Flute, Mundu?

Flute, Mundu?
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
1884.111.5 .1
Congo, Democratic Republic of , ?Sudan
Bomokandi River Welle River Ubangi River ?Gondokoro
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
Before 1874
Wood Plant , Lizard Skin Reptile , Animal Hide Skin , Bird Feather Ostrich Feather Bird? , String , Animal Hair , Grass Fibre Plant
Carved , Hollowed , Perforated , Stained , Covered , Burnt
[.1] L = 415 mm, diam embouchure = 27.5 by 32 mm, internal diam = 24 by 21 mm; fingerhole diam = 4 mm; L carrying loop = 277, W = 6, th = 2.5 mm; skin sheath L (upper ) = 60, (lower) = 20, (centre) = 23; w binding strips = 6 mm [RTS 27/1/2005].
119.6 g [RTS 27/1/2005].
Other Owners:
Originally part of the collection of J.G. Wood (See The Natural History of Man p. 530) [RTS 1/2/2005]. Pitt Rivers sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874. This object was li
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
Prior to 1874
Notched end-blown flute carved out of a single piece of wood; blackening around the mouth, interior hollow and finger-hole walls suggest that the interior was removed using a heated tool that has partially scorched the surface. The exterior is a deep reddish brown colour, probably stained (Pantone 477C). The embouchure has been cut to have a flat bevelled lip that slopes down to the outside edge; both front and back have been concavely cut, the back more deeply than the front, rising to a slight point at either side; there is some evidence of use-wear around this edge. This sits on top of a narrow body that gradually tapers to a pointed, closed base. A single finger-hole has been cut into the side just above this, with the hole bored inwards at an angle; the body of the flute is solid below this point. There is a groove cut into the body below, running upwards from the point; this does not connect with the interior of the object, and its function is not clear.

The body has been embellished with the addition of a sheath made from a yellowish green scaled reptile skin (Pantone 7502C). This has no seam, and fits neatly over the proximal end, where it has been cut to follow the shape of the embouchure edge. A second, narrower band of the same material has been fitted lower down the shaft. There are also a series of shallow lines cut around the circumference; 2 parallel groups halfway down the length of the flute, then further lines just below the second sheath. These look like guide lines for similar covering bands, which may have been lost at some stage, or never added. Between the two reptile skin sheaths, there is also a short section bound with narrow strips of reptile skin that has darkened in colour. This is wound around some kind of core to form a small, thick-bodied loop on one side. A carrying strap has been fitted through this, made from a narrow rectangular strip of brown animal hide (Pantone Black 4C), perforated near either end, with the 2 ends pushed through one another in a herringbone weave that closes the loop. The object is complete, but has a crack running down the interior walls from the edge of the embouchure. It has a weight of 119.6 grams, and a length of 415 mm. The embouchure has an outer diameter of 27.5 by 32 mm and an internal diameter of 24 by 21 mm; the finger-hole measures 4 mm in diameter. The carrying loop is 277 mm long, 6 mm wide and 2.5 mm thick; the skin covering the upper part of the flute is 60 mm long; that around the lower part is 20 mm long, while the strips binding the area between are 6 mm wide and cover an area 23 mm long.

There was a
cleaning feather associated with this object; see 1884.111.5.2.

