is my source. This site is incredibly useful and has everything from pictures to a description of how an instrument is played.

I would also advocate looking some of these up by name on Yahoo, where you can find everything from sound clips to instructions on how to build the instruments here.

I would provide a links page, but they are a pain in the ass to maintain. I would mirror the sites as I find them, but I have neither the bandwidth nor the diskspace. Donations of either are graciously accepted. --Darklyn

Musical Bow

General information:

The musical bow is an ancient, single-stringed instrument made from a curved wooden staff. Usually, a half-gourd or other resonator is attached to the bow to amplify the sound. It has been played for millenia in Africa, Australia as well as in some regions of Europe, Asia and North America. Similar instruments are illustrated in rock paintings dating back to 15,000 BC, as found in France at the caves of Les Trois Freres.

Holding the gourd resonator against your chest, you strike the string with a stick or bow, while pressing coins, rocks or other objects against the stringwith the other hand to change its pitch. Shells or metal pieces are sometimes tied to the string to create a buzzing sound quality.

Instrument or weapon? During the 19th and early 20th centuries, music scholars argued about the origins of this and countless other instruments, debating whether the musical instrument and the hunting bow developed simultaneously or independently. Whatever its source, the musical bow's legacy is closely linked to the diverse traditions of Africa, Japan, Greece and some First Nations communities in the American southwest.

The musical bow is probably best known in connection with the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira, which Guilherme dos Santos Barbosa calls "a vital reflection of the history and culture" of Brazil. Capoeira is partly a celebration, partly a virtuousic dance, and partly a defensive form of ground fighting. Its name likely comes from the Angolan Bantu word kapwera, which translates as "vibrating" or "unexpected". Once banned in Brazil, this centuries-old art form gained government recognition as an official sport in 1972. The Brazilian musical bow, the berimbau is made from a branch of the biriba tree and a calabash gourd. Played with tambourine and other rhythmic instruments, it provides a musical and rhythmic pulse which are essential to this acrobatic form of martial arts.


Musical instruments reflect their physical, cultural and economic environment. Trade, religion, environmental changes, technological choices are each an integral part of instrument manufacturing in a community. The kissar, a bowl shaped member of the lyre family, has existed in Egypt, the Sudan and other areas of Western Africa since well before 200 BC. Early travellers in Africa suggested that this instrument was inspired by an Ancient Greek lyre, the 'cithara', but its origins are not so clear cut.

The instrument has a rounded body sometimes made from gourd or carved wood, shells, horns or animal skulls; Two posts extend from the body, with a cross piece connecting each post. Cords (now often metal) are attached to the body of and to wooden tuning pegs on the cross piece.

In the Stearns Collection, a West African kissar is made from a tortoise shell; its posts are decorated with cowrie shells. What does this suggest about the physical environment of its makers?


Angklungs, or tuned bamboo slide rattles, have been used throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Generally, these rattles have two or three vertical bamboo tubes (tuned in octaves) attached to a handheld horizontal bamboo rod. When you shake them, the tubes slide along grooves cut into the rectangular frame and strike a bamboo or wooden rim. There is a small segment cut out of each tube which also affects the pitch they produce.

Usually, performers use pairs of anklung, one held in each hand. Occasionally, these instruments are suspended so that musicians can play two or more at a time.


Castanets have existed for at least 2000 years. Described as 'clappers' or finger cymbals, they were used extensively in ancient Greek and Egyptian cultures. Their contemporary name comes from the Spanish word castana , or "chestnut". Ranging in size from around two to seven inches, these handheld percussive instruments are made from small disks of metal, hardwood or nutshells which have been slightly hollowed along one side to increase their resonance. Castenets are often played by dancers, one pair held in each hand; their intricate rhythms match and articulate the steps of the performer. According to James Blades, the 'macho' (or male) pair in one's left hand plays a basic rhythm; the 'hembra' (or female) pair in the right hand articulates a full dance rhythm.

