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A valiha player in Ambohimahasoa, central Madagascar
Lullaby played on valiha
Valiha orchestra at the Paris World Exposition of 1931.
Valiha with larger diameter bamboo tube.

The valiha is a tube zither from Madagascar made from a species of local bamboo; it is considered the "national instrument" of Madagascar.[1] The term is also used to describe a number of related zithers of differing shapes and materials.[2]

The instrument has been held in high regard among the Malagasy particularly in the Merina rule over the island that having long fingernails ideal for plucking its strings were marks "distinguishing the aristocracy from the labourers".[3][4] Aside from recreational music, the valiha is also used for ritual music to summon spirits.[5]


Historically the instrument was made of the bamboo Valiha diffusa, but in the modern day "bamboo species with longer internodes" are used.[6] The bamboo poles used for building the valiha are chosen between diameters of 5 to 10 cm and preferably cut within a length of 35 to 180 cm.[4]

The valiha generally has 21-24 strings. Historically these were formed of strips of the bamboo body,[3] prised up and raised by small calabash or wooden bridges that also act as movable tuners, but in the modern day the strings are often made of unwound bicycle brake cable tied through nails,[4] though serious players may use standard guitar or piano strings[7] used for churches and folk bands.

A variant instrument, the marovany, is similar in concept but boxlike rather than tubular, and made of wood or sheet metal.[7]


One of the most celebrated valiha players of the twentieth century is Rakotozafy (born 1938).[8] The majority of Rakotozafy's few recorded performances were made live at the central studio of Malagasy Radio. Sylvestre Randafison is another celebrated valiha artist considered a cultural icon in Madagascar.[9]

See also[edit]


  • Adams, Rashid Epstein. "The Making of a National Instrument: Imagery, Symbolism and the Social Function of the Malagasy Valiha", Music in Art: International Journal for Music Iconography XLIII/1-2 (2018), 141–157.


  1. ^ Bruno Nettl (1985). The Western impact on world – change, adaptation, and survival. Schirmer Books. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-02-870860-7.
  2. ^ Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (11 January 2013). The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Routledge. pp. 123–. ISBN 978-1-136-09570-2.
  3. ^ a b Shaw, Geo (8 November 1879). "Music among the Malagasy". The Musical Standard. 17 (797): 297. Retrieved 15 November 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Schmidhoffer, August (4–8 October 2005), "Some Remarks on the Austronesian Background of Malagasy Music" (PDF), The 2005 International Forum of Ethnomusicology in Taiwan, Taipei: Soochow University, Taiwan
  5. ^ Hans Austnaberg (2008). Shepherds and Demons: A Study of Exorcism as Practised and Understood by Shepherds in the Malagasy Lutheran Church. Peter Lang. pp. 158–. ISBN 978-0-8204-9717-4.
  6. ^ Dominique Louppe (2008). Plant Resources of Tropical Africa: Timbers / ed.: D. Louppe ; A. A. Oteng-Amoako. General ed.: R. H. M. J. Lemmens .... 7. 1. PROTA. pp. 573–. ISBN 978-90-5782-209-4.
  7. ^ a b Elijah Wald (2007). Global Minstrels: Voices of World Music. Taylor & Francis. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-0-415-97930-6.
  8. ^ American Lutherie: The Quarterly Journal of the Guild of American Luthiers. The Guild. 1993. p. 22.
  9. ^ Sylvestre Randafison Obituary, The Independent, 20 August 2003

External links[edit]