Musical Bow and Cassava Kneading Trough, 1840s-1850s

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This record was last updated on 27 Jun 2017

Image Reference

Drawings of Western Africa (University of Virginia Library, Special Collections, MSS 14357, no. 21).

Ink wash. The artist describes the musical instrument as "a harp of one string- A calabash shell for sounding loud. Makes sweet music. From 3 to 8 feet long." Ethnomusicologists might refer to this instrument as a gourd- or calabash-resonated musical bow. Similar musical bows are widespread in West Africa. The pestle is shown placed in a mortar, what the artist identifies as a “kneading trough for cassava bread.” Cassava (or manioc), domesticated in the New World, was a widespread food in tropical West Africa. Discussing his travels among the Fan/Fang of coastal Equatorial Africa (probably in present-day Gabon) in the 1850s, the American naturalist-hunter Paul Du Chaillu describes the mortars in which the boiled pulp of Cassava was pounded: “They are of wood, and are in fact troughs, being two feet long by two or three inches deep and eight wide” (Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa (New York, 1862), p. 126). Some years later, travelling in the same general area, Mary described a similar kind of trough “that looks like a model canoe, with wooden clubs” (Travels in West Africa [London, 1897], pp. 208-209). Vertical wooden mortars were more characteristic of areas further north, e.g., Liberia. See other image references “UVA” on this site. For background to this and other UVA images, see image reference UVA01.