Photo Title : Thornburg - Haiti - Front  |  close this window


As you can imagine, I was most interested to learn that Ulf [Jagfors] had turned up an extant gourd banza in the Paris Musee de la Musique. This four string banza (three long and one short) was registered into the museum's collection in 1872 and noted as representative of the instruments being played by the slaves of Haiti.

The banjo was examined by Ulf and Pete Ross a few weeks ago and it's my understanding they will co-author a piece on the instrument in an upcoming issue of Banjo Newsletter.

As photos, details and measurements of the banza became available I got the itch to build one. As chance would have it, all this transpired just before my annual buying trip to the Welburn Gourd Farm in early March. I was fortunate enough to find more than a dozen gourds that closely match the size and shape of the original banza. I just finished a prototype of this instrument and thought that the group might like to see what this banza is like. I used mahogany for the neck (like the original) and all the dimensions of the neck closely match the Haiti banza with the exception of the length of the perch pole that extends out of the gourd. Since no two gourds are the same, it's impossible to exactly match the dimensions of the original. The gourd I used closely matches the original. I stained both the neck and gourd to approximate the real instrument. Some parts of the original banza are missing. Consequently, the bridge and leather tailpiece are my design. I also added some bracing inside the gourd that is not present in the original.

Based on all the information I have at hand, it's my opinion that the instrument is very close to what the original instrument was like during its heyday.

The banza is now housed in the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame museum. Below is a copy of the description of the banjo used by the museum.

"This instrument is a copy of a gourd banza which was given to the Paris Musee de la Musique in 1872. The neck and pegs are mahogany and the tacked on head is goat skin. An inscription on the skin head of the original reads, "Banza Imitation d'un instrument African d'usage general parmi les noirs d'Haiti" translated as "Banza Imitation of an African instrument widely used by the black people in Haiti. [ This instrument was loaned to the Museum by Bob Thornburg of Sierra View Acoustic Music, ]"

Bob Thornburg April 2004