Brass free reeds are inserted into a hole cut at the thin end of animal horns. Both ends of the horn are open. The reed is often surrounded by a mixture of beeswax and charcoal to provide a mouthpiece. The notes are made by alternately blowing and sucking. The player can stop the large end of the horn with one hand and the small end with the thumb to change the pitch and timbre and create a rhythmic effect. The instrument can be made from a deer horn, elephant tusk or buffalo horn; the Karen horn for people with the highest status, only allowed to leaders or shamans of communities over 30 households, is made from the beak of a hornbill. Wooden horns were also used.

free reed set in horn


photos of instruments from collection Victoria Vorreiter

Karen kwae player

The Lua use them to call the spirits before a ceremony. With the Karen the prime function is a call to the harvest or as men were walking to the harvest at dawn, to frighten away tigers. The Karen also play them with gongs and other percussion for a type of sword dance performed on occasions such as weddings. They also enable young women to assess the strength of the player as they’re particularly hard to blow. Traditionally the Lamet blew them to frighten away the spirit of a gaur that has been trapped. The Khamu form was used by the shaman.

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