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 , Elephant Skin Animal? , Animal Hide Skin , Sinew ? , Tortoiseshell Reptile , Textile
Carved Carpentered , Stained , Twisted Tied , Strung Wound , Covered Perforated , Woven Recycled
Total L = 540; cross bar L = 271, diam = 16; arms diam = 6 to 6.5 (and L = 540); soundbox L = 165, W = 240, depth = 93; sound hole diam = 8, small sound hole diam = 5; string diam = 2, length from cross bar to lower sound box = 475 mm [RTS 21/9/2005].
> 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 732C). One piece rests horizontally across the top, to form a crossbar; this has been pierced near either rounded end. Two longer pieces of wood extend down at right angles from this to form the sides of the frame, with their shaven tips pegging into the crossbar holes at the top. The space between these arms gradually lessens as one approaches the soundbox; they are 240 mm apart at their top ends, and 140 mm apart at their bases. The arms have been laid across the mouth of the soundbox or resonator bowl, which appears to be made from a tortoise shell and has a curved back, possibly discoloured (Pantone Black 7C); both bowl and lower arms were then covered with a piece of dark brown textured hide, possibly elephant, which has been stretched tight across the surface and over to the underside of the bowl (Pantone 440C). The upper surface of the hide has been perforated with 4 pairs of circular sound holes, with the pairs flanking the line of the arms as they run beneath the cover. The edges of this piece were perforated, and a series of hide thongs threaded through to tie the cover in place and keep it taut. This has been done by adding 3 additional lashings that run around the circumference of the lyre back in circles of decreasing size, bound to one another and the cover piece by a series of thongs at right angles to them. 21 short stakes have also been forced through the lashings to help tighten them, carved from an orangey brown wood (Pantone 729C).

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, over a separate cushion made of string binding, 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. There is a small additional sound hole just above this exit point. The strings have been made from twisted animal gut or sinew and are a yellowish brown colour (Pantone 466C). Finally, there is a small piece of recycled brown cloth, tied around one end of the cross bar (Pantone 7504C). It is too small in its current form to be a suspension loop, although it could be the remnants of either such a loop or the attachment for a string tightener (see 1917.25.75). The lyre is complete, but worn; the strings are fraying and are now only loosely strung; the hide covering is worn, especially on the sound table where the heel of the musician's hand would have rubbed against the surface. It has a weight in excess of 1000 grams, and a total length of 540 mm; the cross bar is 271 mm long and 16 mm in diameter; the arms are 6 to 6.5 mm in diameter; the soundbox is 165 mm long, 240 mm wide and 93 mm deep; the sound holes have a diameter of 8 mm on the top surface, and the smaller hole has a diameter of 5 mm; the strings have a diameter of 2 mm and a length, from crossbar to lower sound box, of 475 mm.

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 1917.25.75 (Zande or Jur), 1961.9.3 (White Nile, with metal strings), and 1966.1.1055 (Nuer, with minor differences in construction).

A similar piece of skin, identified as elephant hide, was used to cover bow harp 1942.1.396.

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. don. R.G. Gayer-Anderson, 1917.25.76 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 21/9/2005].

Written on object - Kudu , NIAM-NIAM & JUR tribes, CENT. AFRICA. 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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