An Instrument from An Armadillo? The Charango!

charango full color image If you were to travel to the Andes mountains of South America you might hear a small stringed instrument called a charango.  At first glance, it looks a bit like a mandolin, but instead of four sets of double strings like the mandolin, the charango has five sets of double strings for a total of ten strings.  And there’s something else that’s different about it.  If you turn over one of the older style charangos, you’ll see that it is made from the shell of a hairy armadillo!

harry-the-armadilloIf that seems like an odd choice for an instrument, it helps to know the background of how this strange and beautiful instrument came to be.  Historians believe that the majority of instruments in the Andes before the Spanish arrived were wind and percussion instruments.  There were an amazing variety of flutes – some several feet long.  There were different sizes and shapes of panpipes as well as rattles and drums that varied from location to location.  When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 1500’s, they brought guitars, mandolins and the harp.  Many of the records dating back to that time period share how local musicians adopted and integrated these stringed instruments into their culture with great enthusiasm.   Since wood was scarce; especially at altitudes that soared above the tree line, the hard shell of an armadillo became the sounding “bowl” for their new world version of the old world mandolin.

Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 3.24.17 PMYou can hear the unique sound of the charango on many of the songs on DARIA’s new album – Cancioncitas De Los Andes/Little Songs Of The Andes.  You can also color your own version of a charango as well as other instruments from around the world on the craft and activity page of DARIA’s website as listed below.

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes – On Itunes

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes on Amazon mp3

DARIA’s World Music For Kids – Craft and Activity Page

During the month of March 2013, you can download a free mp3 of the song, El Condor Pasa, at the link below:

El Cóndor Pasa – One Of The Best-Loved Songs from South America

Can you imagine seeing a bird with a ten foot wingspan fly overhead?

That awesome site was probably the inspiration for the song:  El Cóndor Pasa which translates loosely to “The Condor Passes By” or “The Condor Flies By”.  Often mistaken for a folksong, this beautiful melody was written by Peruvian composer, Daniel Alomía Robles, in 1913.  And since his composition remains true to the sound of Andean folksongs and the music that dates back to Incan times, El Cóndor Pasa is often considered an anthem of the Andes.

Many people in the USA recognize the song because singer/songwriter/ musician, Paul Simon, used one part of it in on his Bridge Over Troubled Water album.  In the original composition, the song consists of three parts: the yarabi (first part), the fox (second part) and the huayno (last part).  You can hear a version of the entire song recorded by DARIA with the band SONQO at the link below.

Condor_ManWhy would a condor inspire such awe?  In Incan times, the condor (known as kuntur in the Native language of Quechua) was seen as a messenger for the Apus – the Gods of the Mountains.  Seeing a condor was a rare but powerful experience and its feathers and likeness are part of several sacred or ceremonial dances, such as the one seen here at the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Puno, Peru.


To hear a traditional version of El Cóndor Pasa and five other songs from the Andes performed with authentic instruments, check out DARIA’s new cd – Cancioncitas De Los Andes/Little Songs of the Andes. 

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes On Itunes

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes on Amazon mp3


Crafting An Authentic Native American Style Turtle Rattle

Have you ever seen a Native American rattle made from the shell of a turtle? It’s used by a variety of tribes and it’s quiet sound is perfect for accompanying singing or special ceremonies.

These turtle rattles were made by craftsman, Ron Poole who actually started making drum beaters before he created these unique instruments. His story and comments below will tell you more about his background as a craftsperson as well as what it takes to make a traditional rattle such as the ones pictured here.

“As a young boy, I remember watching my grandfather and father create pieces of art out of materials found in nature. I was amazed at their creations and hoped I too someday would follow in their footsteps. It was not until a trip out west that the spark was lit and I began to infuse native imagery into my own work.

My carving is an effort to further the family tradition and explore the connection between cultures, myth and music.

I started out making Native inspired drum sticks also referred to as beaters which led to learning how to make Turtle Rattles. I began making the beaters after being gifted from my girlfriend a hand drum and beater making kit from Noc Bay Trading Company. They included a small black and white instruction on how to create a beater from a wooden dowel, piece of deer hide, artificial sinew, yarn and glue.

When I began making my first beater, I looked at the dowel and decided that I wanted to find wood from the forest behind my home. I enjoy trying to keep the beaters as close to their natural state as possible often leaving the bark on the beater.

When making the turtle rattles I use a power hand drill to drill out the holes and attach the leather using a thick needle and artificial sinew.  I fill the turtle rattle with sea shells that creates the percussion.  I handburn the rattles with a Nisburner hand burner. Hand burning; called pyrography, is one of my favorite parts of creating art. Burning yourself can be a bit painful but kind of comes with the territory.

Here is some of the information I include with my turtle rattles:

Legend says when Native Americans first moved into North America they called it Turtle Island. The turtle provided food and bowls. When the belly of the shell was split it gave them sharp tools and weapons. They later realized that the turtle lived a very long time. They believed it had a special spirit of longevity, strength, and wisdom. The turtles became revered and honored, and were made into rattles and hangers and decoration for use in ceremonies. Ceremonial drums were also made from larger species. This is the meaning of the Turtle Rattle.”


