South African Music Studies

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Ruwenge: The discovery of an African jew’s harp constructed with a frame

D Dargie


This article reports for the first time on a discovery originally made in 1981 in Rundu (Kavango, northern Namibia) and confirmed in 1988 in Sambiu (50 km east of Rundu) of the ruwenge, an indigenous African jew’s harp. Jew’s harps imported and adapted from Europe are found in various parts of Africa (the Xhosa isitolotolo is an example), but the ruwenge is different from a European instrument (a heteroglot idiophone) both in the material it is made from and in the playing technique, being more like the bamboo Asian jew’s harp (an idioglot idiophone). Most importantly, it is a rhythm instrument rather than a melody instrument. Three transcriptions of performances (one recorded in 1981 and two in 1988) show the derivation of ruwenge music from two- or three-part Kavango drumming. The article also reflects on the historical context in which the fieldwork was done.
AJOL African Journals Online