Although the specific origin of castanets is not known, their current history is clear: anywhere Spanish (and prior to that, Moorish) communities have travelled, these enduring instruments are usually found as, for example, in much of South and Central America. Another clapper (different in design, but similar in function) is the "clave", two rounded hardwood sticks which provide a central rhythmic element in many Latin American and Caribbean musics.

In contemporary western orchestral repertoire, the castenet is prominently featured in Leonardo Balada's "Three Anecdotes: concertino for wood-percussion or castanets and chamber orchestra" (1984) and William Schinstine's "Etude for Wooden Idiophones" (1968). Orchestral castenets are usually attached to handles so that they can be played more easily.


This Arabic instrument is found throughout the Middle East and other Islamic-influenced countries. This is a goblet-shaped drum which is made from earthenware or terra-cotta pottery, wood or metal. The single drum head, made from stretched parchment, bayard-fish, goat-skin or other leather, is attached directly to the frame by nails and glue or laced onto the head and body. The bottom of the drum is left open. Usually goblet shaped drums like this are held under a player's arm; you strike the head directly with your hands and fingers. The 'doum' stroke, a resounding lower tone, is made by hitting the center of the drum head; the 'tek' stroke, a higher pitched sound, is created by striking the upper edge of the drumhead with your fingers.

In Iran, a similar instrument known as the dombak , has been an essential part of classical music ensembles, while in Turkey, the goblet-shaped dumbelek is more commonly associated with traditional folk musicians, accompanying singers and wind instruments like the zurna . The Syrian daraboukka, like that found in the Stearns Collection , may be used to accompany singers along with an endblown wooden flute called the nay.

Most of these instruments are intricately decorated, some with wood, tile or ivory inlay, etched metal, or carvings in geometric or representative patterns. Many of these same patterns are found in other creative forms, such as carpets which are traditionally woven by women. These repeated designs have a rich historic and cultural significance for many Islamic communities.


Another example of cultural diffusion!

Throughout Islamic-influenced countries in eastern Europe, northern Africa and much of central Asia, you'll find an ancient double reed instrument with a long, conical wooden body and a flaring bell. Used as a solo instrument or in ensembles, there are several sizes and many distinctive playing techniques associated with each region. Characteristically, these instruments have a distinctively loud, piercing nasal sound created by the vibrating reeds, somewhat similar to the sound of an oboe which is a much later European descendent. Many of these nonwestern instruments use a reed made from a flattened stalk of grass, unlike the harder cane reeds of western oboes.

The serunai and its relatives, including the zurna (Turkey), kangling(Tibet),sorna (Afghanistan), suona (China) and raita (Morrocco), have been played at temple festivals, outdoor processionals, games, weddings and community dances. Prior to this century, the zurna was also associated with Turkish Janissary (or military) band processionals, along with kettledrums. And since the late 1800s, similar instruments have been used in Cuba and other Latin American countries, brought by Chinese immigrants who worked in the sugar cane plantations.

Da'uli da'uli

Dauli-d'uli, a kind of xylophone from Nias, Indonesia (also found in Madagascar), consists of three or four loose pieces of resonating wood, sometimes flat but often with a rounded cross section. These can rest across the legs of a seated player, or across a hole in the ground; sometimes they are laid top of a wooden box. You strike them with wooden mallets. Among their many performance contexts are festivals surrounding rice harvests; on these occasions, they are usually played by women.

Jaw's Harp

Names are sometimes misleading.

Found throughout much of the world from New Guinea to Spain, the Jaws' Harp (or alternatively Jew's Harp) is not a harp at all and it has no historic association with Jewish traditions. Its name might be a mistranslation of a French word, 'jouer', which means 'to play'. In 15th and 16th century Britain, this instrument was called a 'Jew's Trump'; in 19th century Italy, 'scacciapensieri'; loosely translated, this means "to chase your thoughts or troubles away". In contemporary Spain it is called the 'trompa inglesa', which suggests that it was imported (though not necessarily from Britain.) Clearly this is an enduring instrument, whatever its origins, popular because it is portable and relatively easy to play - you can create a wide range of sounds almost immediately.

