Lyre, Nuer?

Lyre, Nuer?
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] Jonglei Bahr el Zeraf
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1928
Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Tortoiseshell Reptile , Sinew , Textile
Carved Carpentered , Stained , Twisted Tied , Strung Wound , Covered Perforated , Woven Recycled
Total L = 558; cross bar L = 396, diam = 15.5; arm L = 580, diam = 16.5; soundbox L = 228, W = 193, depth = 67; sound hole diam = 10; string diam = 2, L = 520 mm [RTS 21/9/2005].
742.1 g
Other Owners:
Charles Packard Ipswich Museum
Field Collector:
?Charles Packard
PRM Source:
Ipswich Museum per Patricia M. Butler
Purchased 1966
Collected Date:
By 1928
Bowl lyre, consisting of a wooden frame or string bearer made from 3 branches with their bark removed and the surface stained a yellowish brown colour (Pantone 730C). 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 an acute angle from this to form the sides of the frame; their tops have been whittled down to points that have been slotted into the crossbar holes . The space between the wooden arms gradually lessens as one approaches the soundbox; they are 326 mm apart at their top ends, and almost touching at their bases. These arms have been laid across the rim of the soundbox or resonator bowl, which is made from a dark reddish brown tortoise shell with convex back (Pantone 439C); both bowl and lower arms were then covered with a piece of yellowish brown hide, which has been stretched tight across the surface and over to the underside of the bowl (Pantone 7508C). The upper surface of the hide has been perforated with a circular sound hole near the upper end of the bowl; this has a denticulated edge. On the underside, the cover have been pierced around its edge, and hide thongs with traces of buff hair 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. There are no sound holes visible in the underside of the carapace.

The lyre has four strings surviving intact, and 2 additional strings that have broken near their centres. These have been made from a twisted 3-ply greenish brown sinew cord (Pantone 7502C), and lie in the same plane as the resonator. These were wound round the crossbar at the top, over padding made from additional string binding, and in one case, from recycled buff coloured cloth (Pantone 7506C). The strings extend down from this point to near the lower edge of the bowl, where they pass through a hole in the hide surface, then out again through the side wall of the bowl, where they are tied to a short orangey brown wooden peg with a groove cut around its centre (Pantone 729C). The object is complete, but the strings are frayed, some have broken, and there is wear across the top of the sound board where the strings have rubbed into the surface. It has a weight of 742.1 grams, and a total length of 558 mm; the cross bar is 396 mm long and 15.5 mm in diameter; the arms are 16.5 mm in diameter and around 580 mm long; the soundbox is 228 mm long, 193 mm wide and 67 mm deep; the sound hole has a diameter of 10 mm; the strings have a diameter of 2 mm and a length, from crossbar to lower sound box, of 520 mm.

Collected on the Bahr el Zeraf, possibly by Charles Packard; this became part of the collections of the Ipswich museum in 1928, and was purchased from them by the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1966.

The attribution to the Nuer may have been given because of the provenance; similar lyres in the Pitt Rivers Museum are attributed to other groups such as the Jur and Zande (see 1917.25.75-76, and 1961.9.3). However although the construction method is similar to these, there are some differences - the arms are angled more strongly outwards at the top, and are less visible through the bowl cover, while the bowl has been oriented with its length in the same line as the frame, not at right angles to it as seen on the others.

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, although less markedly so than in some of the other museum examples (op.cit., p. 400).

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [XX] [facing p. 1] - Collection 1966.1 is Ipswich ethnography; see special volumes XVA and XVB [JC 27/6/2001].

Accession Book Entry [Ipswich ethnography XVA] [p. 2] 1966.1[1-] P[urchased] Ethnological Collection; IPSWICH MUSEUM per Miss PATRICIA M. BUTLER, M.A. F.M.A. Curator. [Ipswich ethnography XVB p. 129] 1966.1.1055 AFRICA, SUDAN, BAHR EL ZENAF. Lyre,`lure' [spelling not clear]. 4 strings present. Oval wooden resonator covered with leather and [p. 130] thong lashing at back. Packard Coll. 1928.81.23. Length 56.5 cm. Width of frame 39.8 cm. Width of resonator 19.3 cm.

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

Pitt Rivers Museum label - 1966.1.1055. SUDAN, BAHR EL ZENAF, NUER TRIBE. Lyre. Sir C. Packard coll. Obtd Ipswich Museum [plastic label with metal eyelet, tied to object; RTS 21/9/2005].

Written on object - 1928.81.21 [on cross-bar]; 1966.1.1055. SUDAN. NUER [on resonator underside; RTS 21/9/2005].

Related Documents File - Typed list in file '1966.1 Ipswich Museum Inventory', headed 'Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, 1965, Ipswich Museum' [p. 1]: "1028.81.23. Sudanese harp (Huer [sic, Nuer?] Bahr el Zenaf), Sudan" [no donor details provided; RTS 23/12/2003].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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