Instruments of Baka Forest People

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Musical Instruments

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Most of the ritualistic music is composed of voice and percussion however the Baka have a number of unique musical instruments. Often one person will sit on their own and play an instrument for their own amusement. Others might then join in, either singing in their soft voices, or clap along or join in with shakers, two sticks or other percussion. I will describe the instruments that we came across during our stay with the Baka

Earth Bow (angbindi)


This single stringed instrument is built using the earth itself as a sound-box. A hole is dug and a thin piece of wood placed over it and pegged firmly down. A pliable sappling is driven into the ground about a metre away from the hole. A cord is attatched to the centre of the board covering the hole and the sappling is bent down and also attatched to the cord. The cord is plucked while the string tension is altered by pushing the end of the sappling down or up. The construction of the earth bow is very like some of their snares and is often made when on hunting trips.



The limbindi is another musical bow, but it is only played by the women and girls. A thin vine is used as the string and a strong pliable and elastic branch is used to make the bow.

To change the pitch of the notes the string of the limbindi is held under the players chin. As they play they slide their chin forwards and back making the pitch go up and down. Traditionally a large leaf is held under the limbindi to reflect the sound back to the player, but today they usually sit on the ground to play and place the limbindi on an upturned cooking pot which acts as a sound box.


As can be seen in the photo, the string doubles back on itself. The shorter string is played with the thumb of one hand. This defines the beat. Although this string is shorter it is forming a smaller arc on the bow and so is under less tension than the longer string and provides a bass note. The melody is played with the other hand on the longer string using a plectrum made from a small piece of wood or bark.



This is probably the most beautiful of the Baka's instruments. "Ngombi" is to a certain extent a generic term. For example they will call a guitar a "ngombi". The full name for the instrument I am about to describe is the "ngombi na pekeh" or the "ngombi made from the raphia palm" which indeed it is.

The ngombi can be anything from about one to two metres long. They have four strings with a bridge in the centre making 8 separate notes. It is played on the lap, one hand plucking the strings to the left of the bridge, the other plucking the strings to the right. The music is usually repetetive patterns that accompany singing. When played at night accompanied by the songs of the insects and the Baka's gentle voices it is a very hypnotic magical instrument. It is very similar to the "mvet" or "midnight harp" that is found in the forests further north in Cameroon.

The strings of both the ngombi and the mvet are traditionally made from fibres that are found in the stem of the palm used to make the body, but today often they use wire strings which they unravvel from their snare cable. This gives the instrument a different tone and the strings last longer.

hear the ngombi
how to build a ngombi(pdf file)


This 7-stringed instrument originates in Central Africa and is not a traditional Baka instrument. It has been adopted by the Baka over the last 30 years or so and is commonly played by both men and women.

The strings are made from nylon fishing line. These are attached to a wooden neck and a sheet of tin (flattened piece of tin can) which covers a wooden sound box. It is held with the neck away from the player, the strings being plucked from both sides.

hear the ieta

Ieta movie (RealVideo)

More information about the Baka's music can be found on the "Heart of the Forest" page.
More sounds can be found on the songs and rhythms page
for more pictures click below:





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