Acholi bow harp

Acholi bow harp
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
Northern Province
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1942
Wood Plant , Elephant Skin Animal , Animal Hide Skin , Plant Fibre , Bamboo Plant , White Metal
Carved , Carpentered , Perforated Strung , Wound Stitched , Twisted , Decorated Incised Pyroengraved Pokerwork Stained?
Diagonal L from forehead to end of soundbox = 470; neck diam = 18; tuning peg max L = 75, head diam = 9.7 x 8.2; harp bowl socket diam = 38, L = 15 mm; bowl body L = 260, max W = 170, Ht = 90; sound hole diam = 26, string hole diam = 2, diam strings = 1.5
803.8 g
Other Owners:
Found unentered in 1942, with the original donor being uncertain, and attributed to Henry Balfour as a convenience at the time of accessioning. The actual donor may be Armine Charles Almroth Wright, based on the likely object provenance, in which case Wri
Field Collector:
??Armine Charles Almroth Wright
PRM Source:
?Henry Balfour ?Armine Charles Almroth Wright
Found unentered. Donated 1942?
Collected Date:
By 1942
Bow harp consisting of a curving neck, surmounted by a carved human head with rounded crown and oval face. The hair has been burnt black and defined by a shallow line burnt around its edges. Two ears with depressions at the centres and some detailing have been carved on either side of the head, well towards the back; the figure also has an elongated, triangular nose, pouting mouth and well defined chin. The eyebrows, eyes, nostrils and mouth have all been burnt into the surface, as well as 2 groups of 3 horizontal cicatrisation marks across either cheek; four pieces of white metal wire have been fitted through holes in each earlobe to form earrings, two on each side, with their hanging ends twisted together at the base. This figure rests on a curving cylindrical neck, that fits into a short socket, projecting from the side of the resonator. The neck is a light reddish brown colour (Pantone 476C). The upper part has been perforated with a row of 5 holes, through which 5 tapering tuning pegs have been slotted. The top and fourth pegs have simple bodies; the remaining pegs have a slight groove cut below the generally flat cut heads, which is used to seat the end of the strings.

The harp body consists of a wooden bowl with slightly inturned rim, convex sides and base, with an angular ridge running down the centre of the underside; there appears to be a short socket extending from one side, which has partially split. The body is essentially oval in plan view. This has been covered with two pieces of a dark brown textured elephant hide (Pantone 440C) to form the soundbox. The upper piece has been stretched over the mouth of the bowl, while the neck of the harp fits through a circular hole cut near one end. This has been perforated many times around its edge, and lengths of twisted yellowish brown hide have been lashed between these holes and a similar series around the edge of the oval hide piece that covers the base of the instrument, tying them together (Pantone 7508C). Just below the neck, the lashings have been modified to incorporate one short suspension loop made of 2 strands twisted together, and a much longer carrying loop made from a single twisted strand,which fits through the smaller loop. Two large circular sound holes have been cut into opposite sides of the sound table, and there is a row of 5 small sound holes running down the centre. A narrow piece of orangey brown bamboo with semicircular section has been fitted below these, to form the string carrier (Pantone 730C); the ends of this protrude out through the skin cover at either end.

The harp has been strung with 5 twisted fibre strings; these have been tied onto the ends of the tuning pegs, and wound several times around their shafts, before stretching down to the string holes in the resonator. Only the central string is currently well tensioned. Most stings are a pale creamy brown (Pantone 7506C), partially smeared with reddish ochre.

The harp is complete and intact, and has a weight of 803.8 grams. It measures 470 mm from the forehead to the end of the soundbox; the neck has a diameter of 18 mm, and the longest tuning peg is 75 mm long, with a head diameter of 9.7 by 8.2 mm. The harp socket has a diameter of 38 mm and is 15 mm long; the bowl body measures 260 mm in length (including socket), with a maximum width of 170 mm, and height of 90 mm; the sound holes have a diameter of 26 mm, and the string holes a diameter of 2 mm; the strings are 1.5 mm thick; the smaller suspension loop is 30 mm long and 5.5 mm wide, while the longer carrying loop has a length of 580 and diameter of 3 mm.

The original donor of this item is not certain, but may have been Armine Charles Almroth Wright, based on the likely object provenance, in which case Wright was probably collector as well as donor. This is made more likely by the stylistic similarities between the carved head on this harp and 2 figures sculpted by an Acholi craftsmen called Ajala at Gulu in Northern Uganda (1939.7.122-123). Alternative donors could have been Charles Gabriel Seligman, who donated Acholi material to the museum prior to 1942, or Samuel P. Powell who loaned Acholi material to the museum in 1940.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [XI, p. 75] - The late H. BALFOUR, Esq. F.R.S. Specimens from different parts of AFRICA found unlabelled. As it is impossible to identify the real donor, or donors, it is assumed for convenience in using the Donor's Index that the specimens are given by Mr Balfour. Mostly without indication of provenance. 1942.1.396 - Bow harp with five strings. Spoon-shaped wooden body, over the orifice of which is strained [insert] as a membrane, [end insert] a piece of elephant (!) hide held in place by being laced, with leather thongs, to another piece of elephant hide covering the bottom. Two diagonally arranged sound-holes in the membrane. Curved wooden neck ending in a roughly carved human head. Wooden tuning pegs. Strings of twisted fibre passing through separate holes in the membrane and fastened to a longitudinal [p. 77] strip of bamboo underneath the membrane but coming out of it at either end. ACHOLI, NORTHERN PROVINCE, UGANDA (The instrument is closely related to the spoon-shaped variety of the Kundi harp of the AZANDE).
Additional accession book entry [p. 74] 1942.1.396-451 See Related Documents File for list of probable donors.

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes catalogue card [RTS 30/1/2004].

Pitt Rivers Museum label - Harp. ACHOLI, NORTHERN PROV., UGANDA. 1942.1.396 [rectangular metal-edged label, tied to object; RTS 1/9/2005].

Related Documents File - It is possible the donor has been incorrectly identified as Henry Balfour. In the Related Documents File is a list detailing: "Donors, or probable donors, of material entered under Mr. Balfour's name. 1942.1.396-398 Bow-harps ?Mr A.C.A. Wright." [MR 13/4/2000].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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