Title: Ouganda: Aux sources du Nil—Trio de harpes adungu; Groupe N’Gali (field recording by Caroline Bourgine--see Bibliography). Label: OCORA. Format: CD. Catalogue#: C 560032. Track: 4.

Contextual Associations

The adungu is an open harp chordophone of the Alur, a Nilo Saharan-speaking people of northwestern Uganda. The instrument became somewhat nationalized during the politically tumultuous period beginning in the 1960s when it and other instruments began to be taught to school children around the country. During this period it came to be constructed in multiple sizes, retuned from a pentatonic scale to a heptatonic scale, and used in ensembles to perform “ … simple triadic harmonies such as one hears in the Congolese guitar music known locally as ‘Zairwa’.” (Cooke and Kasule, p. 10) (listen to audio #1) Cottage industries producing adungu for sale to tourists and through ‘world music’ outlets as souvenir instruments appear to have developed and were likely the source of the instrument examined in this article.


The string carrier of this open harp consists of two parts: a roughly rectangular-shaped bowl resonator hollowed out from a single block of wood; and a curved wooden neck with nine holes drilled through it to receive wooden tuning pegs. One end of the neck fits snuggly into a hole drilled into one of the end walls of the resonator. The resonator is covered and enclosed with two pieces of mammal pelt the edges of which are sewn to one another with leather strapping just below the rim of the resonator opening. One of these pelts (the white one) serves as the instrument’s soundtable and has a small soundhole cut into it. A thin and flat length of wood the ends of which rest on the rims of the resonator end walls and that runs underneath the soundtable membrane serves as the instrument’s tailpiece. The nine gut strings of varying thickness run in a parallel plane that is perpendicular to the plane of the soundtable. One end of each string is wound around the end of a tuning peg, the other, after passing through a hole in the soundtable, is tied to the tailpiece. The tension/tuning of a string is controlled by turning its tuning peg against the resistance provided by the tailpiece. The energy of a vibrating string is passed thought the tailpiece to the soundtable and amplified in the enclosed resonator.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

Information on the playing of the adungu was not found, but pictures of it being played suggest that the player of this instrument is usually seated on the ground or a chair with the resonator between their legs or on the ground, the neck pointing away from the player. One or more digit of each hand is used to pluck the strings at their full length. Information on the tuning of this instrument is also hard to come by. Apparently it was traditionally tuned to a pentatonic scale (one source describes the tuning as a ‘minor’ pentatonic scale), which suggests that its compass would be less than two octaves. Multiple sources mention that currently it is not uncommon to tune the adungu to a heptatonic scale, although those sources do not say what the intervallic structure of that scale is. This suggests that the 9-strings would cover a range of just over an octave. Apparently it is not uncommon today for folkloric troupes to have adungu built in various sizes and registers, and this would appear to be the case for the group heard in the audio clip on this page.


The adungu is one of many local variations of open harps found in a narrow band that runs across the African continent on the southern edge of the Sahara, from Mauritania in the west to Uganda in the east. That said, no information specifically on the origin and development of the adungu was found, but it might be pointed out that other Nilo-Saharan-speaking peoples of northwest Uganda, northeast D.R.C., South Sudan, and the Central African Republic use similar harps in their music making.

Bibliographic Citations

Bourgine, Caroline. 1992. Ouganda: Aux sources du Nil. Liner notes for OCORA CD C560032.

Cooke, Peter. “Uganda, Republic of.” In Oxford Music Online, accessed August 24, 2015:

________, and Sam Kasule. 1999. “The Musical Scene in Uganda Views from without and within,” African Music 7/4: 6-21.

DeVale, Sue Carole. 1989. “African Harps: Construction, Decoration, and Sound.” In Sounding Forms: African Musical Instruments. Marie-Thérèse Brincard, ed. New York, NY: The American Federation of the Arts, pp. 53-61.

Patterson, Wade. 1997. Ngoma: Music from Uganda. Liner notes for Music of the World CD CDT-142.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: East Africa

Nation: Uganda

Formation: Alur

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

322.112 chordophone--open arched harp - Wachsmann type 2: the tanged neck fits tightly into a hole at the narrow end of the resonator like a cork in a bottle; the plane of the strings lies at right angles to the sound-table; the harp has no pillar

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: harp - open

Resonator design, chordophone: bowl with membrane soundboard

String courses: single

Vibrational length: soundboard to tuning peg

String tension control: friction peg

Method of sounding: plucking (direct)

Pitches per string course: one


24.5 in. length 5.4 in. greatest width of resonator

Primary Materials

string - gut
membrane - mammal pelt
lacing - rawhide

Entry Author

Roger Vetter