Acholi bow harp

Acholi bow harp
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] Bahr el Jebel Juba
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Nylon Synthetic
Carved , Perforated , Stretched Covered , Twisted , Tied , Strung
Diagonal L from top of neck to end soundbox = 635; neck diam = 21.5; tuning peg head diam = 14 x 12, base diam = 5, L = 104; soundbox L = 310, W = 105, ht = 100; sound hole W = 30, string hole diam = 4, string diam = 1.3 mm [RTS 23/9/2005].
713.9 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:
Bow harp consisting of a curved neck carved from a lightweight yellow branch (Pantone 7508C), stripped of its surface bark, with rounded upper end and a shaft that fits into the side of a wooden soundbox. The neck has been perforated with a row of 10 holes, burnt through the wood and blackened on their interiors. Faint impressed lines have been cut around the back of these holes, possibly a side-effect of the manufacturing process, a guide to marking out the holes, or for the position of the string; in this example the strings follow their line and they could also have resulted from having a tightly tensioned string wrapped around the back of them. The top eight holes have been fitted with solid wooden tuning pegs carved from orangey brown plywood (Pantone 729C). These are roughly paddle-shaped, with flat tops, narrow rectangular bodies then a cylindrical, peg-like base that fits through the tuning hole. The sixth peg has a hole bored through the upper body, but this has not actually been used to secure the string. The lower two holes are empty.

The harp body has been carved from a piece of grayish brown wood (Pantone 7531C), and consists of a flat-topped rim that is broadest at the front end, upright sides and a flat base. The body is almost rectangular in plan view, but the back has been slightly curved and the front sides angle in to a pointed end. A piece of pale yellow animal hide (Pantone 7401C) with traces of 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 across the middle. Two large triangular sound holes have been cut in opposite corners of the sound table, with a row of 8 string holes running down the middle. Notice that there are two less string holes than tuning peg holes. Both ends of the string carrier are visible; this has been carved from a narrow piece of yellow wood (Pantone 7508C), lentoid-shaped in section, and 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 of the soundbox. There is also a row of 3 lentoid-shaped holes running across the width of the sound table, just below the last string hole; the function of this is not clear. 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 several times around the shaft in a clockwise direction, before passing around the back of the neck 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 strings has become detached from its correct position on its tuning peg, with the looped end hanging loose; it has been wound around the bases of two pegs, however, and is still taut.

The harp is probably complete - as although two of the peg holes have no matching tuning pegs, the sound table is only set to receive 8 strings, rather than the 10 represented by these holes. The hide cover has a few cut marks across the surface. It has a weight of 713.9 grams. It measures 635 mm from the top of the neck to the end of the soundbox; the neck has a diameter of 21.5 mm; a typical tuning peg has a head diameter of 14 by 12 mm, is 104 mm long, and has a base diameter of 5 mm. The soundbox is 310 mm long, with a maximum width of 105 mm, and is 100 mm high; the sound holes have a width of 30 mm, the string holes have a diameter of 4 mm and the string a diameter of 1.3 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 1994.60.1, which is considerably larger, and also 1985.24.1, 1985.24.5 and 1998.9.1.

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 pegs (two missing). It has a wooden resonator which is roughly rectangular in shape. The top and bottom of the resonator are covered with two pieces of skin, lashed together at the sides. The skin is almost hairless with two holes cut in the top. Made for Jon Bennett in Juba, while he was Oxfam regional representative for South Sudan [JC 3/1995].

Pitt Rivers Museum label
- AFRICA, S. SUDAN, ACHOLI. Arched harp. Don. Jon Bennett. 1994.60.2 [plastic label with metal eyelet, tied to object; RTS 23/9/2005].

Related Documents File
- Acquisition record 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
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