Technically categorized as 'plucked idiophones', these instruments are made from bamboo or more commonly from forged metal (usually iron, sometimes silver). They have a thin frame with either a rectangular, onion/lyre or elongated shape. One end of the frame is closed, the other end left open. Attached to the closed end is a single key or tongue which you pluck with your finger. Usually made from the same material as the frame, it produces a buzzing tone of suprising variety! Holding the closed end in your mouth, you can make different pitches and sounds by changing the size and shape of your mouth which acts as a natural resonating chamber.

There is a rich oral tradition associated with the jaw's harp. In New Guinea, it is used as a traditional ceremonial instrument, often played exclusively by men at religious events. Among certain Asian communities, it has been used to serenade loved ones; when left as a gift it might be considered a proposal of marriage. In Austria during the early 19th century, silver jaws harps or 'maultrommel' were reportedly banned by authorities who considered them instruments of seduction!


The mbira (also known as sanza or thumb piano) is a unique kind of tuned percussion instrument. You produce sound by using your thumbs and fingers to pluck very thin strips or tongues of metal, wood or cane. These strips are attached to a gourd resonator or wooden box, often with sound holes. Sometimes, jingles or beads are added to the keys to create a rich, buzzing tone. You can change the pitch of each key by fixing wax to its free end, or by increasing or decreasing its length.

Among east African peoples, the delicate sound of the mbira is said to create a link between human and spiritual worlds, enabling the trance possession of people by spiritual beings. Depending on the context, these instruments may be played singly or in pairs. Among the Shona nations, ensembles of up to twenty mbira players performed at ceremonial events.

Mbiras travelled with African people to South, Central, and North America and to the Caribbean, particularly during the slave trade. In Brazil, these instruments are called a marimbao. In the Americas, mbiras are a vibrant expression of the rich heritage of the African peoples of these communities.


Rattles are found in almost every musical culture, in almost every era throughout human history. Technically, they are classified as "idiophones", but that simple label doesn't convey the almost overwhelming variety of materials from which they are made or performance contexts where they are used.

These instruments can be made from animal horn or hide, leather strips, rope, cloth, wood, nut shells, gourds, metal, or clay. They can be filled with shell, stone, corn kernels, beads or other soundproducers; some, like the shekere gourd rattle illustrated here have beads attached to a net on the outer surface of the instrument. You can hold them in your hand and shake them or strike them against a hard surface. They can be tied around your wrists, waist or ankles or attached to other musical instruments, such as drums or xylophones. There is at least one constant feature in this incredible diversity of form and use: almost without exception, rattles accompany dancing as well as vocal music. In English, their very name suggests movement, articulating the melodic rhythm and adding a shimmering, buzzing sound quality to the music.

Talking Drum

Talking drums are part of a family of hourglass shaped pressure drums; in the Yoruba language of west Africa, these include "gan gan" (the smallest member of this drum family) or "dun dun" (the largest of the talking drums.) The drum heads at either end of the drum's wooden body are made from hide, fish-skin or other membranes which are wrapped around a wooden hoop. Leather cords or thongs run the length of the drum's body and are wrapped around both hoops; when you squeeze these cords under your arm, the drum heads tighten, changing the instrument's pitch.

Drums have often symbolized the power of a traditional political leader, and drummers ("onigangan" in Yoruba) have held considerable status in these west African communities.

One of the unique features of the instruments is their ability to closely imitate the rhythms and intonations of spoken language. In the hands of skilled performers (traditionally known as "onigangan"), they can reproduce the sounds of proverbs or praise songs through a specialized "drum language" - their dialogue can be easily understood by a knowledgeable Yoruba audience. Whether accompanying dances or sending messages, the sound of these instruments can carry many miles. Specific talking drum patterns and rhythms are also closely linked with ogun, or spiritual beings associated with the traditional Yoruba belief system originally celebrated in Nigeria and parts of Ghana. This religion (and its instrumentation and rhythmic patterns) spread to South and Central America, regions of the Caribbean and the United States during the era of the slave trade. Because of the perceived potential of talking drums to "speak" in a tongue unknown to slave traders and thus to incite rebellion, these and other drums were once banned from use by African Americans in the United States.

In Ghana, West Africa, Akan communities also highly regard a drummer who play the "atumpan", or Akan form of the talking drum. As J.H. Kwabena Nketia explains,

"he is considered the greatest of all drummers because of the breadth of his knowledge, the skill which his work demands and the role he plays as a leading musician in all ensembles in which the atumpan drums are used."
Atumpan are similar structurally to the dun dun and gan gan, but Akan musicians use the tension drum heads primarily to create a descending or falling pitch on drum strokes rather to produce a wide tonal language.

This century, talking drums have become an important part of popular musics in west Africa, especially in "juju", a genre which finds its roots in traditional Yoruba musics, indigenous guitar bands and the British brassband heritage in Nigeria. Popular juju artists include King Sunny Ade, I.K. Dairo and Ebenezer Obey.


The historic teponaztli has deep cultural and spiritual meaning for Indios and other communities in Mexico. Its name means 'wooden drum' in Nahuatl. In other dialects, it is known as tunkul, quiringua or teponagua . Made from a section of a hollowed hardwood tree trunk (or occasionally from small gourds which also serve as resonators), these instruments characteristically have an elongated H-shaped incision along the top. This cut in the wood forms two vibrating tongues or "keys" ; these have distinct pitches either because they are different lengths or they have been chiselled on the underside to different thicknesses. Sometimes, a rectangular opening is carved in the bottom of the drum to increase its volume. Many of these instruments are decorated with lotus or other symbolic designs, and some are carved in the shapes of alligators.

So why is it important? Aztec narratives describe music as a gift brought to earth by both Tezcatlipoca, the sky god and Quetzalcoatl, the wind god, from the court of the Sun. The drum teponaztli is respected as a spiritual being who is exiled temporarily on Earth. Zapotec warriors were said to carry this them into battle. And, according to Aztec documents (called 'codexes') possibly, several of these drums were played together to accompany songs. In Central America, similar instruments (some with three or four wooden tongues or "keys") were used to send messages because of their penetrating, resonant sound.

A performer strikes the drum with wooden mallets which had rubber tips. According to Robert Stevenson, these mallets were called olmaitl . Some drums are small enough to be carried by a strap around your neck, while others, more than 1 1/2 meters in length, would be placed on a tripod.

What is "natural" about a natural trumpet? Essentially, the length of its playing tube canŐt be altered either by means of telescoping slides (as on the trombone) or by valves (as on the contemporary concert trumpet). But natural trumpets can still produces many notes, or pitches. By overblowing, you can play all the pitches in the overtone series of it's fundamental pitch For example, you can play the military "Taps" on a natural trumpet, because "this melody uses only a fundamental pitch and the first few pitches in its overtone series.

Natural trumpets come in many shapes, sizes and materials. European models tend to be made from wood or metal and either have long, straight tubes with bell-shaped ends, or s-shaped bodies for easier portability. Shepherds in Southern Poland use an instrument called a "trombita," a natural trumpet up to four meters long. In western Africa, families of ceremonial natural trumpets ranging in size from two to six feet have been made from elephant's tusks. In the South Pacific and other communities that had maritime trade routes, conch shell trumpets have been used.

These instruments have long had military and imperial connections. For example, ancient Egyptian natural trumpets have been discovered which bear inscriptions of Egyptian army divisions. In 14th and15th century Europe, trumpeters were often tower watchmen for castles or military compounds. Those trumpeters who were under the direct jurisdiction of European sovereigns enjoyed a much higher social status than most musicians. In 1623, an exclusive Imperial Guild of Trumpeters and Kettledrummers was formed in Germany. The Guild had a dual purpose: to regulate and limit instruction on the trumpet, and to restrict where the trumpet could be played and by whom For a period of at least 50 years, less trumpet music was written down and printed for fear of unregulated performances by non-guild trumpeters!


