Zande or Jur lyre

Zande or Jur lyre
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] ?Northern Bahr el Ghazal ?Western Bahr el Ghazal ?Warab ?El Buheyrat ?Western Equatoria
Cultural Group:
Zande Jur
Date Made:
By 1917
Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Textile , Tortoiseshell Reptile , Animal Horn
Carved Carpentered , Stained , Twisted Tied , Strung Wound , Covered Perforated , Woven Recycled
Total L = 590; cross bar L = 290, diam = 17; arm L = 584 and 598, diam arms = 17; horn tips L = 70; soundbox L = 200, W = 300, depth = 110; sound holes (upper) diam = 10, (lower) diam = 3 and 5; string siam = 1.5, L strings from cross bar to lower soundbo
> 1000 g
Local Name:
kudu [?kundi]
Other Owners:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, probably collected in the period immediately before World War I (1909-1914) [RTS 1/6/2004].
Field Collector:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson
PRM Source:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson
Donated 1917
Collected Date:
By 1917
Bowl lyre, consisting of a wooden frame or string bearer made from 3 branches with their bark removed and the surface stained a reddish brown colour (Pantone 4695C). One piece rests horizontally across the top, to form a crossbar; this has been pierced near either flat-cut end. Two longer pieces of wood extend down at right angles from this to form the sides of the frame, with their shaven tips fitted with the tapering ends of dark brown animal horns (Pantone 440C), then pegging into the crossbar holes at the top. The horn sections have naturally ridged lower bodies, and have been either shaved or cut off at their tips. The space between the wooden arms gradually lessens as one approaches the soundbox; they are 232 mm apart at their top ends, and 122 mm apart at their bases, which have also been shaved. These arms have been laid across the rim of the soundbox or resonator bowl, which is made from a tortoise shell with convex back, coloured yellow at its rim (Pantone 7510C), and dark brown at the centre of the base (Pantone 440C); both bowl and lower arms were then covered with a piece of dark brown hide, which has been stretched tight across the surface and over to the underside of the bowl (Pantone 439C). The ends of each arm have been pushed through this cover on the lower edge of the soundbox. The upper surface of the hide has been perforated with 4 pairs of circular sound holes, with the pairs arranged flanking the top and bottom edges of the arms as they run beneath the cover. On the underside, the edges of the cover have been pierced with a series of holes, and hide thongs run between these and a circular skin ring near the centre of the back, lashing the two tightly together and keeping the cover taut. A second thong has been threaded through these ties as it runs around the circumference between these two sections. The hide cover has been left with tufts of orange coloured hair in a band around the edging holes (Pantone 730C). There are also 2 sound holes bored into the centre of the underside, one of which is slightly larger than the other.

The strings lie in the same plane as the resonator, and extend from the centre of the cross bar, where their ends have been wound many times around the wood and tied in place, down to near the lower edge of the soundbox top, where they pass through the hide surface, then out the side, where they are tied to a small cross bar of wood that holds them in place. The strings have been made from twisted animal gut or sinew and are an orangey brown colour (Pantone 729C); they are widely spaced at the top, but converge as they approach the soundbox. Finally, there is a cylindrical piece of brown wood tied to the edge of the cross bar (Pantone 730C ). This has been cut flat at either end and the surface has been smoothed; there is a large burnt cavity in one end and a small circular depression in the centre of the other. The cylinder has been pierced near this end, and a cord threaded through it and tied onto the top of the lyre; the cord is made from a recycled scrap of brown cloth (Pantone 7504C). This piece of wood was probably a tool, used to tension the strings . The object is complete, but the strings are fraying in places, and the soundbox cover is very worn underneath the strings where the heel of the players hand has rubbed against the surface; it has been much used. The lyre has a weight in excess of 1000 grams, and a total length of 590 mm; the cross bar is 290 mm long and 17 mm in diameter; the arms are 16.5 mm in diameter and 584 and 598 mm long respectively, including their horn tips; these tips are 70 mm long each; the soundbox is 200 mm long, 300 mm wide and 110 mm deep; the sound holes have a diameter of 10 mm on the upper surface, and 3 and 5 mm on the underside; the strings have a diameter of 1.5 mm and a length, from crossbar to lower sound box, of 535 mm. The tensioning peg has a length of 87.4 mm, and maximum diameter of 22 mm; the suspension hole is 5 mm in diameter.

Collected by Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, probably between 1909 and 1914, in the Bahr el Ghazal region of the Southern Sudan.

Gayer-Anderson recorded the name of this object as kudu, although a ccording to Larken, the Zande name for this type of object is kundi, and it appears to have been played by both men and women (P.M. Larken, 1926, "An Account of the Zande", Sudan Notes and Records IX no. 1, p. 104). The collector gave the local name as kudu, although it was not made clear if this was the Zande or Jur name for the type. Bowl lyres are also popular in Uganda; see M. Trowell & K.P. Wachsmann, 1953, Tribal Crafts of Uganda, pl. 95B-D, for examples from the Madi, Luo and Gwe. They comment that tortoise carapaces are commonly used to form the bowl, and that amongst the Ganda, Soga, Lugbara and Luo the skin cover is laced to a central ring, as seen in the PRM examples; amongst Nilotic groups, it is common to have the arms of the frame placed above the level of the rim so that they leave telltale bulges, as seen here (op.cit., p. 400).

For similar instruments, see 1917.25.76 (Zande or Jur), 1961.9.3 (White Nile, with metal strings), and 1966.1.1055 (Nuer, with minor differences in construction).

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [VI, p. 54] - 1917 [pencil insert] 25 [end insert] MAJOR R.G. GAYER-ANDERSON , R.A.M.C. The Lodge, Old Marston, Oxon [pencil insert, p. 56] 75-76 [end insert] - [1 of] 2 Lyres, 5-stringed, called kudu, Niam Niam & Jur, Bahr-el-Gazal.
Additional accession book entry
[page opposite 54] - A gift to the Pitt Rivers Museum in memory of Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, Pasha, his twin brother Colonel J.G. Gayer-Anderson, C.M.G., D.S.O. [page opposite 56] 1917.25.75-76 Numbers given HLR.

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes catalogue card [RTS 6/2/2004].

Pitt Rivers Museum label - AFRICA, Sudan, Bahr el Gazal. ZANDE or JUR. Lyre with 5 strings. d.d. R.G. Gayer-Anderson, 1917.25.75 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 21/9/2005].

Written on object - Kudu , NIAM-NIAM & JUR tribes, CENT. AFR. Pres. by Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, 1917 [RTS 21/9/2005].

Related Documents File - Two letters dated 30/03/1917 and 13/04/1917 from the donor to Henry Balfour regarding the donation of the collection to the museum [EB 12/11/2001]. These indicate that the material was collected by Robert Gayer-Anderson himself, chiefly from the areas of Nuba, Kordofan and Bahr el Ghazal during 5 years he spent in the Sudan, and that they were given to the museum as an unconditional gift. The note in the accession book calling this gift 'in memory of' R.G. Gayer-Anderson is therefore somewhat enigmatic, as both Robert and his twin brother (Thomas G., not J.G.) were alive at the time of the transfer [RTS 5/12/2003].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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