Acholi lyre

Acholi lyre
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] Bahr el Jebel Juba
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Plastic Synthetic , Pigment , Textile , Yarn , Copper Metal Steel Metal Brass Metal
Carved Carpentered , Pegged Stitched , Wound Strung , Recycled Repaired (local) , Covered Perforated , Decorated Painted
Total L = 610; cross bar L = 352, diam = 24; arms L = 605 and 610, W = 14.5, th = 20; soundbox diam = 290, depth = 120; upper sound holes (small) diam = 10; lentoid sound holes L = 32, W = 20; lower sound hole diam = 10; string diam = 1; bridge L = 58, ht
Local Name:
rebaba rababa
Field Collector:
Jon Bennett
PRM Source:
Jon Bennett
Donated 9 December 1994
Collected Date:
Bowl lyre, consisting of a wooden frame or string bearer made from 3 pieces of wood. One piece has been cut from a branch, with the bark removed to expose the yellow surface beneath (Pantone 7509C); this rests horizontally across the top to form a crossbar and has been pierced near either flat-cut end. Two longer pieces of brown wood extend down at an acute angle from this to form the sides of the frame (Pantone 7519C); these have been carved to have rectangular sectioned bodies with shaved, tapering tops that peg into the crossbar holes. The space between these arms gradually lessens as one approaches the soundbox; they are 288 mm apart at their top ends, and 80 mm apart at their bases. The arms have been laid across the rim of the soundbox or resonator bowl, which has been carved from a piece of wood and has a convex underside. Both bowl and lower arms were then covered with a piece of pale yellowish brown hide, which has been stretched tight across the surface and over to the underside of the bowl (Pantone 7506C). The upper surface of the hide has been perforated with a series of sound holes, comprising 2 lentoid-shaped holes near the top edge, inside the arms; 2 circular holes below these, then 2 groups of 3 holes each on either side of the cover, outside the line of the arms. The base of each arms is clearly visible through the cover as a raised bulge. The edges of the cover are still covered with a narrow band of reddish brown hair (Pantone 4705C), and have been stretched over the rim to the underside, where they are pierced with a row of holes. A copper wire has been wound around the bowl immediately below, its ends twisted together, and a narrow hide thong has been used to lash the cover to this wire, keeping the skin taut. At the centre of the underside is a circular sound hole.

The lyre has five metal strings present, all of which are made from commercially produced guitar strings. The lower 2 strings are copper coloured (Pantone 876C), while the upper 3 strings are brass coloured (Pantone 871C); they lie in the same plane as the resonator. At the top, they have been wound around the crossbar, over a padding made of strips of recycled green and white Terry towelling cloth (Pantone 342C). They extend down to the lower part of the sound box, passing over a short bridge made from a thick piece of soft, lightweight, cream-coloured wood (Pantone 7506C), before being tied onto a copper wire loop that fastens onto the wire around the bowl base. This bridge has probably been added under European influence, as it is not a traditional part of this form. Each string ends with a simple slip loop and circular metal nut, showing that they were fixed over the base of the instrument before being pulled up to the crossbar and tightened. Finally, a strip of synthetic reddish brown leatherette-type material has been stretched across the frame, between the arms, about halfway down their length (Pantone 4695C), and stitched in place using a cream coloured European thread. The lyre has also been decorated with blue paint (Pantone 7461C); this has been applied to either end of the crossbar (but not the central section where the strings have been tied), down all of one arm, and at the exposed lower part of the other; and onto the top of the hide bowl cover, with 2 bands that follow the lines of the arms beneath, and 2 semicircles on either side, framing the groups of triple holes on either side, with a dot of paint in the centre of each group. The underside of the bowl has also been painted, with paint covering some of the wire and part of the hide lashings. It also covers a thin piece of wire that is wrapped around one end of the crossbar, function unknown, and a narrow strip of metal that has been wrapped around the opposite end.

There is a long crack running across the centre of the base. A piece of copper wire has been stretched across the base, at right angles to the crack, and secured somehow over the rim of the bowl. This may be a form of repair, or an attempt to stop the crack worsening, but if so, it has been added to the lyre before the hide cover was in place, and also before the object was painted. It is possible that the body has been made from a broken bowl, being recycled here as a soundbox, and that the object was made for sale to foreigners rather than to local musicians. Otherwise, the lyre is complete. It has a weight in excess of 1000 grams, and a total length of 610 mm; the cross bar is 352 mm long and 24 mm in diameter; the arms have a width of 14.5 mm and thickness of 20 mm, and are 605 and 610 mm long respectively; the soundbox has a diameter of 290 mm and is 120 mm deep; the smaller upper sound holes have a diameter of 10 mm, and the lentoid-shaped holes measure 20 by 32 mm, while the lower sound hole has a diameter of 10 mm. The strings have a diameter of 1 mm and a length, from crossbar to bridge, of 480 mm; the copper wire used on the base is 2 mm in diameter. The bridge is 58 mm long and 20 mm high; the leatherette strap is 245 mm long and 33 mm wide.

This object was purchased by Jon Bennett, while working in the Sudan as the regional representative for Oxfam in the Southern Sudan, between 1987 and 1989, and donated to the museum in 1994. It is known locally as
rebaba ; this is probably the same as the Arabic term, rababa, which is also a term used by the Kakwa (M. Trowell & K.P. Wachsmann, 1953, Tribal Crafts of Uganda, p. 405.

Bowl lyres are 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. In many cases, tortoiseshell carapaces are used to form the bowls, which are often laced to a central ring on the underside, amongst groups such as the Ganda, Soga, Lugbara and Luo; both these features are seen in several other PRM examples, although not on this particular one; 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 (op.cit., p. 400).
For similar instruments, see 1917.25.75 (Zande or Jur), 1961.9.3 (White Nile, with metal strings), and 1966.1.1055 (Nuer). This differs in having a much more circular bowl, made of wood rather than shell, and in the number and arrangement of sound holes; it also makes greater use of European and recycled materials.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Original database Entry - Lyre with a bowl-shaped resonator and a skin top, both of which have some blue painting on them. It has two necks and the metal strings splay out in the same plane as these. The strings are held in place by a bar which runs at right angles to the necks and joins them. Some green painted towelling has been placed under each string where it is fixed to the bar [JC].

Pitt Rivers Museum label
- AFRICA, S. SUDAN. JUBA. Acholi. 'Rebata'. Don. Bennett, Jon. 1994.60.3 [plastic label with metal eyelet, tied to object; RTS 21/9/2005].

Related Documents File
- Acquisition record dated 9th December 1994 indicates that this is a donation from Jon Bennett ... Oxford: "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". The way in which this record has been filled out implies that only the bow harps, mentioned immediately before the rebaba were made for Bennett in 1987; this might imply that the collection date for this lyre is less specific, sometime between 1987 and 1989 [RTS 15/12/2003].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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