Mundu flute

Mundu flute

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?On or before 1858
Wood Plant , Iron Metal
Carved , Hollowed , Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Bound
L = 271, L upper body = 171, L mouth = 24.7, W mouth = 20.8, opening = 17 by 16; diam hole = 4; iron strips W = 3 and 8 mm [RTS 8/12/2004].
51.5 g
Other Owners:
Collected by John Petherick between 1857 and 1858, and shipped back to England in 1859. It was subsequently acquired by the Ashmolean Museum by exchange from the Trustees of Henry Christy collection in 1869, and transferred to the PRM in 1885.
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Ashmolean Museum
Transferred 28 September 1885
Collected Date:
1857 - 1858
Notched end-blown flute, consisting of a wooden body with an irregularly cut opening at the proximal end which forms the embouchure. This is notched, with concavely cut front and back edges producing a lentoid-shaped plan view. The embouchure is worn with some flattened areas that reflecting heavy use. The body below is cylindrical with an ovoid section, narrowing slightly towards its lower part. It has been hollowed out with a small finger-hole cut into its base; part of the body continues beyond this sounding length, in the form of a narrow piece of solid, tapering wood with flatter section that could be used as a hand grip while covering the finger-hole with the thumb. The hole itself appears to be damaged around its upper edge, and very worn around its lower edge; both may be a by-product of how the object has been used. There are signs that the wood was worked using heated tools; the interior walls are blackened, as is the upper rim, and a line has been burnt across the body just below the finger-hole. The surface of the wood is currently a reddish brown colour (Pantone 731C), but feels greasy and the colour may have changed through handling. The body has been decorated with a series of narrow iron bands, wound around the circumference, and the ends turned inwards and hammered into the wood to secure them. At the moment, these are grouped into 2 sections around the thicker upper body, and 3 sections around the lower tail section, but it would appear that there were originally more strips in place, as indicated by at least 4 cuts into the wood where these ends had been hammered in, and some faint surface markings following the shape of strips that are no longer there. Most of these are a basic rectangular shape, but the last strip around the flute tip is broader, and has tapering ends; they are currently a metallic gray colour (Pantone 422C). The object is nearly complete, except for the missing strips, and has a weight of 51.5 grams. It is 271 mm long - with the broader upper part having a length of 171 mm; the proximal end has a length of 24.7 mm and a width of 20.8 mm, while the embouchure opening measures 17 by 16 mm across; the finger-hole has a diameter of 4 mm. The narrow iron strips are 3 mm wide, while the broader strip has a width of 8 mm.

Petherick lived in Khartoum from 1853-1858, mounting several trading expeditions into the Sudanese interior during this period. In his fifth expedition (1857-1858), 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. Henry Christy is thought to have purchased several items at this auction, and this may be one of them. It was subsequently acquired by the Ashmolean Museum by exchange from the Trustees of Henry Christy collection in 1869, and transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1885.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Ashmolean Vellum Volume I [List of Anthropological objects transferred from the Ashmolean to the Pitt Rivers' museum 1886. Asiatic, African, Esquimaux and American] [group of pages stuck in vellum volume before page 1, page b] - Objects transferred to the Anthropological Museum in the Parks Oxford Sep: 28th 1885 [reverse of page] - An Instrument used as a call by the Mundo Negroes, on the Upper Nile. No. 521 [page b] - Received for the Pitt Rivers Collection. H.N. Moseley Sep 28, 1885. [p. 142] - 521. An instrument used as a Call by the Mundo Negroes, on the Upper Nile, near the Equator. It is made of very dark brown wood, cylindrical, and hollow except a tail-like projection 4 inches long at the [insert] smaller [end insert] end, which is left solid, and which, together with the larger part is spirally bound with thin bands of iron hardly 2/10 inch in width. [insert, on opposite page] The sound is easily produced by blowing in the larger end after the manner of blowing in the neck of a bottle, the note being varied by closing the small hole with the thumb below. [end insert] Length 10 6/10 inches, Diameter 1 inch at the mouth, decreasing gradually [p. 143] to 3/10 inch at the other end. (Petherick's collection). Given in exchange by the Trustees of the Christy Coll[ectio]n, 1869. (See Mr Thomas R. Gay's letter, No. 1, In Ashmolean letter book). (Not entered in any list of Additions).
Additional entry [Vellum I, page opposite 142] - (
Deposited in Trans[ferred] to the Anthropological Museum Sept 28th 1885 No. 521).

Ashmolean Accession book entry - Objects transferred from the Ashmolean Museum to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1886 or later: 521. Africa, Upper Nile, Mundo. End whistle of brown wood bound with iron, one stop. A 'call'. Petherick coll. By ex. Trustees Christy coll., 1869
Added Accession Book Entry - 521 Cf. PR.V.49 no 1289 and 130.B.3 This is numbered 130.B.2 [that is 1884.111.5 [.1 - 3]]

Balfour Catalogue Red numbers : [p. 2] 130. MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS, WIND. [p. 32] B - PRIMITIVE WHISTLES, INTERMEDIATE BETWEEN SYRINX & WHISTLE. [p. 33]. Ashm[olean] coll[ection]. 521. Ashm. letter book, R. Gay, No 1. Primitive whistle of wood, tapered below to a point, bound with iron; wide open end bevelled away on two sides unequally to present 2 sharp edges sounding 2 different notes - small finger hole below giving 2 more notes - used as a call. Mundu negroes [insert] or Mundo [end insert], Upper Nile, E.Central Africa. [insert] Cf. 130.B.3 [1884.111.5]. Ashmole 70, Coll. Misc. XI, 197. Petherick coll. Trustees Christy coll. by exchange 1869 [end insert].

Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 193] - PETHERICK, Consul [p. 197] [pencil insert] 1886.1.521 [end insert] [insert at end of Petherick entries in different hand] A.M. 521. AFRICA, UPPER NILE, MUNDO. End whistle of brown wood, bound with iron; single stop. A "call". By exchange Trustees Christy Coll. 1869 [end insert, by BB].

Card Catalogue Entry - The tribes catalogue card repeats the information in the various accession books, except that the transfer date to the PRM is given as 1886, which is not correct [RTS 1/6/2004].

Pre-PRM label - Ashmolean Museum [printed blue paper label stuck to object]; 521 [printed paper label stuck to object]; 521. Wooden instrument used as a call by the Mundu Negroes of E. Central Africa on the Upper Nile. (Petherick's Collection). Given by the trustees of the Christy Collection. 1869. See Mr R. Gay's letter No. 1, in Ashmolean Letter book [handwritten paper label, stuck to object; RTS 8/12/2004].

Written on object
- 130.B.2 [red paint; a reference to the Balfour Red catalogue]

Publication History:
The Accession book entry is published in A. MacGregor et al., 2000, Manuscript Catalogues of the Early Museum Collections 1683-1886 (Part I), p. 297, cat. 521 [RTS 26/1/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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