Vessel flutes were first used by pre-contact Native societies in Latin America, especially in the regions of Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama and Peru. Made from clay or beeswax, these flutes had four or fewer finger holes, and were often in the shapes of human beings or animals. Elaborately carved ceramic flute effigies (for example, a human face peering through the open jaws of a tiger) have also been found in the Tairona region.

The name ocarina is an Italian word, translated as "little goose"; this rounded instrument was first named by a 19th century Italian manufacturer, Guiseppe Donati. He created a variety of sizes (or families) of differently pitched clay instruments which he organized into ocarina ensembles.

To produce sound, you blow into a windpipe which directs your air across a bevelled edge. Air leaves the instrument through a whistle head, similar to that found on the mouthpiece of a recorder. The range of an ocarina is determined by the number and size of its finger holes.

According to the Instrument manufacturer "Lark in the Morning", ocarinas shaped like sweet potatoes also became "a craze" in the United States in the early 20th century, and during World War II, "the U.S. government even issued mass-produced plastic ocarinas to its soldiers as a morale booster."


The oliphant, or cor d'olifant, is a natural horn usually made from ivory, as its name suggests. According to oral traditions in medieval Europe, the endblown instruments may have served as signaling devices during hunts or battles. However, most sources describe large and often ornately carved oliphants as symbols of social status, signifying land tenure or wealth. Undoubtedly, they represent an early export of ivory and other precious artifacts from Africa and Eastern countries to the west.

From the trumpeting elephant to a sighing breeze: African variants of the oliphant, made from ivory, horn or wood, are frequently sideblown; you hold the instrument horizontally. Here too they are military signaling devices and ceremonial instruments reflecting social and political status. It is said that a skilled performer can imitate everything from the roar of a lion or elephant to the gentle sound of a breeze.


The dijeridu (also spelled in English didjeridu or dijeridoo) is a natural trumpet created by Aborigine communities of northern Australia. It is traditionally made from a long, straight eucalyptus branch that has been hollowed out by termites. About four or five feet long, it is conical; the smaller end is about two inches wide and the other end about three inches wide. The smaller end serves as the mouthpiece.

One of the most amazing aspects of dijeridu technique is the range of expression that skilled players are able to achieve. Though the instrument mostly produces a single pitch, a few overtones are possible through overblowing. Players also use complex rhythms, a whole gamut of timbre changes achieved by changing the mouth position, and pitch bending when they inhale. A few other techniques are used, such as trilling with the tongue and humming pitches into the tube. In essence, this instrument creates a kind of musical speech, similar to the nuances and range of expressions achieved through the spoken word.

This deceptively simple instrument has a variety of functions in Aborigine society. Two of the most important of these are its use in clan songs and in bachelor songs. The clan songs celebrate different families and their lineage or heritage, as well as tell stories deriving from aboriginal oral traditions. When used in the clan songs, the dijeridu, along with clapping sticks, often accompanies dancing. It has always been played by men.

Traditionally, boys of six or seven years of age are separated from their parents to join the bachelors' group; one of the most important components of their education is learning to play the dijeridu. The bachelors' songs, which use the dijeridu as their main accompaniment, are known as "fun" songs which entertain the community Though all boys learn to play this instrument, only a few ever become virtuosi.

Another context for this instrument is in western "classical" repertoire; for example, Pauline Oliveros (1932- ), whose 1989 work Deep Listening captures an improvisation by accordion, dijeridu, trombone, voice, metal pipes, conch shell, and a garden hose, all in the environment of an underground cistern (without water, of course). The non-traditional dijeridu used in this recording was made from an adjustable-length jointed pipe.

