Sasando from Rote Island Indonesia

Rote Island, Indonesia

When researching Indonesia’s treasure trove of indigenous instruments, I came across a tube zither, harp-like traditional string instrument, called Sasando. The instrument is native to Rote Island, part of the East Nusa Tenggara province of the Lesser Sunda Islands, and is named after the Rote Island dialect word ”sasandu”, which translates freely into “vibrating” or “sounding vessel”. 

There are several folktales that tell the story about the early Sasando. In one of them it is believed that the origin of the Sasando is linked to a folktale about a young boy from Rote island, called Sanguanna. One day, very tired after tending the fields, Sanguanna fell asleep under a palmyra tree and dreamt he played an instrument that brought forth enchanting melodies and sounds. In his dream he heard a melody so beautiful and powerful, that even after waking up, it was still engraved in his mind. To capture and never forget the sounds he heard in his dream, Sanguanna then crafted a musical instrument from the palmyra leaves that surrounded him, to which he added strings. This became the basis of the Sasando.

A bamboo tube forms the main part of the Sasando and serves as its frame. Circumventing this bamboo tube, wooden pieces serve as wedges where strings are stretched from top to bottom. The stringed bamboo tube is surrounded by a half cone leaf of dried lontar or palmyra leaves (Borassus flabellifer) that functions as the resonator of the instrument. The sasando is played with both hands plucking the strings of the bamboo tube through an opening in the front, in a fashion similar to playing a harp or kacapi. Sasando have 32, 45, 54 or 60 strings but all range 32 tones. According to locals, this instrument has been around since the 7th century.

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