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Faculty of Music


Diachronic Ethnomusicology: Current Research on the Ngombi Harp of the Ntumu (Cameroon, Gabon)

This talk presents research on an African harp and its status as carrier of cultural knowledge and history. Its variability is a testimony of social, cultural and religious changes. The research connects recent fieldwork in South Cameroon with sources going back to the German colonization at the beginning of the nineteenth century: sound archives, instruments in museums, photos and descriptions in written sources. It will also be necessary to make a diversion into historical research on the migrations during the nineteenth century, as well as into religious ethnology. 

The object of this talk is the harp among the Fang Ntumu people who live in the triangle between Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. The issue is the search for the link between ancient instruments and those used today. On the one hand, historical sources show an eight-stringed harp with a sculpture at the top of the body representing various beings – animals, ancestors, men – or geometric forms. On the other, the modern instrument has the same number of strings and a sculpture in the same place, but depicts a Western-type female figure. The difference between these instruments – all of them named ngomo or ngueme – raises the question of what are the aesthetics or symbolics behind this transformation. 

Detailed ethnography and formal analysis of the instruments and the contexts of their playing take us on a journey through time, places, and sources. They make us understand the mechanism of cultural transformation that first led to the abandonment of the ancient harp, and show how another harp arrived via the syncretic Bwiti cult. Thus, a century after the last first-hand testimonies of the ancient harp, we are able to reconstruct a coherent link with the new one and to identify the place of each of them in the cultural history of the Ntumu of South Cameroon. 

Wednesday, 13 October, 2021 - 17:00
Event location: 
Recital Room, Faculty of Music and online via Zoom (email fom. for link)