Harp with human head (kundi)

Zande peoples
late 19th or early 20th century
more object details

General Description

The arched neck of this harp ends in a sculpted head with eyes made of precious imported blue beads. The shape of the head is echoed in the lozenge-shaped sounding box covered with leather and decorated with geometric designs. It has been suggested that the head alludes to the ancestors whose voices sound through the harp. Figurative pegs fitted into the arched neck tuned the strings stretched between the pegs and the sounding box. The missing original pegs and strings have been replaced.

Zande kings in the 19th-century owned five-stringed harps that were played at their pleasure by royal harpists residing in the palace. According to an Italian visitor of the day, harps were so favored that itinerant singers took their harps to war, and those who owned figurative harps treasured them. The harp remains a favorite musical instrument in contemporary Zande society.

Excerpt from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.

Web Resources

  • YouTube
    Listen to a 1952 recording of a kundi player.