You can view Ron’s artwork and hand-crafted items for sale at:

You can find a kid’s craft version of a turtle rattle made from recycled take-out containers here:
You can enter to win one of Ron’s beautiful turtle rattles until November 25, 2012 here:


If you live in colder climates, January is a time when you are probably hoping for a change in the weather. All around the world, people have ways of anticipating and predicting the seasonal shifts that are so important to their lives. Most of these practices involve observing nature and a respectful relationship with animals. In my home state of Pennsylvania in the United States the rites and rituals of predicting the Spring center around a fat little groundhog named “Phil”.

In the town of Punxatawny, Pennsylvania, “Phil” the groundhog is a big celebrity and even has quite a few helpers on February 2nd when the big day arrives. If it’s cloudy, Spring is said to come early. If it’s clear and Phil sees it’s shadow – then 6 more weeks of cold weather for us all! In this area these traditions began with the Pennsylvania Dutch and they even created special “Groundhog Lodges” where there is food, entertainment and skits or plays at this time of year. All who attend must speak only in Pennsylvania Dutch dialect or they are fined a nickel, a dime or a quarter for speaking English! Whether your’re a farmer wondering when to plant or just someone who can’t wait for warmer weather, this can be a great time of year to celebrate our little furry friends and consider why animals are important to our lives.

I spent many of my teenage years in a Native American culture where animals are highly respected. For us, the web of life is woven not just for human beings but by every one of the amazing creatures – large and small – put here to dwell together. Whether it’s a prediction of spring by a hibernating creature or the companionship a favorite dog, cat or bird, wool from sheep or eggs or meat from other animals, it’s clear that animals provide so much for us. With that in mind, it is always a good time to stop and be grateful for how we are all interconnected and how much animals enrich our lives.

Would you like to learn more about groundhogs and Groundhogs Day? Check out some of the books I’ve listed below. Some are rather factual and others are a bit more creative – like one about a groundhog starting a weather school and another where the groundhog can’t sleep when he needs to and can’t get up when he should – very funny! And if you’ve ever wondered how much wood a woodchuck could really chuck, you can check out a tongue-twister song (The Groundhog’s Day Song) that I wrote because my family also wondered how much ground a groundhog could hog, if a groundhog could hog ground! We also considered how much sap a sapsucker could suck if a sapsucker could suck sap. (A sapsucker is a rather large bird in the woodpecker family that manages to make huge holes in lots of our pine trees!) And if you’re thinking about animals, you can also listen to a song I wrote with my daughter when she was 9. It was about riding on a horse and listening to the wisdom that it can share with us. I was very grateful to record this song with a local Native American Clan mother. The Lenape (or Leni Lenape) are the Native Americans that originated in the area of Pennsylvania where I now live.

And what about activities? Pennsylvania Dutch lodges always have Groundhog’s Day skits. Could you come up with your own skit for this special occasion? Could your kids or your class write and perform one? You could also make sock puppets or paper pop-up puppets – great fun for acting out whether or not the groundhog will see his shadow from your own personal perspective. You can find the pop-up puppet activity on my monthly song page. And if you’re reading this after that page has changed, simply e-mail me ( and I will send the activities out to you right away!

In any event, I hope you have an outstanding Groundhog’s Day! Whether or not Phil sees his shadow on February 2nd at Gobbler’s Knob in the wonderful little town of Punxatawny, Pennsylvania; I will be keeping my fingers crossed that we all get to enjoy an early Spring!

Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou

Award-winning children’s performer, DARIA (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou) has five cd’s that have won national honors. She has the most awesome job of traveling the world to sing for kids and peace. Her website; located at, was given a 2009 Parents Choice Award for its musical and cultural content.

The Groundhog Song on

The Groundhog Song on Itunes

Ride Horse Ride on
Ride Horse Ride on Itunes
(from the album: I Have A Dream)

Books About Groundhog’s Day
Groundhog Day!
Gail Gibbons (author)
– Wonderful fun and great facts about groundhogs and the Groundhog’s Day celebration.

The Groundhog Day Book of Facts and Fun
Wendie C. Old (Author)
Paige Billin-Frye (Illustrator)
– A sampler of groundhog facts and a good description of the special day in Punxatawny, PA.

Go To Sleep, Groundhog!
by Judy Cox
Paul Meisel (Illustrator)
– A groundhog can’t seem to fall asleep when it’s time to hibernate and has a tough time getting up when his own special holiday comes. Lovely illustrations.

Ten Grouchy Groundhogs
Kathryn Heling (Author)
Deborah Hembrook (Author)
– A cute counting book for young children with some good groundhog facts sprinkled in!

Groundhog Gets a Say
Pamela Curtis Swallow (Author)
Denise Brunkus (Illustrator)
– A groundhog thinks his holiday should last more then one day. His animal friends help make his case for the world to know more about groundhogs.

Groundhog Weather School
Joan Holub Joan Holub (Author)
Kristin Sorra (Illustrator)
– A groundhog is encouraged to open a weather school everyone gets to learn more about hibernation, groundhogs and the holiday.