List of Caribbean idiophones

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Historically, idiophones (percussion instruments without membranes or strings) have been widespread throughout the Caribbean music area, which encompasses the islands and coasts of the Caribbean Sea. Some areas of South America that are not geographically part of the Caribbean, but are culturally associated with its traditions, such as Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and parts of Brazil are also taken into account.

Although some idiophones such as the mayohuacán and probably the maraca already existed among the indigenous Taíno population of the Greater Antilles before the Spanish colonization of the Americas, most idiophones were introduced in the Caribbean between the 17th and 19th centuries by enslaved Africans, which were ethnically diverse (Yoruba, Ewe, Fon, Efik, Mandinka and Kongo, among others). Because of the different materials present in the islands, African slaves had to construct their instruments differently, and thus new instruments began to be developed.

Instrument Tradition Hornbostel–Sachs classification Description
Lucumí (Cuba) and other Yoruba traditions throughout the Caribbean and Brazil 111.221 Hoe blade, struck with a nail or other heavy object
Abakuá (Cuba) 111.242.222 Belt with many attached bells
baksor (Note: asson can also refer to the ogan in Northern Haiti)
Haiti 1 Hollow calabash with a hole, which the player plugs during performance, where the stem used to be, covered in beaded webbing
Haiti 1 Wooden board, sometimes attached to a tymbale
assongwé [1]
Arará (Cuba) 112.13 Rattle made of tin, with both ends conical and an attached handle, used by Arará priests
Lucumí (Cuba) 112.12 Oblong rattle made from a gourd, and covered with a network of webbing laced with nuts or beads
Lucumí (Cuba) 112.12 Large rattle made from a calabash, and covered with a network of webbing laced with nuts or beads
ekón, ekóng
Abakuá (Cuba) 111.242.121 Metal bell, struck with a wooden stick; the location of the strike determines pitch
Trinidad and Tobago 1 Hand bell, used in the Spiritual Baptist musical tradition
bell, Santería[1]
Lucumí (Cuba) 111.242.121 Bell with an external striker
Trinidad and Tobago 1 Ordinary sitting bench, used spontaneously by banging against the ground in the Spiritual Baptist musical tradition
chac-chac, shack-shack, xaque-xaque (Brazil), chacha (Cuba)
Trinidad and Tobago 1 Hollow calabash with a hole, which the player plugs during performance, where the stem used to be, covered in beaded webbing, used in the Shango cult
Cuba and Puerto Rico 111.2 Wooden box played as a bass drum, with hands held in front of the face, often while sitting on the instrument while playing
Haiti 1 Two types of beating tubes: a length of bamboo laid upon two y-shaped sticks in the ground, and a hollow wooden cylinder; both are beaten with sticks
Cuba 1 Hollowed out trunk hit with two sticks, used in yuka, term also used for a rumba rhythm
gangária, San Martín (for secular uses only)
Cuba ? Large cowbell with no clapper, struck on the outside
Cuba 1 Hollow calabash with a hole, which the player plugs during performance, where the stem used to be, covered in beaded webbing
Cuba and Haiti 111.1 Cylindrical percussive sticks of African origin, made from hardwood trees like acana, quiebrahacha, guayacán, and granadillo
Haiti 112.211 Notched stick played with a bamboo scraping blade
Indo-Caribbean Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname 1 Steel rod, adapted from a piece of a yoke and hit with a beater in a horseshoe-shape, used in chutney
Cuba 111.221 Normal door, beaten with a hand during yambú performances
double-conical rattle[1]
Cuba 112.13 Double-conical rattle, made of tin and held horizontally, known in Jovellanos
Abakuá (Cuba) 112.13 Tubular rattle with a looping basket-shaped handle, filled with chunks of wood
frying pan
Cuba 111.24 Frying pans harnessed to the torso of the player and struck with spoons, played during conga performances
geared rattle[3]
Haiti 1 Rattle, used in rara ceremonies
Haiti 112.23 Metal scraper with small, closely spaced holes, played with a piece of wire or nail
Colombia 112.23 Long tube scraper made of wood, used in vallenato and cumbia
Cuba 112.23 Metal scraper, used in changüí
Dominican Republic 112.23 Metal scraper, used in merengue and bachata
Cuba, Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean 112.23 Gourd scraper of either Taíno or West African origin
Cuba 112.13 Set of four rattles attached to a pair of crossed sticks
Surinamese Maroons 111.1 Pieces of any available metal struck together
iron tube, Lucumí[1]
Cuba 111.242.121 Hollow iron tube with a slit along the side, played with an external striker
Cuba ? cowbell, played using a striker
Trinidad and Tobago ? Pair of large cymbals
tcha-tcha, tcha-kwa
Haiti 112.13 Empty gourd filled with seeds; can also refer to the geared rattle
Surinamese maroons 1 Bench with a wooden top, played with two sticks, from a squatting position
maraca [1][2]
shakkas (Garifuna), maruga (Cuba)
Taíno and other tribes (throughout the Caribbean) 112.13 Rattle across the Greater and Lesser Antilles, and Central America, made from a hollow gourd, often a calabash, and filled with dried seeds
Guatemala and southern Mexico 111.212 Set of wooden bars struck with mallets, descended from the balafon
marimbol (Mexico)
Cuba, introduced to the Dominican Republic and elsewhere 111.2 Box mounted with metal strips that can be plucked, used as a bass instrument in rural folk genres like changüí
mayohabao, bayohabao
Taíno (Cuba, Hispaniola) 111.231 Slit drum made of thin wood, shaped like an elongated gourd
Arará (Cuba) 111.242.121 Iron bell, held upside down and struck with a beater; may be used in pairs
111.1 Pieces of chain or other metal struck together
Cuba 112.122 Jawbone of a mule or donkey, teeth acting as rattles
quinto (cajón)[1]
Cuba 111.2 Box with two sloping sides, tapped with the fingers percussively
Surinamese Maroons 112.13 Rattle used in both secular and religious purposes, with a specific rhythm for the spirit associated with each ritual
rattle-bracelet [1]
Cuba 112.112 Bracelets with attached nuts and seeds, worn by drummers in the Kimbisa tradition
rumba box[12]
Jamaica 2 Maroon instrument used to accompany social dancing, wooden box with three metal brackets on one side
chac-chac, shack-shack, xaque-xaque (Brazil), chacha (Cuba)
Lesser Antilles 1 Rattle, made from a dried gourd, often a calabash, and filled with dried seeds, with a handle attached where the calabash stem had been, not normally decorated or painted, may be placed in a pair
Saint Lucia and other Francophone islands 1 Rattle, made from a pair of tin cans, emptied, then filled with a few loose pebbles and soldered shut
Lesser Antilles 112.13 Improvised rattle, made from a single tin can and a few loose pebbles, often played by children practicing for the use of the more common shak-shak or adults at impromptu occasions
shepherd's crook[4]
Trinidad and Tobago 1 Staff, used spontaneously by banging against the ground in the Spiritual Baptist musical tradition
spoons [1]
Cuba 111.141 Pair of normal spoons beaten together, common in yambú
steeldrum, tock-tock, belly, base kettle, base bum
Trindad and Tobago originally, now widespread 111.2 Made from tempered metal drums, tuned chromatically
Trinidad and Tobago 1 Tuned bamboo stomping tubes, used as a substitute percussion instrument when drums were outlawed
ti bois
Saint Lucia and Martinique 2 Wooden sticks, played against the rim of a ka, or against a bamboo tube or a log sitting on a stand
bois bourrique
Haiti 111.2 Bamboo trumpet, played as an idiophone by tapping it with sticks
Curaçao 1 Metal disks attached to a wooden board


