Abiyoyo Story Arts

Abiyoyo in Africa

Dig Abiyoyo's deep roots.

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African origins of Abiyoyo

The character Abiyoyo appears in the stories and songs of Bantu folk tradition. Bantu is a very broad grouping of African languages. You've likely heard of the Zulu, a demographically small, but very promonent and influencial group in South Africa.

South Africa's largest ethnic group are the Xhosa people who speak the language of the Abiyoyo song. Nelson Mandela’s ancestors are Xhosa. You pronounce the "Xh" in Xhosa with a clicking sound.

The song is a Lullaby associated with a folk tale about a monster named Abiyoyo who steals away misbehaving children. Some people say he eats little children up! The giant's name is sung over and over to neutralize the monster so he can be dispensed with.

The musical composition Abiyoyo can be traced back to traditional instruments called the Uhadi, and Umrhubhe, both originally adapted from the resourceful use of a bow as a musical instrument. These instruments play only a few notes on the scale. The Umrhubhe uses the musician's mouth as a resonating chamber. The Uhadi adds a hollow gord to amplify the instument's sound. Rhymically striking a stick on the bow string can produce a fast tempo beat. The original time signiture of the tune was 6/8. Pete's version slowed down the beat to 3/4 time.

Watch Madosini Manqina, from Langa township outside Cape Town South Africa, a master story-teller, composer and musician playing the Uhadi and Umrhubhe - filmed September 2005.

The Kalumbu is another name for this a one-stringed musical bow instrument with ancient origins among the San people in the greater South African region. In this video Chris Haambwiila (an Ila from Chitongo village) plays the Kalumbu. Recorded by Michael Baird with assistance from Mrs. Esnart Mweemba in 2008.

Check out this great web page offering a much more detailed description of the history and use of these musical instruments: uhadi + umruhbe - a resonant Xhosa tradition https://garlandmag.com/loop/uhadi/

Who created Abiyoyo?
The oldest archeological record of the bow and arrow are found in South Africa and date from 60,000 - 72,000 years ago. Perhaps someone invented the Umruhbe first, before the hunting weapon, or maybe people had always adapted their hunting bows for making music. Perhaps the umruhbe is the oldest musical instument ever invented in world history.

From the folktale's origin in South Africa and up through countless storytellers, Abiyoyo has been brought to life by many people. Each storyteller and singer adds their own life's sensibilities to the tale. You recreate Abiyoyo with every retelling and pass along the story in your unique way.

Performing stories without pictures
Like ancient storytellers, Pete enjoyed performing his Abiyoyo story without any picture book illustrations. A story teller creates something special using only words and gestures and music. The imaginations of each person in the audience creates images unique to each individual. Abiyoyo appears quite different to each person. When working with Michael on his book, Pete did not want to turn Abiyoyo into one official character. He wanted Abiyoyo to appear different when viewed from different points of view. In his introduction to his picture book, Pete encourages us to come up with our own versions of the giant.

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Abiyoyo Story Arts