Also:       ikivuvu      indimbagazo      

Title: Burundi: Musiques traditionnelles. Label: Ocora. Format: CD. Catalogue#: C 559003. Track: 11.

Contextual Associations

The inanga is a plucked trough-zither chordophone of the Rundi people of Rwanda, Burundi, and parts of Zaire. It is alternately known as ikivuvu and indimbagazo. Vuylsteke reports the instrument and the singing it accompanies are performed by men of all classes, usually for their own pleasure. In the past the inanga was played primarily by professional musicians for chiefs; their repertoire included epic and historical songs in praise of their patron. In northern Kivu, Zaire, the inanga has sorcerous connotations; it is strongly associated with the cult of Biheko, an ancient princess who, by magic or miracle, survived the slaughter of her family. A large saw tooth pattern is burnt into the backside surface at each of its ends, and three rows of seven slits are burnt through the center of the board (see first detail photo); no symbolic meaning has been found for these decorative features. This particular inanga was collected by missionaries in Rwanda during the first decade of the 20th century.


The string carrier of the inanga is made from a solid board of ikivumu wood that is carved into a slightly arched (see second detail photo), elongated oval shape and then hollowed out to form a trough. Eight notches are carved at each end, articulating seven amenyo (‘teeth’) or amano (‘toes’) (see third detail photo). A single very long string made of cow tendon is threaded through these notches, and back and forth over the trough to set off eight string segments (see fourth detail photo). Wooden sticks of different diameters can be inserted under each length of string, thus allowing them to be tuned individually. 

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

One edge of the inanga is placed on the ground with the trough facing forward and the plane of the strings almost perpendicular to the ground. The player squats behind the instrument near one of its ends with that end and the upper edge of the soundboard leaning against his legs. He uses, typically, the thumb and forefinger of each hand to pluck the strings, using both the flesh and nail sides of these digits. Inanga strings are plucked at their full length only, but subtle timbral distinctions can be produced by plucking any given string at different points along its length. The instrument is tuned to a pentatonic scale and most frequently used to accompany songs sung by its player in a distinctive, whispering voice (listen to audio example).


The inanga has a long history in Rwanda and has developed along with the vocal styles it accompanies. Trough zithers similar in design and, often, name are found widely distributed throughout the rift zone of east central Africa.

Bibliographic Citations

Cook, Peter, and J. Gansemans. “Rwanda and Burundi.” Oxford Music Online, Grove Music Online. Accessed October 30, 2013.

Fales, Cornelia.  1998. “Issues of Timbre: The Inanga Chuchotee.” In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.1. ed. Ruth M. Stone. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 164-207.

Gourley, K. A., and Ferdinand J. de Hen. “Inanga.” Oxford Music Online, Grove Music Online. Accessed October 30, 2013.

Vuylsteke, Michel. 1998. Burundi: Musiques traditionnelles. CD and liner notes. Ocora C559003.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: East Africa

Nation: Burundi

Formation: Barundi

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

315.1 chordophone--trough zither (the strings are stretched across the mouth of a trough); without resonator

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: zither - trough

Resonator design, chordophone: open trough

String courses: single

Vibrational length: string carrier to string carrier

String tension control: stretch and knot

Method of sounding: plucking (direct)

Pitches per string course: one


36 in. length 13 in. width

Primary Materials

string - gut

Entry Author

Roger Vetter, Toby Austin