Last update: December 5, 2023

There are two types of panpipes among Cambodia's ethnic minorities: bundle and raft, the first played by the Jarai and the second by the Kreung.

Bundle Panflute of Jarai

The bundled Panflute is a polycalamus flute whose pipes are organized in a bundle. Usually this instrument is called "Panflute" because western organology considers the intrinsic structure of the instrument, ignoring the playing technique. In this case, the pipes are kept at a distance to receive a coarse jet of air. However, the playing of the flute is characterized by a blade of air coming to break on a bevel, which is not the case here. The resultant of the playing is a white noise containing all the frequencies close to the fundamental sound defined by the length of the pipe, enriched harmonically by the adjacent tubes. Contrary to a true Panflute, here the pipes are open at their lower end.

In Ratanakiri, a few rare women still know the game of ding jön (called and spelled đĭng dek by the Jörai of Vietnam). It consists of eleven tied bamboo pipes. The lower end of the tubes is open and beveled. 

In the past, this instrument was played exclusively by women inside or outside the house, in the evening or early morning, before starting to pound rice. Its low volume makes it an intimate instrument.

To play, the musician presents the opening of the tubes about ten centimeters from her mouth and sends air inside by simultaneously moving the instrument and the head. The breath is accompanied by a frullato (continuous rolling of the tongue). In order to make the musical piece even more alive, she adds rhythmic accompaniment by brushing with her thumb the upper end of the most accessible pipes. The melodies interpreted on this instrument are above all songs, a principle characteristic of the entire instrumental repertoire of the peoples of this region.


This sequence was shot in the jarai village of Pok Thom (Ratanakiri) on February 12, 2010. Musician: Mrs. Sol Miang.

Raft Panflute of Kreung

A rafted Panflute is a polycalamus flute whose pipes are juxtaposed and tied flat. The notes of usage established for the Jarai instrument concerning the name "flute" apply to this instrument. 

The instrument in the picture is called het hot, an onomatopoeic term. The bamboo pipes are open at both ends.

To play, the instrument is held in two hands; the thumb of the right hand brushes the end of the lower pipes. This resulting sound, called "buk buk", accompanies the melody.

Girls learn to play as teenagers because the instrument is used in love rituals. They usually play at night and the "buk buk" sound indicates that the girl has feelings for the boy singing or playing under her house. Girls also play in groups during the day, holding informal competitions.


Playing a raft Panflute

This sequence was shot in the kreung village of Kong Cheung (Ratanakiri) on February 18, 2010. The piece is performed by Ms. Pang (33 years old). She is the daughter of the woman in the photo above. We can notice the differences in the holding of the instrument.

Making a raft Panflute

This sequence was shot in January 2012 in the Kreung village of Kro Pou (Ratanakiri).

It is an exceptional document from a musicological point of view because it testifies to the Kreung system of thought and, in general, to the ethnic groups of this region. The only traditional measuring tools are the body dimensions and the relationships between them. The long-handled knife, wedged under the arm, is used by all the ethnic groups of the region. The blade always works outwards. The gestures are of great precision. 

Concerning the musical scale, we discover here that it is not the ear that determines the pitch of the sounds but a system of proportions dictated by tradition. The same applies to the manufacture of all the objects of these societies (musical instruments, houses, rice granaries, furniture, tools, etc.).