Contextual Associations

The kenthongan is a ‘slit-drum’ idiophone of the Javanese people of Indonesia. It is a signal instrument used by neighborhood night watchmen (rondha) in villages and city residential areas. Kenthongan such as the one pictured here can be, and often are, surface decorated with carving and/or paint. They often also are anthropomorphic (first gallery image) or zoomorphic (detail image). Kunst (p. 193) reports that parts of a kenthongan are named after parts of the human body: the top = sirah (head); narrow transition to the slit section = jangga (neck); the slit = changkem (mouth) and its edges = lambé (lips).


This ‘slit drum’ (it is not a ‘drum’ at all in that it is an idiophone rather than a membranophone) is constructed from a solid block of wood (often teak) that has been hollowed out through a longitudinal slit. The sides of the slit are carved fairly thin so that when struck with a dowel-like beater made from wood they vibrate. The interior space serves as the instrument's resonating chamber.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

Kentongan are generally hung vertically from a roof beam of the open-sided structure on which the watchmen pass the night in convivial conversation (see detail image). It is struck as an alarm or sometimes as an hour marker. The resonant sound produced can be heard clearly throughout the neighborhood being guarded. Smaller kenthongan (see second gallery image; this kenthongan is made from bamboo root) can be carried with a small group of rondha as they make their periodic rounds of the neighborhood. Kenthongan can also rest horizontally (see third gallery image).


The kenthongan has been a part of the Javanese soundscape most likely for millennia. However, it is not possible to pinpoint when it came into existence.

Bibliographic Citations

Kunst, Jaap. 1973. Music in Java. 3rd ed. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Javanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.243 idiophone--slit drum

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: block - with hollowed out deep cavity

Sound objects per instrument: one

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - stick/s with unpadded tip/s

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: relative pitch

Sound modification: none


30.3 in. height (first instrument) 14 in. length (second instrument) 36 in. length (third instrument)

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter