What Is It? August 2022

 Elizabeth Puls of Boulder, Colorado guessed that these objects are hand-held musical instruments, blown by mouth and fingered on various holes drilled into the sides. They are probably made out of gourds, bone, maybe plastic or wood. I think they probably came from South America in origin—Peru, Chile, Ecuador. They could be called “pig whistles” or “whistle-pigs” or “shepherd’s flutes.” Christine Rhodes of Littleton, Colorado says that they are ocarina. Terry Cook of Fort Morgan, Colorado; Loretta Lockett of Longmont, Colorado and Jean Helzer of Arvada, Colorado all agree. Jean adds that sometimes they were referred to as “Sweet Potatoes.” These are all correct answers.
 Ocarina is actually Italian for “little goose,” a name given to it by an Italian teenager, Guiseppe Donati, when he invented a submarine shaped clay flute in 1853. He showed it to his friends and, together, they perfected an instrument that has been carried to all corners of the world.
 The ocarina belongs to a very old family of instruments, believed to date back over 12,000 years. The ocarina has similar features to the Xun, another important Chinese instrument. Different expeditions to Mesoamerica, including the one conducted by Cortes, resulted in the introduction of the ocarina to the courts of Europe. Both Mayans and Aztecs produced versions of the ocarina.
In 1964, John Taylor, an English mathematician, developed a fingering system that allowed an ocarina to play a full chromatic octave using only four holes. The ocarina features prominently in the Nintendo 64 games: The Legend of Zelda, etc. The games have been credited for increasing the popularity of ocarinas.
 Thank you to our winners for playing our What Is It contest. You have all won a year’s subscription to the Mountain States Collector.

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