Made by Mamadou Kouyaté
Gourd, wood, leather, metal; Total H. 45 5/8 in. (115.8 cm), Max. W. 20 5/8 in. (52.5 cm), D. of body from belly to back 10 7/8 in. (27.6 cm), H. of bridge 6 3/4 in. (17 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1975 (1975.59)
Among the Mande peoples of the western and central Sudan, kora and other stringed instruments accompanied the epic narratives of jeliw (sing. jeli), a class of bards who are retained by wealthy patrons to chronicle family histories and propagate stories of heroic ancestors. A hereditary position, jeliw remain intimately linked to the same families for generations and serve as living repositories of chronicles passed down through time. As revered keepers of family history, they are often called upon to act as intermediaries during disputes among relations.
Talented musicians, jeliw employ music to help them recall and organize the extensive amounts of information with which they are entrusted. This kora from Senegal, which combines features of both the harp and lute, is an example of an instrument that would be played during such recitations. Constructed of a calabash resonator covered with hide and bearing nylon strings tied to hide tuning rings tensioned around a wooden neck, it is played upright with the resonator placed on the ground or cradled in the lap. The musician grasps the instrument by the twin handles on either side of the neck and plucks the twenty-one strings with thumbs and forefingers. Tuning is adjusted by turning the antelope hide rings to which the strings are attached.
The social role of jeliw has remained much the same in contemporary Mande society, although their patronage has undergone some significant changes. Many jeliw now perform for general audiences, while others are employed by individuals who have met with success in the postcolonial era. The jeli to whom this kora originally belonged was Mamadu Kouyaté, who served as chief musician to Leopold Senghor, the poet and founder of the Negritude movement who became the first president of Senegal.