Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[White Nile]
Date Made:
By 1961
Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Textile , Iron Metal , Steel Metal? , Tortoiseshell Reptile , Plant Fibre?
Carved Carpentered , Stained , Twisted Tied , Strung Wound , Covered Perforated , Woven Recycled
Total L = 510; cross bar L = 298, diam = 19; arm L = 510, diam = 16 to 18.5 (variable); soundbox L = 180, W = 275, depth = 95; sound holes (upper) diam = 5-8, (lower) = 10; string diam = 0.5, string L = 480, carrying loop diam = 5 mm [RTS 21/9/2005].
> 1000 g
Other Owners:
Mr and Mrs A. J. Forster
Field Collector:
?Mr & Mrs A.J. Forster
PRM Source:
Mr & Mrs A.J. Forster
Donated September 1961
Collected Date:
By 1961
Bowl lyre, consisting of a wooden frame or string bearer made from 3 branches with their bark removed and the surface stained a dark purplish brown colour (Pantone 476C). One piece rests horizontally across the top to form a crossbar; this has been pierced near either flat-cut end; the ends also have small circular depressions at their centres. Two longer pieces of wood extend down at right angles from this to form the sides of the frame; their tops have been whittled down to form cylindrical pegs that slot into the crossbar holes. The space between the wooden arms gradually lessens as one approaches the soundbox; they are 206 mm apart at their top ends, and 125 mm apart at their bases. These arms have been laid across the mouth of the soundbox or resonator bowl, which is made from a dark brown tortoise shell with convex back (Pantone Black 7C); 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 440C). 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, and 2 additional holes, one of which has been subsequently plugged up. On the underside, the cover have been pierced around its edge, and hide thongs run between here and a circular hide ring near the centre of the back, lashing the two tightly together and keeping the cover taut. Two further thongs have been threaded through these ties as they run around the circumference between these two sections, while a third thong has been tied in a long zigzag pattern around the outer edge. The hide cover and these ties have been left with tufts of orange coloured hair on the surface (Pantone 730C). At the centre of the shell underside is a circular hole, that narrows in diameter towards its base.

There are 2 strings surviving, out of probably four or more. These have been made from pieces of metal wire, probably steel, and lie in the same plane as the resonator. One has broken at the top; the other has been wound around the crossbar, on top of a pad made from a strip of reused buff coloured cloth that has been wound several times around the wood (Pantone 7506C). There are marks along the rest of the crossbar, suggesting that there were originally additional bindings of this type in place; the wood in this area is lighter in colour than the rest of the frame. The strings extend down from this point to near the lower edge of the soundbox top, where they pass through a large keyhole-shaped hole in the the hide surface, then out the side, where they are tied to a rusty iron loop with overlapping ends that holds them in place. These strings may represent a restringing of the instrument, as wire is not a traditional material, but there is some wear on the string hole from the wire showing that it had been played in this form. Finally, the lyre has been provided with a carrying loop, made from a length of brown cord, made from 3 stands twisted together, and tied diagonally across the body from one end of the cross bar, to the lower part of the opposite arm (Pantone 7504C). This is probably made from plant fibre. The object is nearly complete, but missing several strings; the hide sound box cover is worn where the heel of the musician's hand has rubbed across the surface while playing the instrument. It contains a number of small objects, rattling around inside the sound box, possibly placed there deliberately. The lyre has a weight in excess of 1000 grams, and a total length of 510 mm; the cross bar is 298 mm long and 19 mm in diameter; the arms are 16 to 18.5 mm in diameter and 510 mm long each; the soundbox is 180 mm long, 275 mm wide and 95 mm deep; the sound holes have a diameter of 5 to 8 mm on the upper surface, and 10 mm on the underside; the strings have a diameter of 0.5 mm and a length, from crossbar to lower sound box, of 480 mm, while the carrying loop is 5 mm wide.

Presented to the museum by Mr and Mrs A. J. Forster in 1961; it is said to be from the region of the White Nile.

The museum contains lyres of similar construction, attributed to either the Zande or Jur (1917.25.75-76), and the Nuer (1966.1.1055), although the latter has some minor differences; these all have sinew or gut strings. Larken states that the Zande call this type of instrument
kundi , and that it was played by both men and women. 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).

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 45] - Mr & Mrs A.J. FORSTER, St Mary's ... OXFORD. Mr. Forster was some time Bursar of MAGDALEN Coll., Oxford. 1961.9.3 - AFRICA, WHITE NILE Region. Lyre, 52.5 cm long, wood, resonator covered with laced hide; strings missing, except for one loose wire and another broken wire string.

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes catalogue card [RTS 28/1/2004].

Pitt Rivers Museum label - 1961.9.3 WHITE NILE. Lyre. P.T.O. [reverse] d.d. Mr & Mrs A.J. FORSTER [circular metal-edged label, tied to object; RTS 21/9/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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