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Title: Music of Sasandu--Foti; Yakob Mberu, sasandu. Label: King Record Co. Format: CD. Catalogue#: KICC 5179. Track: 1.

Contextual Associations

The sasandu is a plucked tube-zither chordophone of the small island of Roti in the Lesser Sunda Islands of the Indonesian archipelago. It is so central to the musical life of the island's people that it can be considered a symbol of Rotinese identity. Basile (2013) states that "Rotinese myths and oral history indicate the importance of the sasandu in the Rotinese structuring of reality, placing the origin of the instrument alongside the origins of marriage, exogamy, mourning and death." The sasandu is used to accompany songs the texts of which use a ritual language called bini. The sasandu pictured here includes burnt etchings of lizard-like creatures on the bamboo resonator, the meaning of which is not known.


This ten-string tube zither has strings made from wire and a tube resonator from bamboo with sculpted wood caps at both ends. The lower cap has a raised rim that serves as a fixed nut. Each string is secured around an individual nail in the lower wood cap. Metal screws embedded in the upper cap function as tuning pegs with which the performer adjusts the basic tension of each string.  In additional to passing over the fixed bridge, the strings also pass over small, moveable, wedge-shaped wood bridges, one per string, that are used to adjust its vibrating length (this instrument came to the collection with only five of these moveable bridges, the others presumably lost). The sasandu is set into a distinctive looking secondary resonator made from overlapping palm leaves folded into a bowl-like form.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The sasandu can be played while either standing (with the aid or support ropes) or seated. The strings are tuned, through a combination of tension (with the tuning pegs) and length (with the set and moveable bridges), to an anhemitonic pentatonic scale over a range of two octaves. The performer uses the fingernails of the thumb and first two fingers of both hands to pluck the strings near the bottom-end of the tube resonator. Only one pitch is produced per string, but with six fingers available a full texture, including pitch simultaneities, can be produced. A second musician can provide a simple rhythmic accompaniment either on a small drum called tambur or by tapping the sasandu with a stick, as heard on the audio example.


While clearly the sasandu has had a long history amongst the Rotinese, it is far from unique to them. Similar instruments are found throughout Indonesia (on Sumatra, Bali, Flores and other islands) and in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Pinpointing a time place of origin is not possible, but it is safe to say that the bamboo tube zither concept most likely has been around for centuries to have attained its current breadth of distribution, which goes as far afield as the island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa where it is presumed ancient Malayo-Polynesian speaking peoples carried the instrument in their migrations some 1500 years ago (see valiha).

Bibliographic Citations

Basile, Christopher. "(ii) Roti." in Philip Yampolsky, et al. "Indonesia." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.

Shigeki, Iida. 1994. Music of Sasandu. CD and liner notes. King Record Co. KICC 5179.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Rotinese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

312.122 chordophone--whole-tube zither (the string carrier is a complete tube): heterochord; with extra resonator

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: zither - tube

Resonator design, chordophone: tube and non-integral, open vessel

String courses: single

Vibrational length: moveable pressure bridge to ridge-nut

String tension control: screw

Method of sounding: plucking (direct)

Pitches per string course: one


14.4 in. height 15 in. width of leaf resonator fully opened 8 in. length of bamboo resonator 1.9 in. diameter of bamboo resonator

Primary Materials

string - wire
palm leaf

Entry Author

Roger Vetter