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The hum pot (kijao)

A Scary Musical Instrument

Site of the exhibit: case in the Africa Passage (basement)

The hum pot is a kind of membranophone. It can be found around the world in many cultural areas and in different varieties; it is also classified as "rub-drum".

As indicated in the name the sounds are not produced by beating the skin but by friction. The drum skin is moved into vibration by a kind of string. This produces roaring, squeaking or howling sounds. The hum pot is known in Africa but also in Europe, China and South America, e.g. the buellhaefen of Western Styria (Austria), the Bulgarian buhaj or the Chinese ha-ma.

The hum pot's body is made from a hollow calabash or Baobab fruit and is open on both ends. A thin animal skin is stretched over one end. In the middle of this membrane a small incision is made; through this slit a palm leaf strip or a long grass blade is pulled. To prevent the blade from slipping through if pulled it is fastened by a knot or by a small transverse piece of wood on top of the skin.

For playing the hum pot moisten thumb and forefinger and pull them down the blade. A squeaking, humming or howling sound is produced; the volume is increased enormously by the resonating body.

The hum pot was used in Africa mainly in connection with the initiation. During this time boys and girls live for many months in separate camps in the bush and are prepared for their future adult life.

Noise "instruments" like the hum pot with their imitation of animal sounds are used to test the courage of the initiates.