Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies


Introduction to a Fang oral art genre: Gabon and Cameroon mvet

Pierre Alexandre

Mvet is used, in the A 70 languages, both for a type of musical instrument and for the special genres of oral literature played or delivered to its accompaniment.

As the name for a musical instrument mvet has been variously translated as ‘musical bow’, ‘cithar-harp’, ‘native guitar’, and so forth. It is, technically speaking, a chordophone with resonators. The commonest type consists basically of a dry ‘bamboo’ (Wes Kos name; in fact the stem of a palm frond, nnen zam, Raphia sp.) about four feet in length, an inch and a half in diameter, and slightly curved. The bark is slit, on the convex side, into four thin strips left attached at both ends, then raised on an indented wooden peg, set slightly off centre. These strings (minsam) are adjusted for tuning by bark or leather rings sliding along the stem. Calabashes are tied underneath as resonators, the biggest, central one being considered male, the others female.