ETHMU 024561


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Wasamba, sistrum
Bamana. Mid 20th century
Wood, calabash, cord
Acquired from Suzanne Vérité, Galerie Carrefour in 1953
MEG Inv. ETHMU 024561
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Wasamba are wooden instruments made from a stick bent at an acute angle. Rounds of calabash are threaded on the longer branch while the shorter branch serves as a handle. When the instrument is shaken sharply, the calabashes make a clattering sound. The wasamba is a boy's instrument, played at various stages of the initiation ordeals marking the passage from one age group to another.

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Instrument collections

In a study based on the MEG collection, published in 1919, the anthropologist and doctor Georges Montandon attempted to trace the origins and descent of musical instruments throughout the world. He grouped the instruments in ensembles, presented as plates of photographs and drawings. The study ends with a geographical sketch map showing the distribution of different types of instruments across the world.

As the study was read in scientific circles, the MEG’s instrument collection, classified in this manner, was widely quoted and used by researchers working on rational classification. The diffusionist approach was later abandoned to the benefit of comparative organology and contextual inventories.


This group is harder to name than the others and was long defined by default as the class of instruments that did not belong with the wind or string instruments but were not drums either. More positively, instruments which produce sound when the rigid body of the instrument itself is made to vibrate (by knocking, striking, shaking, etc.) belong in this group. The term “idiophone,” from the Greek and Latin word idios, “by itself”, has replaced the earlier term “autophone” for this family of musical instruments.


  • LUTTEN, E.. -. Les Wasamba et leur usage dans la circoncision.. Mission Dakar-Djibouti. : Minautore, Af 166, p 13-17
  • Wastiau, Boris. 2008. Medusa en Afrique. La sculpture de l’enchantement. Genève : MEG ; Milan : 5 Continents Editions., 194, MEG ET AF 4614
  • AUBERT, Laurent (dir.). 2000. Le monde et son double: Ethnographie: trésors d'un musée rêvé. Catalogue de l'exposition au Musée Rath. Paris: Adam Biro / Genève: Musée d'ethnographie., 192-193
  • Aubert, Laurent. 1991. Planete musicale, instruments de musique des cinq continents. Turin: Ivrea., 44
  • Kersalé, Patrick. 1994. CD Cérémonies rituelles des Dogons. Lausanne: VDE GALLO PEO CD-807.

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