name jew's harp
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Jew’s harp origin history

The jew’s harp is not only a musical instrument for extracting sound, but also an instrument that encapsulates the cultural heritage of the peoples of the world.

Its birth occurred about two thousand years ago in Europe and several thousand years ago in Asia.

The music of the jew’s harp did not have musical notes and was passed on from generations to generations only verbally. Because of that, the art of playing and the structure of the jew’s harps of those years came to us only partially.

This instrument has many names in different languages of the peoples of the world. The European name is the most common, at the moment, in English it sounds like jew’s harp. It first appeared in the 16th century and became widely used after the 18th century.

Initially, the instrument had the name trump (from the verb to play the trumpet, roar or trumpet). But the literal translation of the current title may mislead our reader, because it translates as a Jewish harp. Jew’s harp has nothing to do with the Jewish people; neither does it look like a harp in its structure and appearance.

Jew’s harp history

It can be assumed from its history of origin that the jew’s harp has absorbed a lot of different languages into its name. In French it was jeu trump, which translates as a trumpet for playing, which, in turn, was formed from the Danish jeudgtromp – child’s pipe. In German, it sounds as maultrommel – lip drum. In Estonia, parmupill. In Norwegian and Icelandic, munnharpa. The French version is guimbarde that translates as ridiculous, absurd person. In Latvia, vargas. The Italian version, scacciapensieri has spiritual connotations – to drive out, drive away the thought. In Lithuania, dambras, bandurelis. Bulgarian version is rumbazuk.

In America, tongue instruments appeared thanks to European merchants; they brought them together with silks and weapons. In this country, these instruments are called trompa, trompe, tyrimpa, and also jew’s harp.

According to most jew’s-harp experts, the jew’s harp takes its origin from southeast Asia. Then it spread to India and in Europe. Most of its Asian names are similar to the often used – Khomus. For example, komuz, comys, shankobyz, kobyz, gopuz, they all mean a musical instrument. It was also used as a musical instrument in shamanism during rituals. The Turkic people called it khomyhyn, which translates as sorcery, magic, enchantment, witchcraft. Its magical properties were used to banish evil spirits.
Now these instruments are mainly used to create ethnic music and for immersion in meditation while playing.

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