Amis Mouth Harp

Tags: aborigine | Amis | harp

The mouth harp is a small, simple musical instrument that can be widely found among Taiwan’s indigenous tribes, especially among the Atayal, Amis and Bunun tribes.


To make this instrument it was necessary to first obtain a small, thin piece of bamboo. Then, in the center, long grooves were cut and a total of one to seven thin pieces of copper or bamboo were added. The number depended on the social occasion at which the instrument was to be played. At either end of the bamboo “body” of the instrument a hole was made to attach a piece of ramie string or colorful yarn.

Usually, the shape of the bamboo “body” is rectangular. It is convex on the exterior and concave on the interior. The center is pared down to be thin and the ends remain thick. If many copper or bamboo pieces are added the finished instrument may appear to be semi-tubular. If few copper or bamboo pieces are added it may appear flat.

To play, the hemp string or yarn on the left side was wrapped around the index finger of the left hand and at the same time with the thumb grasped the edge. The right hand was used to pull on the string or yarn on the right side and the instrument was lifted to the open mouth, so that the lips were on the opposite sides of the harp. Resonance was produced by changing the shape of the mouth and the rhythm was decided by the player’s breathing (inhaling and exhaling) (Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, 1996). The vibrations produced were used to create notes to form songs. It has been said that when a man and a woman played their mouth harps in unison this was an expression of their affection for one another.

This mouth harp measures 50 centimeters in length and has four copper strips. This type of mouth harp is found among the Amis tribe. A box for storing this instrument was woven from rattan and decorated with colorful yarn and bells.


Department of Graphic Communications and Digital Publishing, Shih Hsin University Digital archiving project of the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines