Day 3 – Monday 3rd July 2017

The third day of our field recordings was particularly fruitful. We visited Patrice Odour Oriwo known as ‘Sewe Oriwo’ at his home in Murumba village, Sega constituency (Siaya County), who fully demonstrated the making of a nyatiti resonator. We started off by going to a nearby wood and picking a log, which was then transported back to the compound on a bicycle. Upon arrival, Sewe, an elderly man of impressive strength and skill, started working on the resonator (in vernacular referred to as ohodha). He first did some measurements and drew the resonator’s shape on the log with charcoal. Then he went on to cut out the shape using several tools: an axe, a panga and a chisel (koyo). Once the shape was almost done, we went for a second walk – down to a stream in which he had laid a piece of cow skin. This piece was placed on the resonator and installed using nails. He would then wash it with soap.

The stages of nyatiti making we could not see were described later in an interview. Sewe explained how he treats siyala wood, from which arms and head of the nyatiti are made. He buries them in firewood to make the wood stronger. His explanation also revealed a more ‘liberal’ usage of many different types of wood for the resonator (ex. afene, maembe, ondero, mugombra) as he said he could basically use any “as long as it’s strong and the right size”. Another interesting piece of information gathered during this interview was Sewa’s description of the small pointy decoration on the bottom of the resonator we had previously referred to as ‘the nipple’. According to him, this is in fact the umbilical cord of the instrument (in vernacular pende thum), which makes the resonator stronger and more difficult to break.

Finally, Sewa told us he got the knowledge of nyatiti making from his step‐father and commented on the custom of making a sacrifice upon completion of each instrument in an equally liberal way: “it’s upon the client”. Thus, our day with Sewa Oriwo was, I believe, very pertinent, since it was at the same time technically the most complete demonstration of nyatiti making and revealed the commercial side of the craft and the evolution of nyatiti making.

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