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Unknown Maker
Harp (Ngombi)
20th century

Harp-making has a long history in Africa and consequently a variety of types have developed. Called ngombi, this is an example of a shelf harp, a type found predominantly in the Central African Republic and Gabon. Composed of a wood resonator (hollow body) covered with snakeskin and a wood neck fitted with tuning pegs and jute strings, it features a ¿shelf,¿ or projection that extends from the top of the resonator.

The shelf provides an opportunity for sculptors to carve figural representations. The Lang harp depicts a Janus-faced head of a woman with a crested black hairstyle, almond-shaped eyes and full lips with traces of red pigment. The facial features were originally whitened with kaolin, a substance associated with spirits and the dead. Among the Punu and neighbouring peoples, this type of representation is also found on masks known as mukudj or okuyi, and on a variety of objects, from fly whisks to doors. It conveys idealized female beauty and through its whitened surface, suggests the presence of the sacred.

Played primarily by men, harps have entertainment, ceremonial and ritual functions. For example, the religious organization known as Bwiti, prevalent among many groups in Gabon, uses shelf harps for a type of divine communication between the living and the dead. The precise use of this harp, however, is unknown.

 
Unknown Maker
Punu peoples
Harp (Ngombi)
20th century
wood, pigment, snakeskin, jute
height / width / depth: 80.00 x 12.50 x 51.00 cm; 31.50 x 4.92 x 20.08 in.
Gift of Justin and Elisabeth Lang, 1984
M84-086

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