This object originally formed
part of John George Wood's collection of ethnographic objects, made over several years in order to illustrate his book, The Natural History of Man (1868, see pp v-vi). It had probably been purchased from John Petherick’s collection. Petherick had lived in Khartoum from 1853-1858, mounting several trading expeditions into the Sudanese interior during this period. In his fifth expedition, he entered Mundu territory for the first time, visiting the villages of Umbolea and Baer (note that Petherick calls the Mundo the 'Baer' in his 1861 publication, Egypt, The Sudan and Central Africa ). Mundo appears to be a variant of Mundu. These objects were probably collected during this trip, as Petherick did not venture into this region again. Petherick's collection was shipped back to England in 1859 and sold at auction in England in 1862; this auction included 12 ‘calls’ (a term usually applied to end-flutes) of Mundo origin. See the Catalogue of the very interesting collection of arms and implements of war, husbandry, and the chase, and articles of costume and domestic use, procured during several expeditions up the White Nile, Bahr-il-Gazal, and among the various tribes of the country, to the cannibal Neam Nam territory on the Equator, by John Petherick, Esq., H.M. Consul, Khartoum, Soudan. After being acquired by Pitt Rivers, the flute was displayed in the Bethnal Green Museum, probably as part of the first batch of objects sent there, in 1874; it was later displayed in the South Kensington Museum, before being transferred from there in 1884 to become part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum.

The provenance of this piece seems confused: some museum records give this as Gondokoro, which is in Southern Sudan, while others state it comes from the Bomokandi River, which is the the Democratic Republic of Congo; these two provenances are incompatible with one another. Although Wood published this object (J.G. Wood, 1868,
The Natural History of Man, p. 530), he did not state where it had come from. There are also some inaccuracies in his description; he was of the impression that the cleaning feather had a handle made of wood, which it does not, and that this was added to lengthen the cleaner; however it seems more likely that the entire handle area is made of plant fibre, and as it seems to be fixed around the feather quill, its function cannot have been to make the object longer.

The flute body was extremely sticky, which probably explains why Moseley identified it as a ‘tube for hair oil’. Note that this flute does not have any resin added inside the mouth to narrow the aperture, as is often seen on instruments of this type.

Rachael Sparks 29/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book V entry [p. 49] - [insert] 1884.111 [end insert] MUSIC WIND PRIMITIVE WHISTLES [insert] 5* [end insert] 1289 - Whistle of red wood, pointed, bound with lizard skin: bevelled to give two notes: ?2 stops [there is only 1, RTS 27/1/2005]; with cleaning feather & hide sling. C. AFRICA (?Mundu EST[homas]). [insert] CONGO [end insert].
Additional Accession Book V Entry [p. 49] - 1884.111.5 Number given HLR. (130.B.3). [p. 49a] *1289. See Ashmole 70, no. 521 & 130.B.2, This is 130.B.3.
Black book entry [p. 49] - C[ase] 74. 1289. Wooden flute with cleaner. Gondokoro C. Africa (2978). [insert] completely new entry 1884.111.5 [end insert].
Delivery Catalogue I entry - Musical Instruments Cases 9 and 10 Flute (West African) 2978.
Balfour Catalogue: Red numbers Musical Instruments [p. 2] 130. MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS, WIND. [p. 32] B - PRIMITIVE WHISTLES. INTERMEDIATE BETWEEN SYRINX & WHISTLE. [p. 34, section 130.B.3] P.R. coll. 1289. Primitive whistle of red wood, tapered to a point, bound with lizard skin; open end bevelled on two sides unequally giving 2 notes against the 2 edges; small finger hole below giving 2 more notes - with a cleaning feather & hide sling. Central Africa [insert in pencil] 1884.111.5 CONGO, ?MUNDU. Bomokandi River, upper branch of Welle River, tributary of Ubangi cf 130.B.2 [end insert]. [ink insert] Described by Prof. Moseley as "?tube for hair oil". cf Ratzel I p. 516 [end insert]. [pencil insert] P.R. V.49 [end insert].
Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes catalogue card [RTS 1/6/2004].
?Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - AFRICA [typed on front] Tube for hair oil? [handwritten in pencil on back; rectangular brown card tag in 2 joining pieces, not kept with object; RTS 27/1/2005].
Pre-PRM label - Col. A. Lane Fox [rectangular printed paper label, heavily discoloured, stuck to side of object; RTS 27/1/2005].

Display History:
Displayed in Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museums (V&A) [AP].

Publication History:
Both flute and cleaning feather are illustrated and described J.G. Wood, 1868, The Natural History of Man, p. 530.

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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