Duct Flute

Vertical or duct flutes have existed for more then 3000 years among Asian, African and First Nations/North American peoples. They are essentially "end blown" instruments. When you blow into the opening, the airstream is directed by a small, wooden insert called a "duct", which is attached inside the tube just below the blowhole. Usually, they have open holes for your fingers rather than key mechanisms.

These enduring, ancient instruments include the Chinese hsiao , the Slovakian kaval , the Greek darvyra , the Syrian nay , European recorders and courting flutes of the Sioux and other western Native American nations. The Japanese shakuhachi, a bamboo duct flute of around 54 cm in length, is a meditative instrument. Its goal is that of Zen philosophy - you play as part of a process of obtaining enlightenment, each breath you inhale and note you create offering the potential of a richer spiritual life.

Transverse Flute

A transverse flute is an instrument that you hold sideways or horizontally to play. You create sound by directing a stream of air toward the sharp edge of an opening (in the mouthpiece); different pitches are created by blocking groups of holes along the body of the flute with your fingers. These instruments can be made from metal, wood or bone or even glass.

One of the most amazing things about the transverse flute is its universality. Historically, the transverse flute has been used for more than a millenium throughout Asia ; in India, the image of Krishna is traditionally represented playing the transverse flute. The Chinese chi is possibly the oldest transverse flute in history. It was used in state rituals in China and Korea at least as early as 900 B.C., and is still used today, m hainly in Taiwan for annual Confucian rituals. Played in ensembles, it is supposed to create a sense of harmony and spiritual peace. The embouchure (or mouthhole) is covered with a thin membrane of bamboo or other materials, which creates a slight buzzing sound as you play. In Japan, there are also several transverse flutes associated with traditional Gagaku, Noh and Kabuki theater.

The transverse flute came much later to Europe during the time of the crusades, via Byzantium around the twelfth century. Its appearance in the West, of course, has changed considerably. Early flutes were made from one piece of wood, bone or metal, but by the late-17th century, they were constructed in three pieces with adjustable joints that made it easier to fine tune the instrument's pitch.

Before the mid-19th century, western flutes only had open holes which a player covered with their fingers to create different tones. However during the 1830s, Theobald Boehm developed a system of keys and springs to replace many of the open holes. The Boehm invention required a complete fingering change for the flute and so was slow in gaining popularity, but today the Boehm flute is used almost exclusively in contemporary western orchestras.

In the Stearns collection, you'll find an unusual glass flute - clearly a novelty item, but one that is fully functional. Though glass flutes had been made in Europe at least as early as the early seventeenth century, Parisian manufacturer Claude Laurent patented his glass flute in 1806 and dedicated his life to making flutes of crystal and cut-glass. While flutes of glass were most likely made only for show rather than for serious playing, many, like that in the Stearns collection were perhaps more practical than expected; some have joints strengthened by silver or ivory and feature silver keys with steel springs. Unlike the popular wooden flute of the early nineteenth century , glass flutes are said to have an unearthly and ethereal character in their tone. Richard Rockstro, however, in his Treatise on the Flute of 1928, insists that glass flutes are simple tonally deficient experiments. 'A more inappropriate material,' he writes, 'could scarcely have been found. It possesses the single good quality of endurance--until broken'.

Ud or Oud

Origin: Persia?
Materials: Wood, metal, gut cord

This elegant, wooden instrument has a vaulted (or arched) back, and intricately carved soundhole with a "rosette" pattern, and a bent neck more commonly associated with the European lute. With 6 courses (or sets) of gut strings attached.


Origin: Burma, Indonesia
Date: pre-1898
Materials: Wood, glass, gut, metal


This beautifully gilded instrument is named for the crocodile which it resembles. The body has 11 wooden bridges, and three gut strings attached; it is played with a plectrum. The open jaws and tail are inlaid with bits of coloured glass. In 1914, Stearns collection records suggest this instrument was becoming obsolete. length, 97.4 cm; width, 10.5 cm; height (at end) 24.1 cm.

