Arch lute

This beautiful musical instrument was collected in Colombia before 1865. How it appeared there remains a mystery. It suggests the continuity of African musical traditions by enslaved people. Its form is typically West African.

Obtained by James Aunger, who donated it to RAMM in 1870.

Length = 843mm.

Fiona Savage, Sainsbury Research Unit (University of East Anglia)
Kora. Lobi. Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. On display. Materials: Wood, gut, plant fibres, animal skin.
This is a good example of a type of stringed musical instrument that is found in a variety of different forms in many West African communities. This instrument is carved with a representation of a female head on the neck. She has the crested hairstyle of a mature married woman and her elongated neck is formed from stylised rings of fat that denote her beauty, status and fecundity. Despite being acquired in South America, this musical instrument was probably created by a male Lobi craftsman for a high-status male musician who performed public recitals of folklore, stories and origin myths for his community. Male musicians in West Africa often play instruments that are considered to have a gender, in this case female.

The sound of a kora resembles that of a harp, though when played in the traditional style, it bears a closer resemblance to flamenco and delta blues guitar techniques. The player uses only the thumb and index finger of both hands to pluck the strings in polyrhythmic patterns (using the remaining fingers to secure the instrument by holding the hand posts on either side of the strings). Ostinato riffs (kumbengo) and improvised solo runs (birimintingo) are played at the same time by skilled players. The shine and overall patina of this piece when considered alongside the visible signs of damage and wear are consistent with it dating from the early to mid-19th century. As such, it is a rare survivor with a high historical value.

Object Summary

Accession Loan No.
Collection Class
Musical instruments
Collection Area Region
woodanimal skinmetalfibre
Common Name
arch lute
Simple Name
Production Town
Cartagena, Colombia
Production County
Production Country
Production Year High

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archlute (kora, mbake etc)