Domu (Figurative Harp)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

Mangbetu musicians often performed to entertain their communities. Singing songs about their travels and heroic deeds performed by their elders.

Central to these songs is the domu harp. While it has been attributed to many peoples over the years, the domu most certainly originated with the Mangbetu, first appearing in their culture around the late 19th century.

The harp is traditionally held in the left hand and played with both. The sound-box rests on the players’ lap.

Many domu harps feature a carved head. These carvings have evolved over the years, perhaps in response to interest from Europeans and other tourists. As Domus became more intricate, tuning and playing them became increasingly difficult. Today, they are coveted mainly as art rather than working instruments.

Another potential reason for their musical demise is linked to the deaths of Queen Nenzima and King Yangala. The heads of the harps are said to represent the king and queen. And some elders claim that the use of the domu as an instrument declined after their passing.

Distinguishing Features

  • Carved human head at harp summit
  • Many heads feature flared 'tumburu' coiffure
  • Stylised, barely open eyes
  • Incised scarification under eyes
  • Mouth mirrors shape of eyes
  • Curved neck
  • In some examples, entire neck may be figurative
  • Tuning pegs on player's right
  • Freestanding strings; typically five stings
  • Strings rise in horizontal plane from belly to neck
  • Conjunction between neck and body often wrapped with cord
  • Wooden sound box (resonator) covered with animal hide
  • Resonators hourglass or oval shape
  • Two small sounding holes on the top surface

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