The Lithuanian Skudučiai


    Multi-pipe whistles of northeastern Europe are widespread throughout Lithuania (skudučiai), Russia (kuvikly/kugikly) and Komi (kuima chipsan and pöliannez). These are the instruments that differ from other kinds of panpipes by both their construction and the mode of playing – the pipes are not fastened together and are blown by two or more players. Multi-pipe whistles feature an exceedingly primitive construction, i.e. they consist of several tubes of different length with the lower end closed. They were mainly made of the hollow stems of umbelliferous plants containing natural butt-ends. Therefore, not implements but handwork was most frequently utilized in making multi-pipe whistles. In Lithuania, skudučiai were made of wood as well. Multi-pipe whistles were most frequently made and tuned by the performers themselves.
    In Russia and Komi, multi-pipe whistles used to be made and played exceptionally by women and girls. In Romania and Serbia, the same individual pipes were also blown only by girls. In the first half of the 20th century in Lithuania, references to makers and players of skudučiai were made mostly in regard to males. The mixed type of playing was also frequent, though the music making was also done exceptionally by females. On the basis of older written sources, the data from field investigation, and comparative research, the assumption could possibly be made that in earlier times in Lithuania skudučiai must have been played exceptionally by females.
    Music making with multi-pipe whistles by women throughout the abovementioned nations of northeastern Europe is undoubtedly linked with archaic female rites, therefore, the assumption could possibly be made that this phenomenon could be regarded most probably as a relic in relation to the traditional culture of Europe.
Note: This text has been reprinted with the gracious consent of its original author, Dr. Rūta Žarskienė, of the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, located in Vilnius, Lithuania.