War Horns

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A description commonly applied in the 19th century to ivory horns or oliphants from Sierra Leone and Liberia that were played by the horn-blowers who attended on chiefs. Typically they are side-blown, with the mouthpiece on the inner or concave side of the horn. Typically also they are pierced through the closed end of the horn forming a stop-hole that the horn-blower could cover or uncover with his thumb, allowing him to change the note. Different sized horns were sometimes combined together in an ensemble. Although such horns presumably were from time to time sounded in the heat of battle when the chief was present, their primary purpose seems to have been to announce and celebrate the presence of chief in whatever he happened to be doing. They are therefore more appropriately described simply as 'chiefs' horns'.

  • W.A.Hart, 'Early-nineteenth century chiefs' horns from coastal Liberia', African Arts, 1999, XXXII, 3, 62-67.