Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Gift from Afar

I received a gift from a friend's travels recently. She figured that Mr. H or I would be able to play it. Most wind instruments are similar. There are the ones you blow into and cover up holes to change notes. Flutes, recorders, Irish whistles are all that type. Then there are the ones that you blow over tubes of differing lengths to get different notes, like blowing over the top of a coke bottle. Pan pipes work that way.

This is what she brought us. She didn't know what it was called and she had never seen one played. She gave it to us Sunday morning and it was all we could do NOT to spend Sunday School trying to figure it out. It is nothing like pan pipes--you don't blow over the tubes. There are no finger holes on the tubes to cover. It seems rather obvious to blow into the narrow end of the gourd, but the result is somewhat confusing. It sounds like a wooden train whistle... you know, the ones that produce 2 notes at once.

We faced a problem: how do you figure out how to play a musical instrument that is alien to your culture? Solution: Google is a wonderful thing! I forget now just exactly what my successful search finally consisted of because the first several tries gave me no results that even remotely resembled what I had in my hand. But somehow I got the right combination of words and found a name (sompoton), some pictures and a basic explanation of how it works.
Sompoton is perhaps one of the better known instruments of Sabah. Traditionally from Kampung Tikolod, Tambunan, it is now prevalent among the Kadazandusun and Murut people. The Sompoton is constructed from a dried gourd and eight bamboo pipes arranged in a double-layered raft. A small lamella of polod palm (like a tiny bungkau or jaw's harp) is inserted in the side of each sounding pipe near its based. The pipes are fitted into a hole on one side of the gourd and sealed with bees wax.

The lamellae lie inside the gourd and provide the sound of the completed instrument. The pipes are bound with thin strands of rattan. By blowing or sucking gourd's mouth, the player can produce a soft sweet harmonious sound. It can be played as a solo instrument or in groups to accompany dancing.
It's an alien harmonica!!!!! It has that same reedy sound to it. And I don't know what kind of gourd the mouthpiece is made of, but when you draw (suck air) on it, the taste is horrible. I found several youtube videos of these being played and, honestly, it sounds like the same song is being played in very one of them!

I'll learn to play it if she'll dance!!


  1. Wow...it sure puts out the sound for such a small instrument. Cool beans.