- Lucy Durán
- and Aurelia W. Hartenberger
Plucked half-spike lute of the Manding people of West Africa. Ibn Battūta, who visited the Mali Empire in 1353, described the nkoni, and Mungo Park wrote about it in the late 18th century. These wooden lutes with a trough-like resonator and fan-shaped bridge were probably the oldest melody instruments used by jeliya (griot, professional court musicians), who did not play hunters’ harps. After the decline of the Mali empire in the 15th century the Manding moved westward into Guinea, Senegal, and the Gambia, creating a linguistic and cultural Mande diaspora reflected in various griot names for the nkoni: koni (Maninka and Xasonka); kontingo/konting (Mandinka); ngoni (Bamana, Bambara), and so on.
Nkoni have one to seven strings, most commonly four (two long and two short). The strings are knotted at one end with leather tuning strips to a dowel-like, unfretted neck, and pass over a bridge on the skin soundtable and through a sound hole to be attached at the opposite end to the exposed end of the neck, which terminates at that point within the resonator....