X85.457 Harp lute

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Harp lute (ngombi)
Ngounie River region, Gabon
Tsogo peoples
Wood, hide, fiber, metal
L: 17.7 cm, H: 78.7 cm, D: 18.4 cm (L: 6.9 in, H: 30.9 in, D: 7.2 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Helen and Dr. Robert Kuhn. X85.457


During the early 1900’s in response to the rise of Western religions, the bieri ancestor cult gave birth to a revivalist religion called Bwiti. Harp lutes came to represent the balance between men and women, and between humankind and the supernatural. The harp itself illustrates the complementarity of male and female: the body is considered female while the neck is male; four strings are male and four are female. Nyingwan Mbege, the Sister of God and a life-giving force, finds form in Bwiti harp lutes; the tuning pegs are her spine and ribs, the strings her tendons and sinews. Harp music is perceived to be the female voice of pity and comfort that keeps foreign evils at bay so that people can communicate with their ancestors.

Source: DjeDje, J. C. (1999). “Turn Up the Volume! A Celebration of African Music”, Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 295