Zande bow harp

Zande bow harp
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1930
Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Creeper Plant
Carved Hollowed , Covered Stretched , Perforated Stitched , Decorated Incised , Impressed Tooled , Strung Twisted Tied
L (top of neck diagonally down to end of body) = 730; neck diam = 39; tuning peg head diam = 43, L = 182, mid body diam = 18.4, base diam = 9.5; body socket diam = 43, L = 100; body L = 397, max W = 240, ht = 125; large holes diam = 27, string holes diam
> 1000 g
Local Name:
Other Owners:
Collected by Evans-Pritchard himself during his fieldwork amongst the Zande, which took place during 1927, part of 1928 and 1929 and for several months during 1930 [CM; RTS 6/7/2004].
Field Collector:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
PRM Source:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
Purchased 31 December 1930
Collected Date:
1927 - 1930
Bow harp made from several pieces fitted together. This consists of a long neck carved from a cylindrical piece of wood that has been cut flat across the top, and bent into a gentle curve at the bottom. This has a tapered end that fits into a hole cut in the side of the soundbox. The upper part of the neck has been perforated with a row of 5 holes, each fitted with a large wooden tuning peg. These pegs have hemispherical heads, with the flat surface uppermost; each head has been decorated with a cross motif, made of pairs of parallel lines. They have slender bodies that swell slightly part-way down the shaft, then taper towards their bases. The top peg has a lentoid-shaped hole cut through this swollen area; the other pegs are solid throughout; each has been stained black and then polished (Pantone Black 7C). The neck itself is made from a yellowish brown wood (Pantone 730C), stained more reddish brown towards the top (Pantone 4695C). The harp body has been carved from a large piece of wood and the interior hollowed out. The method of construction is not entirely clear, because of the hide covering, but it would appear that this wooden frame consists of a large soundbox with slightly everted rim and convex sides that flare down and in to a convex base; this has a 'violin-shaped' body, with rounded top, and bottom and concave, scalloped sides that curve out to form 2 pairs of points, with a cylindrical socket extending from the top of the soundbox, just below the rim. The harp neck slots inside this socket, with its end being just visible on the inside wall of the soundbox. Body, socket, and the base of the neck have all been covered with a piece of yellowish brown hide (Pantone 7509C), stretched tightly over the frame, with the ends stitched together using yellow twisted fibre cord in a seam that runs along the underside and back. This covering has been shrunken to fit tightly over the socket and neck, creating a snug join between the two parts. The neck section has been covered with tight rows of lentoid-shaped impressions, and the socket section tooled more sparsely in a pattern made up of double rows of impressions, criss-crossing in imitation of a cord. The body has been left undecorated.

The sound table has a slight ridge running down the centre, where the tension of the strings have pulled the skin upwards slightly, probably caused by some kind of internal string carrier; these are usually made of pieces of wood or reed, but is not visible on this particular example. There is a row of 5 holes down the centre of this ridge, where the strings are attached, and 2 larger circular sound holes near opposite edges. The upper end of each string is made from lengths of twisted 2-ply yellow plant fibre (Pantone 7509C), fastened onto the shaft of each tuning peg and then wound around it a couple of times, before extending down to wind round the neck of the instrument. At this point, the cord has been tied onto the string proper, which is made of a different, pliant material, said to be 'creeper'. This has an orangey brown colour (Pantone 729C) and is not twisted. The strings have been stretched tautly down to the soundbox, where they pass through the small holes in its upper surface and are secured on the other side with a knot. Finally, there is a carrying loop tied just above the covered part of the neck, made from 2 ply twisted plant fibre, doubled over. The harp is essentially complete, but there is some damage; the ends of some fibre cord sections are fraying, as is the top of the lowest string; some of the fibre stitching on the skin covering has been lost, and there are 2 tears in this cover on the back of the soundbox. It has a weight in excess of 1000 grams. It measures 730 mm from the top of the neck to the end of the soundbox; the neck has a diameter of 39 mm; a typical tuning peg has a head diameter of 43 mm, is 182 mm long, and has a mid-body diameter of 18.4 mm, and a base diameter of 9.5 mm; the harp socket has a diameter of 43 mm and is 100 mm long; the body measures 397 mm long across the top, with a maximum width of 240 mm, and is 125 mm high; the large holes have a diameter of 27 mm, and the string holes a diameter of 3 mm; the strings are 1 mm thick, and the suspension cord loop is 250 mm long (measuring to the point where it is tied onto the neck).

