Mangbetu Royal Art and Herbert Lang, 1902-1906

by Enid Schildkrout
Museum for African Art (formerly American Museum of Natural History)

Zande musicians, Manziga's village, near Niangara, Africa, 1913. Stereograph by Herbert Lang. Submitted by Enid Schildkrout.

Xylophones are common in many parts of Africa, where they are usually made of wooden slats placed over different size gourds. Here the musician sits on a stool and uses his legs to support the instrument. The large slit drum is played by two musicians, one of whom sits on the instrument and covers the slit with his leg to mute the sound.  Slit drums are sometimes called "talking drums" because they are used as a means of long distance communication. The two sides of the drum are carved to different thicknesses and produce a higher and lower tone. The rhythmic patterning of these tones imitates the tones in spoken language and the sound, particularly of large drums, carries long distances. A relay of drums can be used to send messages from one village to another.