A ‘trough-zither’, locally known as the Inanga, is one of the most important and oldest traditional musical instruments in Rwanda. The Inanga is an oval-shaped soundboard with slightly concave sides the shape of a trough. It has eight strings which run above a wooden trough.
It is mainly a story-telling or poem reciting instrument. The Inanga varies from 75 to 115 cm in length and 25 to 30 cm in width.
The soundboard itself is slightly smaller as there is a rim around it. At the narrow end, the rim is much wider and has eight to twelve deep notches cut into each end to hold the strings in place.
One striking feature is that not all the notches have a string, so the number of strings is always smaller than the number of notches. The preference is for instruments with six to eight strings. Tuning is carried out by tightening the string slightly to get the higher notes or loosening it for lower notes.
The soundboard has two types of decorations: star-shaped or oval incisions, ‘the eyes of the Inanga’, the function of which is to distribute the sound, and burnt-in geometric motifs on the ends of the instrument. The strings of the Inanga are made from natural fibres, and used to be made from animal gut.
The Inanga is usually played solo and the performer sings his own songs about historical events, personal experiences or everyday incidents. Though most known Inanga players are men, there are some female Inanga players.
Culture and tradition are the reasons we are who we are today. This music instrument was handed down from generation to generation. So, why shouldn’t we save it and hand it down it to the next generation, to our children’s children? As young people, you should learn to pay attention to your own culture, make it richer, and leave it for the future, as it was done for us by our ancestors.