Tube Zither (Sesando or Sasandu), late 19th century
Indonesia, Nusa Tenggara, Timor Island
Bamboo, wood, palm leaves, metal wire
H. 22 1/6 in. (56 cm)
The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889 (89.4.1489)
Among the most remarkable string instruments in Oceania is the sesando, a tubular bamboo zither with ten or eleven metal strings set in a resonator made from the frond of a lontar palm. Collected on the Indonesian island of Timor, this sesando was likely made by a member of the local Rotinese community, whose residents originated on the neighboring island of Roti. Sesando music is believed to have supernatural powers and, in Rotinese origin traditions, the genesis of the instrument is given equal place with marriage, mourning, and death. When playing, the musician uses the right hand to pluck the bass strings while the left hand plays the treble. The pitch is adjusted with a complex series of movable bridges and tuning pegs. Occasionally played as a solo instrument, the sesando is predominantly used to accompany songs with verses composed in bini, a special poetic language, and refrains in ordinary Rotinese. The songs are often philosophical, portraying the world as dominated by inescapable fate and life as at times disappointing and ultimately fleeting.