fujaraThe most striking thing about this flute is its length. Until around the year 1900 a length of between 90 and 150 cm was the rule, but during the twentieth century the fujara got longer and longer. These days fujaras are usually between 170 and 180 cm long and some are even over two meters. Traditionally the instrument is made of a long branch of elder which has been left to dry for several years before being hollowed out by hand. In the last few decades other woods have been used as well, and even plastic. Versions which can be dismantled have also become available; in two or three parts, they are more easily transportable.

We don't know who built the mim's fujara, which was purchased from a Brussels antique dealer in 1982. It is a traditional twentieth-century specimen, 167.5 cm long, made of elder and decorated with the customary light-brown geometric and floral motifs. They were painted on with nitric acid (HNO3) and the instrument was then finished with a coat of French polish.

The fujara is a harmonic flute with three holes for the fingers, like the one-hand flute. Unlike the recorder, but as with brass instruments, the player also overblows to overtones other than the octave: fifth, quarter, major third, minor third, etc. The missing tones are then supplemented with the three finger holes.

Little is known about the instrument's early history. In a number of ways the fujara does bear a striking resemblance to the Stamentien Bass which was presented as a sort of bass one-hand flute in Michael Praetorius' Syntagma Musicum (1619). Stamentien Bass and fujara are both duct flutes with three holes. They are so long that you cannot reach the finger holes when you blow on the head. Consequently, like the bass recorder, they are blown some way under the head by means of a pipe which leads the air stream to the head.

Typical of fujara playing is the rozfuk: by way of introduction the player blows his flute as forcefully as possible up to the highest overtones, after which he plays a descending cascade of overtones till he comes to the tessitura of the melody. Originally the player only blew the instrument in this way to test it, but it makes such an impression on stage that it has now become the rule. Slow songs are frequently played on the fujara and in-between the player often sings them as well. Many of the songs are about the heroic exploits of shepherds and outlaws, like the mythical folk hero Juraj Jánošík (1688-1713), the Slovakian Robin Hood.

The fujara was originally a shepherd's instrument, known only in a small area in the mountains of Central Slovakia: the Podpol'anie region (at the foot of the Polana mountain range) and adjoining parts of Horehronie, Gemer and Hont. Shepherds also used the fujara as a stick for leaning on, or to defend themselves against wild animals.

From the middle of the nineteenth century the Slovakian romantics attributed a specific meaning to this unusual instrument which appears nowhere else. The fujara became a symbol of Slovakian culture, and since independence in 1992 even of the Slovakian state. The current president, Ivan Gašparovič, had a hand in this. Gašparovič plays the instrument himself, and he likes to give one as a present to his fellow presidents and other high-ranking foreign visitors. The fujara has enjoyed greater status since 2005 when UNESCO declared the instrument and its music a 'Masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity'.

Though shepherds have not played the fujara for many years, the instrument is more popular than ever. Indeed, there have never been so many builders and players as in recent decades. Because of its elegiac, archaistic and mystical sound the instrument has also found its way into world music, new paganism and music therapy.

fujara 1982.016-03
fujara 1982.016-03
fujara 1982.016-03 (detail)
Michal Fil'o in his workshop, Banská Bystrica, photo ritteke demeulenaere
Dušan Holik and Jaroslav Sloboda, photo ritteke demeulenaere
player in traditional costume from Podpol’anie, photo ritteke demeulenaere