Zande bow harp

Zande bow harp
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] Western Bahr el Ghazal Wau
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1937
Wood Plant , Animal Leather Skin , Plant Fibre , Metal Wire , Bark Cloth Textile Plant
Carved , Hollowed Covered , Perforated , Decorated Stained , Tooled Stitched , Twisted Tied Wound
L diagonally from top of neck to end of sound box = 470; neck diam = 25.4; peg head diam = 20.5, body diam = 11, base diam = 6.5, L = 107; shortest peg L = 85; harp socket diam = 33.7, L = 60; soundbox body L = 270, max W = 116, Ht = 53, sound hole diam =
391.1 g
Local Name:
Other Owners:
Cecil Graham Traquair Morison
Field Collector:
Cecil Graham Traquair Morison
PRM Source:
Cecil Graham Traquair Morison
Donated June 1937
Collected Date:
By 1937
Bow harp consisting of a long neck carved from a cylindrical piece of wood that has been cut flat across the top, and bent into an angle at its base, where it fits into the side of a wooden soundbox. The upper part of the neck has been perforated with a row of 5 holes, the lower 4 of which have been fitted with solid wooden tuning pegs. The top peg is missing, and the peg through the fourth hole has lost its head and upper body. The pegs have conical flat-topped heads on slender shafts that swell slightly to their centre, before tapering to their bases; the lowest peg is noticeably shorter than the others. They are undecorated, but have been stained the same dark reddish brown colour as the neck (Pantone Black 5C). The harp body has been carved from a piece of wood and the interior hollowed out; this has a flat rim and convex sides that flare down and in to a convex base. It is 'violin-shaped' in plan view, with a pointed ends and concave sides that curve out to 4 blunt projections - the shape that de Dampierre calles 'violon à demi-lunes' ( E. de Dampierre, 1991, Harpes Zande , fig. 10 no. 4) . There may be a cylindrical socket carved at the upper end, which receives the neck, but the details are obscured by a purplish brown leather covering (Pantone 4975C). This has been made from a rectangular piece, stretched tightly over the body, socket and base of the neck, and sewn together in a seam that runs down the back of neck and base, with additional seams running diagonally off this on both sides; the stitching has been done with a twisted cord, possibly made out of fibre. There are 2 circular holes cut into opposite corners of the sound table, and a row of 5 string holes running down its centre, with a wooden string carrier visible through them. There is a slight ridge at this point, where the tension of the strings has pulled the leather upwards. The leather has a burnished surface, and has been decorated with rows of lentoid-shaped impressions tooled around the base of the neck, base of the soundbox socket, and the central waisted area of the soundbox sides and base, and a cross motif shallowly incised into the sound table, near one of the sound holes; each arm of the cross has been made from 3 parallel lines.

Each peg has the remains of a length of twisted yellow 2-ply fibre cord wound around its base, then around the neck of the instrument (Pantone 7509C). There is also a cord tied through the upper peg hole, although the matching peg is no longer present. Four of the five cords have been knotted at their bases to a length of machine-drawn metal wire that was used to string the harp. The uppermost wire has snapped, but the lowest 3 lengths are currently still strung, although they have lost their tension. At their base, they pass through the string holes in the sound table and are fixed to a wooden stick on the other side of the leather. There is no wear on the string holes from this wire, suggesting that the harp had been little used in its current form, although it is probably an old, much used instrument that was restrung in this way. Finally, there is a carrying loop tied to the sound box socket, made from a twisted piece of orangey brown barkcloth (Pantone 730C).

The harp is nearly complete, but is missing one peg and part of another, and one wire string. There is also some wear to the tuning pegs, and to the surface of the leather. It has a weight of 391.1 grams. It measures 470 mm from the top of the neck to the end of the soundbox; the neck has a diameter of 25.4 mm; a typical tuning peg has a head diameter of 20.5 mm, is 107 mm long, and has a mid-body diameter of 11 mm, and a base diameter of 6.5 mm; the shortest peg is 85 mm in length. The harp socket has a diameter of 33.7 mm and is 60 mm long; the body measures 270 mm long across the top, with a maximum width of 116 mm, and is 53 mm high; the sound holes have a diameter of 15 mm, and the string holes a diameter of 4 mm; the wire strings are 0.2 mm thick and the carrying loop is 210 mm long and 4.5 mm wide.

Collected by Cecil Graham Traquair Morison at Wau, and donated to the museum in 1937.

According 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). For a similar style of bow harp, see 1919.28.10; see also 1884.113.10, which has a similar type of covering that is said to be coated with pitch, although de Dampierre saw it as a patina caused by age and exposure to smoke.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 4, pencil in left column] 8 [ink in left column] June C.G.T. MORISON , Esq, M.A., Ch.Ch. - 5-stringed primitive harp with no fore-pillar; skin covered body & tuning-pegs. AZANDE, YAMBIA dist.[rict], WELLE. R.[iver], N.E. BELGIAN CONGO. Obtained by him at WAU, BAHR-EL-GHAZAL.

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

Pitt Rivers Museum label - AFRICA, Sudan, Wau. ZANDE tribe. Bow harp. d.d. C.G.T. Morison 1937, 1937.8.1 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 22/9/2005].

Written on object - AZANDE harp, YAMBIA district, N.. BELGIAN CONGO. d.d. C.G.T. Morison, 1937 [RTS 22/9/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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