tam tam


In the jungle, the king of instruments is the Mungungu, a type of gong formed by a hollowed log that is played with two sticks. When it is large enough it can be played by two people. The Mungungu is made of a single piece of wood especially chosen. It is a sort of triangular prism lying on its side. Its facets or sides can be up to 70 centimeters wide by 120 centimeters long. On the side that will serve as the base are carved four thick legs up to 20 centimeters long on which the instrument will rest. On the side opposite the base an opening is made about three or four centimeters wide which will be chiseled out along almost the entire length, leaving the bases closed. One of the faces will be similarly chiseled leaving a similar thickness and the other is similar for about half of the depth but the rest is then chiseled out twice as thick as the first. This side is called the "mother" (it gives a very solemn, deep tone) and the former side is the "son" (a sharper, higher tone). In the extremes of the opening the bases are drawn out into sort of unequal stumps that serve to move the Mungungu and are carved in a special shape and control the resonance. The Mungungu serves not only as a musical instrument but also as a means of communication among settlements, so the head men of the various clans have them near their houses, sometimes putting them on top of a hill and making a hut for them covered with leaves and open at the sides. If the Mungungu is very large and well placed its sound can carry 15 kilometers even through the jungle. The person who plays the Mungungu usually begins trying the sound quality on the two faces, in the center and at the ends. The variety of messages that it can send is achieved using a combination of different rhythms, small silent pauses, followed by isolated sounds of different tones to send different kinds of news. It is not at all like a Morse code that can communicate whatever one wishes but is more like what in earlier times the bells of a town were, announcing events according to a pre-established code or combination of several codes, calling the community together or accompanying various celebrations with its festive sound. At parties the Mungungu is also the basic percussion instrument and uses various rhythms according to the type of party or dance that it accompanies.

GO TO IMAGES OF UPPER ZAIRE (DRC)               <<Back