the blowing of the nose and which can reproduce the sounds of various birds, useful when hunting them [PDF source]

Whistles | Different shapes of whistles, which construction is greatly simplified, but functional. One that stands out is called Zabelê, whose breath is given through the nose and uses the mouth as speaker and sound modulator element. With it, it is possible to imitate the sounds of various birds, widely used in hunting.[PDF source]

The 'Zabelê whistle' got probably its name from the bird called Zabelê, the Yellow-legged tinamou. Here is a video

Here is the Zabelê song, and you can hear it looks rather easy to imitate with a nose flute:

While the apito Zabelê is sometimes left raw, many of the Pataxós nose flutes are ornated with geometric drawings:

Today, the Pataxós people are about 11,000, and fight to preserve their land and their language. They recently capped the pope Francisco, who was visiting Brazil, with a traditional Cocar. The story doesn't say if they also offered him an Zabelê nose flute…


  1. Wow, what a great trouvaille! This is a very fascinating post! Great research work, dear Trüffelschwein! The videos are incredible. The way those people play the noseflute is unlike anything I ever saw. You see the noses dancing when they play. And the sounds they produce! Incredible!I could never to this.

    1. Thank you, dear Nosymusic! We are glad that you like this post. Yes, they are incredible, and for sure, if I was a bird, I would become friend with them!

    2. Just to be eaten afterwards....

    3. Some of them, certainly... but not all, because I saw pictures in which they look very friends with the birds

  2. I absolutely love this post.

    1. Me too! I'm very glad when I collect "material" to push such kind of post ... Cheers!