There are actually 2 different kinds of gaitas -- the male (macho) and female (hembra). The female has five openings and is responsible for the melody. The male gaita has only 2 openings and plays harmony. Often the person playing the male gaita will have a maraca in the other hand.
The flute is made from a corazon de cardon ( a plant that is hollow when dry), beeswax, and duck feathers.
Originally, the gaita was used in indigenous religious celebrations where the sound of the gaita imitated the sounds of the birds. But, with the cultural mixing of both the Spanish -- and particularly the African peoples, the sounds of the gaita have become an integral part of the culture of the Colombian Caribbean. The gaita plays a critical role in several musical genres including CUMBIA (see tomorrow's post).
Watch a Gaita performance: