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Tell Us About the Zande Harp

Bryna Freyer

Collections Curator Bryna Freyer tells us the history of the Zande Harp in the African Art Museum Collections.

Collection Object: 
Harp
Object Name
kundi
Data Source
National Museum of African Art
Maker
Zande artist
Credit Line
Museum purchase
Medium
Wood, hide, metal
Dimensions
H x W: 90.2 x 22.9 cm (35 1/2 x 9 in.)
See more items in
National Museum of African Art Collection
Geography
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Date
Early 20th century
Label Text
Artists living in the northeastern forest regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have carved several types of harps. This one has traits typical of Zande style: a beautifully carved head with detailed coiffure and earrings, and a carefully stitched animal hide that covers the sound box. Five pegs, separately carved and fitted into the neck, secured and tuned the now-missing strings, which would have been made of bast or hairs from the tail of a giraffe.
The Zande carve other objects such as bowls and stools, but harps are among their finest artistic achievements. In the 19th century German ethnographer Dr. Georg Schweinfurth described harps used by the Zande and published an engraving of a Zande musician holding a harp with a carved head. These musicians played for the entertainment of groups, reciting details of their travels and experiences as wandering minstrels. Research in the 20th century by Evans-Pritchard describes harps as being the particular favorites of Zande notables.
Description
Wood five-stringed harp with an hourglass shaped sound box covered with stitched animal hide and a long, curved neck into which 5 separately carved pegs are inserted. At the top of the neck is a carved head with an elaborate coiffure and earrings.
Provenance
K. John Hewett, London
Entwistle, London
James Freeman, Kyoto, 1985
Exhibition History
Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue - From the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, November 7, 2014-January 24, 2016
Published References
Kreamer, Christine Mullen and Adrienne L. Childs (eds). 2014. Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue from the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 235, pl. 129.
National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 148, no. 107.
National Museum of African Art. 2007. 2007-2008 School Calendar: Featuring the new Let's Read about Africa and the Sounds of African Music programs. Museum calendar. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, September 2007.
Type
Musical Instrument
Object number
85-17-1