The tulnic – the oldest communication instrument

A long time ago, not a day would go by without the hills in Apuseni being enveloped in the unmistakable sound of the tulnic. It called to battle, it signaled fires or it simply played for cheer. The years passed by, the history changed and the tulnic, just like so many other objects in the rural household, have lost its functionality.
Similar to the trombones in Poland and Ukraine, the Swiss alphorn and the Scandinavian lur, the Romanian tulnic represent one of the oldest means of communication.
Its inventors seem to have been shepherds who, because of their need to communicate their signals “across the mountains”, have created a giant “whistle” capable to make the sound reach far away. As time passed, this 2-3 meters long “whistle” became a “siren” announcing calamities, the “hefty one” at the joyful events and an extremely beloved musical instrument, especially in Apuseni. Today, those who can still pass on the secret of making tulnics to future generations are very few. In the scattered villages on the chines of the Apuseni Mountains you can them on the fingers of one hand.
Those who know how to make them “sing” are also very few and they are generally women, but they only blow the tulnic for one purpose: to fight off wild animals around the house. However, the legends still exist and there isn’t one old man who can’t tell you the story of the tulnic. “It is old, like these lands”, Aurel Mocanu, a local of the Patrahaitesti villages on the Aries valley, narrates nostalgically. He is the head of one of the few woodworkers families who can make tulnics. “In the old days, the people here made a living from woodworking. They took what they needed from the forest and then they tried their handicraft. The “tulnicari”, as they are called, only worked with fir wood. And when they had to call to riot, the tulnic was key. This is how men called for each other from across the hills. Don’t think that the tulnic vanished when things settled”, says Mocanu.

The ones who took over the custom were women. They learned to play, so that the previous calls to battle became “calls” to weddings or to the past “girls’ fairs”.
“We have learned all these stories as well as the craft from my father. And my father from my grandfather and so on for many generations”, Aurel Mocanu confesses. Now he is 48 years old and he is proud to have succeeded in passing the craft to his children. “Times have changes. Plastic replaced everything so there are very few of us who still make traditional objects. Luckily, tourists, especially foreign tourists from Switzerland or France, come here and can’t take their eyes off of the objects we make”. It is also the tourists who pay around 1 million lei to have an authentic tulnic, meaning one that reaches a length of 2-3 meters: “They don’t want small, handmade ones, because we have those as well”, says Mocanu, “although only God know how they are carrying them back home”.
How do you make a tulnic? “It is complicated and niggling”, the craftsman smiles. The tulnic can only be made with hard fir wood, taken from the top of the mountain. And that is not all. “The fir must also be far from the water. The fir is cracked in two, and then you take the sides and chisel them, join them, glue them together and then bind them with fir wood rings as well”, Aurel Mocanu tells us.
If Aurel knows how to turn the wood piece into the mysterious 2-3 meters long object, his wife, Rafila, is the “master” of sounds. One of the few women in Apuseni who still knows how to play the tulnic. The Mocanu couple are aware that their art is facing extinction, but they hope that tourism will, in the end, save their craft, so that the deep, low-pitched sounds of the tulnic will still be heard for many years across the hills in Apuseni.

source: DRo magazine

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