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Words by Adila Yip

The manza xylophones of the Azande people in DR Congo

From the xylophone collection of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium

Manza court xylophone, RMCA collection MO.0.0.14308.

In fall 2020, the ethnomusicology section of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium has launched a research project to investigate the disappearing/disappeared music tradition of the manza xylophones of the Azande people in north DR Congo. Out of a vast museum collection of 159 xylophones from across Central Africa and neighbouring countries, the project specifically focuses on two instruments that were owned by Chief Guga at Bondo, and collected by ethnographer and militant Armand Hutereau in 1911-13 for the museum. As a symbol of authority and power, we know that the manza xylophones were used in ceremonies of enthronement; however, our knowledge of the instruments is scarce and ambiguous since ethnographical documentation is incomplete. Through a replica-sound installation and analyses of the sound and visual archives, the project re-constructs the methods of playing the xylophones and music compositions, and obtains a better overview about the musical practices and social-cultural background of the indigenous people. As future steps, we envisage public exhibitions and cultural activities for visitors to experience the ways of playing these xylophones, and extend the investigation to other instruments of the museum collection. We also aim at sharing the research results with the source communities in DR Congo, which we have attempted to get in contact with them during the project. 

Replica of a Zande manza court xylophone ©Adilia Yip, 2021