Trumpet (Fu)

Date: mid-20th century

Geography: Indonesia, Papua Province (Irian Jaya)

Culture: Asmat people

Medium: Bamboo, paint

Dimensions: H. 19 3/4 in. (50.2 cm)

Classification: Wood-Musical Instruments

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection; Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller and Mrs. Mary C. Rockefeller, 1965

Accession Number: 1978.412.1022


The Asmat people of southwest New Guinea create fu, distinctive trumpets made from thick sections of bamboo. Used primarily as signaling devices, in the past the trumpets were closely associated with warfare. When raiding an enemy village, warriors blew the fu, whose loud sound was believed to terrify enemies and render them immobile. When returning to their home village from a successful raid, the warriors again sounded the trumpets to proclaim their triumph. Fu were also played during male initiations and to accompany some drum performances. Warfare had ceased by the mid-twentieth century, but the Asmat continue to use trumpets for signaling and other purposes.

Some fu were undecorated, but most were ornately carved with geometric designs in which representational motifs, such as small hands (reportedly those of spirits), are occasionally discernible. More rarely, trumpets have a pair of legs at the base. The form of these instruments, with their torsolike body and protruding legs, is sometimes interpreted as a stylized headless human figure, a reference to the former practice of headhunting.