Acholi bow harp

Acholi bow harp

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] Bahr el Jebel Juba
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Nylon Synthetic
Carved , Perforated Notched , Stretched , Covered , Twisted Strung Tied , Incised Written
Diagonal L from top neck to end soundbox = 1080; neck diam = 42; tuning peg head = 23 x 13, base diam = 8, body L = 153; soundbox L = 435, W = 165, Ht = 180; sound hole W = 45 and 64, string hole W = 6, string W = 2 mm [RTS 23/9/2005].
> 1000 g
Local Name:
Other Owners:
Made for Jon Bennett in Juba 1987
Field Collector:
Jon Bennett
PRM Source:
Jon Bennett
Donated 9 December 1994
Collected Date:
Very large bow harp, consisting of a long curved neck carved from an orangey brown branch, stripped of its surface bark (Pantone 729C). This has a faceted head, and at its base slots into a hole cut halfway down the side of a wooden soundbox. The neck has been perforated with a row of 10 holes, bored rather than burnt through the wood. Shallow grooves have been cut around the back of the neck, behind all but the uppermost hole; it is not clear if this is a side-effect of the manufacturing process, a guide to marking out the holes, or to position the string, which would usually stretch across this area. The eighth hole from the top is missing its peg; the remainder have been fitted with solid tuning pegs carved from wood. One peg is carved from an orangey brown plywood, similar to that used for harp 1994.60.2 (Pantone 729C), the other are made from a more yellow coloured wood (Pantone 7508C). These are roughly paddle-shaped, with flat tops, narrow rectangular bodies then a cylindrical, peg-like base that fits through the tuning hole. Notches have been cut into either side of the upper body, providing recesses that have been used to position the ends of the string.

The harp body has been carved from a piece of yellow wood (Pantone 7508C), and consists of a flat-topped rim, upright sides and a flat base. The body is almost rectangular in plan view, with one curving and one straight end. A piece of pale yellow animal hide (Pantone 7508C) with white hair on the surface has been stretched tightly over the mouth of this bowl and down over the sides, forming the sound table; a similar piece covers the base. Both pieces have been perforated around their edges, and stitched together using narrow hide strips that form a zigzag pattern around the sides of the soundbox with a horizontal line of binding around the circumference. Two large sound holes have been cut in opposite corners of the sound table, one circular, one almost triangular, with a row of 10 string holes running down the middle. Both ends of the string carrier are visible; this has been carved from a narrow piece of yellow bamboo or cane (Pantone 7508C), lentoid-shaped in section, with part of one node visible; this extends from beyond the front of the sound box, passing through a slot cut in the sound table, then runs beneath the line of string holes, where it is used to secure the strings, before emerging out through the hide via another slot at back. An inscription has been scratched into the sound table, on either side of the string holes, with two rows of letters that must be read in opposite directions. One side reads IWA[...]K - the second last letter has the top part visible, and may be a Y - its lower body has been removed by the cutting out of the sound hole. The other side possibly reads OKOY[...]I - the first letter could be a D, rather than an O, while the end of the Y and possibly part of the last letter has also been lost by the cutting out of the sound hole on this side.

The strings have been made from lengths of a pale cream coloured twisted nylon (Pantone 7401C), and have been knotted around the waisted part of each tuning peg, then wound one or more times around the shaft, before passing around the front of the neck, over the peg base, then down towards the soundbox, where they pass through the string holes and pierced sound carrier, to be tied around short pieces of wood that hold them securely on the other side. One of the middle strings is missing. Apart from the missing string and peg, the harp is complete, although there is a crack in the lower part of the soundbox bowl. It has a weight in excess of 1000 grams. It measures 1080 mm from the top of the neck to the end of the soundbox; the neck has a diameter of 42 mm; a typical tuning peg has a head diameter of 23 by 13 mm, is 153 mm long (some vary in length), and has a base diameter of 8 mm. The soundbox is 435 mm long, with a maximum width of 165 mm, and is 180 mm high; the sound holes have a width of 45 and 65 mm respectively, the string holes have a diameter of 6 mm and the string a diameter of 2 mm.

Made specifically for Jon Bennett in Juba in 1987, while he was there as the Oxfam Regional Representative for the Southern Sudan. The type is called
adungu in Acholi. For similar bow harps, see 1994.60.2, and also 1985.24.1, 1985.24.5 and 1998.9.1.

The plywood tuning peg is made from the same material as the tuning pegs used for 1994.60.2, and is of similar dimensions; it seems quite likely that this harp was made in the same workshop, perhaps even by the same craftsman. Note that the other harp had 2 peg holes that were never used; this may have been a leftover peg from that group. However note that the remaining pegs on 1994.60.1 have a different design, with a groove cut to seat the string ends.

Rachael Sparks 29/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession entry - Arched harp with a neck made of a single piece of curved wood. The neck has ten holes in it to accommodate ten wooden pegs (one missing). It has a wooden resonator which is roughly rectangular in shape. The resonator is of wood, in an approximately rectangular shape. The top and bottom of the resonator are covered with two pieces of skin lashed together at the sides. There are two round holes in the skin on the top of the resonator. The skin still has white hair on it and is probably from a goat or calf. The hair is cut away in parts to form the letters OKOY (?) and IWAK (?). Made for Jon Bennett in Juba, while he was Oxfam regional representative for South Sudan [JC 3/1995].

Related Documents File
- Acquisition letter dated 9th December 1994 indicates that this is a donation from Jon Bennett ... Oxford, of: "2 x Adungu - Acholi, South sudan; (bow harp) [insert] Made for Jon Bennett, Juba, South Sudan, 1987 [end insert]; Rebaba (Sudanese word), Sudan. When regional representative for south Sudan, Oxfam 1987-1989".

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