Also:       kacaping      

Title: Music of Indonesia v. 15: South Sulawesi Strings; Sa'be, kacapi and voice (field recording by Philip Yampolsky--see Bibliography). Label: Smithsonian/Folkways. Format: CD. Catalogue#: SFW 40442. Track: 7.

Contextual Associations

The kacapi is a plucked box-lute chordophone from Indonesia. This kacapi is almost certainly from the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, and its size strongly suggests that it originated amongst the Mandar people of the southwestern part of the island. The Mandar play the largest kacapi in this region, and both men and women perform the instrument (women play slightly smaller kacapi than the men) in accompaniment to their singing of poetic verse and narratives. Yampolsky reports that "Kacapi singers perform alone or in pairs at weddings and the like; at big functions there may be several pairs of singers, performing successively. Male and female singers may perform in alternation, but they do not accompany each other, because their kacapi are of different sizes and are pitched differently." Although kacapi can be heavily decorated with carving and paint, the one pictured here is striking in its plainness.


With the exception of a thin wood panel that covers the bottom of the resonator, this entire instrument is carved from a single block of wood--including its bridge and fingerboard. The resonating chamber was hollowed out from its bottom side and the thin panel that covers it was nailed on and has a row of three soundholes of varying size chiseled into it. The fingerboard is constructed like a pier; it emerges out of the paddle-shaped pegboard and runs over five posts. The top of each post serves as a fret that is about 3/4 inch square, and there is a shallow gully carved out between each fret. Another ‘pier’ originates from the foot of the instrument and terminates in a circular post about 2-3/4 inches in diameter that serves as the string holder and bridge. Two wire strings are secured around the pier, pass through small holes in the back of the post, run over a saddle on the flat top of the post, are stretched above and parallel to the resonator and fingerboard before passing over another notch (functioning as a nut) at the bass of the pegboard and through two small holes. They terminate by being wound around to the instrument's two tuning pegs, one on each side of the pegboard.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

No detailed accounts of playing technique are available. Photographs of performers suggest that they play the kacapi while seated on the floor with the instrument resting across their lap with the pegboard end slightly elevated and the soundtable tilted forward, sometimes facing away from the player. The strings are plucked with the right hand, possibly with the assistance of a pick of some sort. Players stop the strings with the fingers of their left hand against the flat surfaces of the frets. One string serves as a drone, while the other for melodic play.


The Mandar kacapi pictured here is morphologically similar to ‘boat-lutes’ (so called because of their resemblance to Southeast Asian boats) found among many ethnic groups on the Indonesian islands of Sulawesi, Kalimantan, and Sumatra (see hasapi), and also in the Philippines and in Thailand and Cambodia on continental Southeast Asia. The names of these lutes are also quite similar, suggesting a long process of diffusion throughout the region at some unknown point in the past.

Bibliographic Citations

Kartomi, Margaret J. "Kacapi (ii)." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 26 Jan. 2013. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/45989

Yampolsky, Philip. 1997. Music of Indonesia 15: South Sulawesi Strings. CD and liner notes. Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40442.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Mandar

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

321.322 chordophone--necked box lute or necked guitar: the handle is attached to or carved from the resonator, like a neck

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: lute - integral

Resonator design, chordophone: box with wood soundboard

String courses: single

Vibrational length: string carrier to string carrier

String tension control: friction peg

Method of sounding: plucking (direct)

Pitches per string course: one and multiple (by pressure stopping against fretless fingerboard)


53 in. length 4 in. greatest width of resonator 23 in. length of resonator 3.8 in greatest height of resonator 22 in. vibrating length of strings

Primary Materials

string - wire

Entry Author

Roger Vetter