A few years ago, I discovered a unique percussion instrument that looked like a giant, mutant seedpod. After a bit of research, I found out that it was called a pacay shaker and came from a towering tree that grows in Central and South America. Asking around, I found out that it the ripe seedpods were also eaten as fruit, the seeds were cooked and eaten like beans and that the dried pods also served as make-shift toys or parts of games for children as well. What an incredibly versatile and useful tree!
Here’s a bit of about the Pacay tree. Its first mention in history is when the last Incan leader gifted a basket of these to Pizarro when he came to Peru from Spain in the 1500’s. In more modern times, the Pacay tree is often grown near coffee plantations in the Andes in order to shade the coffee beans.
When ripe, the Pacay seedpods are bright green in color and the white fiber between the seeds is eaten as fruit. Many people describe the fruit as “sweet, refreshing and delicious” and in some places it’s even called the ice cream bean.
Then there are the seeds. In Central America, the seeds are cooked and served like a bean or other vegetable. In some parts of Mexico, the seeds are roasted and sold as snacks or treats. And – obviously – if the seed pods are left to dry, the beans dry inside the pod and create the shaking and rattling sound that turns this from a food into a musical instrument.
Play a Pacay Shaker!
If you want to turn your seedpod into a musical instrument – here are some easy suggestions.
- Rattle it back and forth or up and down.
- Rattle it slowly then build up a crescendo.
- Hold it in one hand and tap it against the other.
- March or dance while shaking it, letting the beat become part of your movement or music!
Phoenix Tropicals – Growing Tips and Good General Information on Pacay Trees. Thanks Phoenix Tropicals for giving us permission to use your photo of the green Pacay fruit and tree!
Do you have a tree that has large seed pods? When they dry, can you shake them to make noise?
This post is written by award-winning multicultural musician “DARIA-” Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou. If you are looking for an incredible resource to learn about multicultural music and instruments for kids, you must check out her site. Thank you so much for sharing this Amazonian instrument with us!