Dulcimer or Cane Psaltery

Origin: Borneo, Indonesia
Date: pre-1898
Materials: wood, cord

This instrument has fifteen strips of cane tightened and attached to a wood resonator; each of these strips are wrapped with narrow ribbons of cane and string, and are attached to wedges. Most likely, these strips would be struck to produce a rich, buzzing sound. 50.5 cm length, 20.9 cm width.

Musical bow

Origin: All over
Date: since forever
Materials: Gourd resonator, string, wood

This single stringed instrument uses a gourd resonator to amplify its sound. It resembles the Brazilian berimbau, used to accompany capoeira, which is a challenging athletic contest combining dance and martial arts. Stearns Collection records suggest that the musical bow, alternatively referred to as cocolas, may be related to an instrument known as kokolo, a traditional harp from the Congo. Length of bow, 102.4 cm; length of string, 92 cm.

Mbira or Sanza

A roughly rectangular-shaped wooden board, stained black and decorated with incised lines following its outline, forms the body of this instrument. Fastened by straps of braided rattan are two groups of bamboo tongues (or keys), with extra holes provided possibly for additional tongues. A label on the back of this instrument indicates that it was acquired in London, England in the nineteenth century. Length, 48.5 cm; width, 26.7 cm; height, 1.6 cm. The length of the bamboo tongues range from 10 to 14 cm.

Doli-doli or Da uli-dauli

When you lay these three wooden slabs side by side over an open hole, they form a kind of xylophone; usually, the bars (made from half-round cross sections) are struck with wooden beaters, not shown. Pitches: f', g', a'. Lengths, 39 to 49 cm; widths, 4.2 to 5.3 cm; thickness, 3 cm.

Scraped Sticks
Guiro or Weiro

This instrument is made from a dried gourd with a serrated edge; holding the gourd in one hand, you scrape this edge with a stick to create a ringing, rasping sound. The guiro is often played by the singer, and it's used to create a percussive articulation or conversation with the melody. Length, 43 cm; diameter (widest), 7 cm.

Basket Dance Rattle

This lattice work basket is woven closed, and has two handles. It is filled with black nut shells. Instruments like these, decontextualized and with little information available as to their specific histories, are more than simply intriguing enigmas. They are creative expressions of artistry, symbolism and motion. Their unwritten travels from Africa to collections in North American and Europe also form an integral part of the development of contemporary museum collections, many of which emerged from public or private nineteenth-century cabinets of curiousity. Length, 16 cm; width, 8 cm,height, 6 cm.

Coccoon rattle

Throughout Africa, there is an rich and creative diversity of rhythmic, percussive instruments which are integral to traditional dance and music. This rattle, with 49 cocoons strung on two cords, was likely tied around a performer's waist. Unfortunately, no other information is available from the Stearns Collection records about its specific use. However, traditional dancers among the Zulu nation in southern Africa still wear cocoon rattles (usually with 3 rows of cocoons sewn onto a calfskin band) tied to their ankles. Length, 132 cm; average length of cocoons, 2 cm.

Nut rattle

It is made from 65 rounded nut shells strung on a cord. Likely, it was used by Indios or indigenous communities, and likely it was worn tied around a person's waist. But we're left with many intriguing questions - who used it, and when? What songs or dances did it accompany? Length, 76 cm; average diameter of shells, 2.5 cm.


This circular drum has a shallow cylindrical body decorated with black and gold lacquer. The gilded drum heads are attached to wooden hoops and tied with cord. Originally, it was supported on a low wooden frame, and struck with two hardwood drumsticks. This instrument was used to accompany Japanese geisha dances and other traditional performances. Depth, 14.5 cm; diameter of heads, 34.5 cm; diameter of body, 25 cm.

Tibia Pares:

This unusual instrument is made from two conical tubes of wood (painted to resemble ivory) which diverge from a single mouth section. The left pipe has three finger-holes, the right has four. It is among several reproductions in the Stearns collection, said to resemble an ancient Roman instrument, possibly used for a Pompeian Festival in 1883 in Rome.