Unlike many African musical instruments, which often are relatively rough, this example from Gabon epitomizes refinement, with a grace and delicacy that is unsurpassed in its genre. The body of the lute-like instrument is smooth, showing no traces of the carving tool, as are the willowy sticks to which the strings are attached. Even more exquisite is the carved head, which is carved in the same style as masks from the area. Often called a harp, this instrument is actually a pluriarc, or bow lute. Unique to Africa, the pluriarc is distinguished by the presence of multiple necks attached to a single body.
Punu or Lumbo peoples (?), Ngounié River area, Gabon
19th or early 20th century
Wood, fiber, pigment
H. 26 in. (66.6 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 77.34.3