  • Manuel, Peter (1988). Popular Musics of the Non-Western World: An Introductory Survey. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506334-1. 


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  2. ^ a b c d e f g Crowley, Daniel J. (September 1958). "The Shak-Shak in the Lesser Antilles". Ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology, Vol. 2, No. 3. 2 (3): 112–115. doi:10.2307/924654. JSTOR 924654. 
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  6. ^ a b c Manuel, pg. 30
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  9. ^ a b Manuel, pg. 43
  10. ^ a b c Goines, Leonard (Spring 1975). "The Black Perspective in Music". 3 (1): 40–44. 
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  12. ^ DjeDje, Jacqueline Cogdell (Spring–Autumn 1998). "Remembering Kojo: History, Music, and Gender in the January Sixth Celebration of the Jamaican Accompong Maroons". Black Music Research Journal. Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 18, No. 1/2. 18 (1/2): 67–120. doi:10.2307/779395. JSTOR 779395. 
  13. ^ McDaniel, Lorna (1999). "Trinidad and Tobago". Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume Two: South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Routledge. pp. 952–967. ISBN 0-8153-1865-0. 
  14. ^ Brown, Ernest D. (1990). "Carnival, Calypso, and Steelband in Trinidad". The Black Perspective in Music. The Black Perspective in Music, Vol. 18, No. 1/2. 18 (1/2): 81–100. doi:10.2307/1214859. JSTOR 1214859. 
  15. ^ Guilbault, Jocelyne. "Saint Lucia". Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume Two: South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. 
  16. ^ Desroches, Monique (1981). Les pratiques musicales, image de l'histoire, reflet d'un contexte (PDF). Centre de recherches Caraïbes, Université de Montréal. p. 9. Retrieved 29 June 2014. 
  17. ^ Bilby, Kenneth. "Netherlands Antilles and Aruba". New Grove Encyclopedia of Music.