Title: Music of Indonesia 4: Music of Nias & North Sumatra--Gondang Si Bunga Jambu; Gondang group from Harian Boho (field recording by Philip Yampolsky--see Bibliography). Label: Smithsonian/Folkways. Format: CD. Catalogue#: SFW 40420. Track: 13.

Contextual Associations

The hasapi is a plucked bowl-lute chordophone of the Toba Batak people of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. It was in the past played solo as part of religious ceremonies and as a courtship instrument, but is now used primarily in the uning-uningan, a small secular entertainment ensemble. The neck and body are lightly ornamented, and the headstock is carved in the shape of a seated man, which Simon (1984) reports is related with magical symbolism (see the first detail photo, a close-up of the anthropomorphic figure above the pegbox). The second detail image shows a close up view of the mask-like zoomorphic image carved into the body on the backside of the instrument's foot. Westerners refer to the general shape of this instrument as a ‘boat lute’ due to the resemblance between its profile and that of boats found in areas of Indonesia. Hasapi are, nowadays, sold as souvenirs to tourists as well as continuing to be used in Batak social life.


This slender plucked lute is crafted from a single piece of wood. A foot-long cavity is hollowed out at the bottom end of the instrument and is covered with a glued on very thin piece of wood that serves as the soundboard. The flat backside of the resonator has a four inch elongated teardrop-shaped sound hole. Just below the diminutive pegbox is a smooth, flat piece of horn that serves as a (fretless) fingerboard. Above the pegbox is a carved human figure and below the resonator chamber is a raised foot, both sculpted from of the original block of wood. Glued near the bass of the soundboard is a square block of wood that is shaped in such a way as to serve as both the bridge and the string holder. The instrument's two wire strings run from this bridge up to the upper edge of the fingerboard, which serves as a nut, and then are wound around the ends of the two friction tuning pegs, one on each side of the pegbox.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The instrument is held horizontal across the abdomen of the performer who plucks the strings with his right hand fingernails. The fingertips of the left hand are used to depress the strings against the fretless fingerboard. The two strings of the hasapi are tuned to an interval between a major and minor third. In the Toba Batak uning-uningan ensemble, one or more hasapi are used either to play melodies or provide a strummed rhythmic accompaniment. The hasapi filling the former role are called hasapi taganing, the other the hasapi doal.


Although the hasapi is generally believed to be native to the Batak people of Northern Sumatra, it is not known when it came into existence.

Bibliographic Citations

Kartomi, Margaret. 1984. “Hasapi” NGDMI v.2: 204.

Perlman, Marc. "Indonesia, VI: Sumatra" Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 24 Jan. 2013.  http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/42890pg6?q

Simon, Artur. 1984. "Functional Changes in Batak Traditional Music and Its Role in Modern Indonesian Society," Asian Music 15/2: 58-66.

________. 1984. Gondang Toba/Nordsumatra. 2 LP set, MC12. Berlin: Museum für Völkerkunde Berlin.

________. 1985. "The Terminology of Batak Instrumental Music in Northern Sumatra," Yearbook for Traditional Music 17: 113-145.

Yampolsky, Philip. 1992. Music of Indonesia 4: Music of Nias & North Sumatra. CD with liner notes. Smithsonian/Folkways SFW 40420.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Toba Batak

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

321.321 chordophone--necked bowl lute: 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: bowl with wood soundboard

String courses: single

Vibrational length: tension bridge to ridge-nut

String tension control: friction peg

Method of sounding: plucking (direct) and strumming

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


30.5 in. length 3.8 in. width 1.8 in. depth (resonator)

Primary Materials

string - wire
horn - mammal

Entry Author

Roger Vetter