Collected by Evans-Pritchard himself during his fieldwork amongst the Zande, which took place during 1927, part of 1928 and 1929 and for several months during 1930.

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). Evans-Pritchard also discusses the kundi, or large bow-harp, which he says is: "... a true Mbomu instrument - it is particularly favoured by the nobles - although the carved human heads figured on it are ... due to Mangbetu influence" (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1971, The Azande, p. 102). This particular example lacks sculpted decoration of that kind.

The harp was lent to the Musée de la Musique, Paris for the exhibition
'La Parole du Fleuve': Harpes D'Afrique . 29th May to 29th August 1999.

It was published in Eric de Dampierre, 1991,
Harpes Zande , pp 133-134, plates 41a (complete object), 41b, 42a-b and 43a-b (object details); de Dampierre mistakenly gives it accession number 1930.31.12. He comments that the instrument does not seem to have been used much, with little wear around the sound or peg holes (op. cit. p. 134). Also published in: Song of the River: Harps of Central Africa (Paris: Cité de la Musique, Musée de la Musique, with the assistance of the Société d'Ethnologie, Nanterre, 1999), p. 170 and p. 316, and listed as number 9 under 'Basins of the Sueh, Uele and Mbomu' on page 316 of the 'Notes on the Exhibits', established by Philippe Bruguière and Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers (pp. 311-72).

Rachael Sparks 19/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [BIV, p. 138] - 1930 [insert] 86 [end insert] E.E. EVANS PRITCHARD 31 Dec. Specimens collected by himself in the EASTERN SUDAN, etc. [...] [p. 139a, insert] 56 [end insert] - Harp, with hide-covered resonator, curved neck with large tuning-pegs & 5 strings of creeper, AZANDE. [...] [Base of p. 139, total of items 1930.86.1-65] - P[ai]d by cheque 31 Dec £ 25-0-0 .
Added Accession Book Entry [page opposite 138] - 1930.86 See Related Documents File for letter from Henry Balfour to Evans-Pritchard concerning the purchase of this collection.
Added Accession Book Entry [p. 139a] - 1930.86.56 No. given [red biro] A16.F18.19-24 See Eric de Dampierre "Harpes Zandé" pp. 133-136.

Written on object - Harp. AZANDE, BAHR EL GHAZAL. Evans Pritchard coll. Pur. 31.12.1930 [ink, top]; AZANDE [pencil, side; RTS 31/8/2005].

Card Catalogue Entry - 'EASTERN SUDAN [ sic ], AZANDE TRIBE. Harp, with hide-covered resonator, curved neck with large tuning pegs and 5 strings of creeper.' Added: 'see Eric de Dampierre "Harpes Zandé" pp. 133-136.' [JC 25/3/1999]

Related Documents File - This contains a letter from Balfour to Evans-Pritchard, dated 31 December 1930 that specifies the objects which he would like to purchase for the Pitt Rivers Museum, and suggests a price of £25, which was one quarter of his annual budget. The list matches the objects ultimately accessioned quite closely, although this particular object appears to have been omitted. This letter also mentions rejecting a number of items; these may relate to an undated list in the file of 48 objects, which do not seem to match accessioned material.
RDF 1930.86 also contains a letter from Evans-Pritchard to Mr. Malcolm dated 12 December 1930, offering him some 81 Zande and Nuer objects. As Malcolm was curator of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, it seems unlikely that these objects were ever sent to the Pitt Rivers Museum and this letter is only useful as background for Evans-Pritchard's attritudes to the intended future use of his material, and as evidence for the temporary storage of these objects in Professor Seligman's office in the London School of Economics at the time [RTS 18/8/2005].

Display History:
Lent to the Musée de la Musique, Paris for the exhibition 'La Parole du Fleuve': Harpes D'Afrique. 29th May to 29th August 1999 [JC 25/3/1999]

Publication History:
Reproduced in black and white as plates 41a (complete object), 41b, 42a-b and 43a-b (details) on pages 133-136 of Harpes Zande, by Eric de Dampierre (Paris: Klinksieck, 1991). See also pages 133-134 for detailed entry [note that de Dampierre mistakenly gives the accession number 1930.31.12 for this object]: 'PRO 1930.31.12 [sic] - Cette harpe, l'une des plus grandes connues, fut vendue par le professeur Evans-Pritchard au Pitt Rivers Museum, en 1930, après avoir été collectée années auparavant. Elle n'est pas documentée dans les archives du musée et aucune note n'a été retrouvée dans le spapiers d'Evans-Pritchard, qui n'en a guère parlé à quiconque: cela s'accorde peu avec le soin que prenait Evans-Pritchard en affaires zandé. Viendrait-elle du Congo Belge où Evans-Pritchard rendit visite à Mgr Lagae en {?}. L'instrument garde son mystére. [new paragraph:] Toujours est-il qu'il sort de l'ordinaire: nous sommes là en face d'une harpe de fin musicien: une forte hauteur de plat-bord, la grande qualité de finition de la caisse (d'importants saillants, une seule couture, peau tendue à l'extrême, pas de ficelle de serrage, manchon fretté), ses énormes clés pour faciliter l'accordage, une section d'attache qui ne tient qu'1/7 (!) de la longeur du cordier, l'indifférence à toute sculpture: tout traduit l'excellence du luthier. Ses cordes en ndàlà mais d'un gros diamètre, en rapport avec la harpe, sont très divergentes. [new paragraph:] L'instrument a peu servi (ouïes quasi neuves et liséré en saillie, clés peu usées à l'endroit du logement). La section de la caisse, bombee, est d'une grande élégance.' [JC 24/3/1999]. Reproduced in black and white on page 316 and in colour on page 170 of Song of the River: Harps of Central Africa (Paris: Cité de la Musique, Musée de la Musique, with the assistance of the Société d'Ethnologie, Nanterre, 1999). Listed as number 9 under 'Basins of the Sueh, Uele and Mbomu' on page 316 of the 'Notes on the Exhibits', established by Philippe Bruguière and Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers (pp. 311-72). The provenance is given as 'Zande, Uele, CAR [Central African Republic] or DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo]', rather than Sudan; the media as 'wood, skin and vegetable fibre'; and the measurements as L1 (distance from the bottom of the sound-box to the top of the handle) = 460, L2 (distance from the distal end of the sound-box (away from the handle) to the projection in the same plane of the top of the handle or its point of maximum curvature) = 690 mm, L3 (distance between the edges of the sound-box at its widest point) = 255 mm. This is followed by a translation of parts of Eric de Dampierre's account of the object in Harpes Zandé (1991) [see above]: 'Here we see the harp of a fine musician: a deep sound box, very finely finished, with large corners, a single seam, the skin stretched very tight, no marks left by bindings, incised rings around the sleeving and large peg heads to facilitate tuning. Only 1/7 of the length of the string-holder is used to attach the strings, and there is no carving. Everything speaks of the excellence of the instrument maker. The strings...which are very thick are also very divergent. The instrument has not been used much (the sound holes, with thick edgings, are almost new, and the pegs are hardly worn at their insertion points). The convex sound box is very elegant.' [JC 12/6/1999].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
Help | About | Bibliography