Name: Berimbau.
Type: Musical Bow, Percussion > Idiophones.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#:
Specimen: 1 in Collection.
Acquisition Source: Kitsilano, Vancouver B.C.

Description: The berimbau’s origins have not been fully researched, though it is most likely an adaptation of African gourd musical bows, as no Indigenous Brazilian or European people use musical bows.

History: The way the berimbau and the m’bulumbumba of southwest Angola are made and played are very similar, as well as the tuning and basic patterns performed on these instruments. The assimilation of this African instrument into the Brazilian capoeira is evident also in other Bantu terms used for musical bows in Brazilian, including urucungo, and madimba lungungu.

By the twentieth century, the instrument was with the jogo de capoeira [capoeira], which had come to be known as the berimbau, a Portuguese misnomer. The Portuguese used this word for their musical instrument the guimbarde, also known as a Jew’s harp. The Portuguese referred to it as berimbau, akin to how the African lamellaphone came to be known in English as the “hand piano” or “thumb piano.” The smaller type of the African bow. In which the performer’s mouth is used as a resonator was called the “berimbau de boca” [mouth guimbarde] whereas the gourd-resonating type became the “berimbau de barriga” [belly guimbarde].

Playing Techniques: One holds the berimbau with the left or right hand, wrapping the two middle fingers around the verga. Placing the little finger under the cabaça’s string loop [the “anel”] and balances the weight. A small stone or coin [pedra or dobrão] is held between the index and thumb of the same hand that holds the berimbau. The cabaça is rested against the abdomen. In the other hand, one holds a stick; baqueta or “vaqueta”.

The playing stick or vaqueta is usually carved of wood from a thin branch, very rarely made of metal. And a shaker [caxixi]. One strikes the arame with the baqueta to produce the sound. The caxixi accompanies the baqueta. The dobrão is moved back and forth from the arame to change the pitch produced by the berimbau. The sound can also be altered by moving the cabaça back and forth from the abdomen, producing a wah-like sound.

Citations: Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium. Retrieved 2015-04-11. Funso S. Afọlayan 2004. Culture and Customs of South Africa. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-32018-7. Retrieved 10 August 2012. Obi, T.J. Desch 2008. Fighting for Honor: The History of African Martial Art Traditions in the Atlantic World. Columbia, South Carolina, USA: University of South Carolina Press. p. 184. ISBN 9781570037184 – O Estado de S. Paulo, 6–12 April 2011, Suplemento Agrícola, page 2 Houaiss Dictionary.

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