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Huluhu: The Traditional Chinese Gourd Instrument with Centuries of History

Last Updated on 2023/11/29

The Cultural Fabric of Huluhu: Ethnic Music and Traditional Art.

The Huluhu, a distinctive Chinese string instrument, is prominent among the Zhuang (壮族) and Buyi (布依族) ethnic groups. In the Zhuang language, it’s known as “Ran Bup,” where “Ran” denotes a general term for Huqin (a family of bowed string instruments), and “Bup” translates to gourd, indicating its gourd-based construction. This instrument is notably used in orchestral ensembles and as accompaniment in Zhuang and Buyi operas. It’s prevalent in regions such as the western part of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, particularly in the Baise area, and in parts of Guizhou Province like Zhenfeng, Xingyi, Anlong, CeHeng, Wangmo, and the Funing County in Yunnan Province’s Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture.

Origin and Historical Development

The Huluhu originated from an ancient instrument called Xi Qin and shares a close historical connection with another instrument, the Ma Gu Hu. It first appeared during the Qing Dynasty’s Qianlong era (1736–1795), marking over two centuries of history. Initially, it was used in early forms of the Zhuang’s traditional “Bayin” (eight-tone) ensemble music, specifically in a style known as “Youyuan,” and in Zhuang opera accompaniments.

Design and Structure

The Huluhu resembles the Erhu in its construction but has significant visual differences. Its resonating body is shaped like a gourd, made from two natural gourd sections. The larger section is cut horizontally and covered with tung wood or bamboo. The smaller section features a carved plum blossom petal-shaped sound hole. The instrument’s neck is made of wood or bamboo, often using red Tung wood or hardwood, measuring about 70 to 80 centimeters in length. Its top is cylindrical and bends backward, supporting two tuning pegs. The pegs are made from boxwood or hardwood, with a length of 13 centimeters and a conical or spindle shape, intricately carved with stripes.

Playing Technique

The Huluhu is played in a seated position, with its neck held upright and the gourd resting on the left leg. The left hand supports the neck, using the index, middle, ring, and little fingers to press the strings, while the right hand holds a horsehair bow to play. Typically tuned in fifths, like a, e1, or d1, a1, its performing range spans two octaves. The instrument is known for its solid sound and rich, deep timbre, akin to the middle-range Banhu. It’s commonly used in ensemble music, particularly in Zhuang and Buyi operas, and for solo performances.

Maintenance and Care

The Huluhu, like many string instruments with a wooden body, requires careful maintenance due to its susceptibility to environmental conditions such as humidity. The wood used, often hardwood, needs to be protected from stress caused by varying humidity levels. It’s recommended to clean the rosin dust from the instrument with a soft cloth after use. High-quality Huluhus are polished with natural insect lacquer, a traditional Jiangnan technique, to enhance the wood’s smoothness and protect it. Proper care of the gourd skin is crucial, as frequent use maintains its elasticity, crucial for the instrument’s sound quality. Avoid additional treatments on the skin’s backside as it can affect the vibration and sound quality. For storage, anti-moth measures and desiccants in humid areas are advised.

Comparison with the Erhu

The Erhu, another prominent Chinese string instrument, differs in construction and sound. It comprises a soundbox, neck, python skin, tuning pegs, strings, bow, fine-tuners, bridge, and bow hair. Its soundbox, usually made from redwood or sandalwood, comes in various shapes like hexagonal or octagonal. The Erhu’s sound is characterized by the type of skin used – python or snake, with python being preferred for its larger scales and superior sound quality. The neck, typically made from redwood, supports the overall structure and contributes to the sound. Tuning pegs, made from wood or metal, adjust the pitch, and the bow, traditionally with horsehair, is essential for playing. The Erhu’s strings, metal or silk, significantly influence its sound, with metal strings being more common for their durability and clear tone.

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Source: Baike Baidu

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