In December 2004, Moa Subong, a 57-year-old musician from Nagaland, invented what he considers the “easiest musical instrument in the world” called the Bamhum.
A wind instrument made of bamboo, the flute-like Bamhum earned Moa the National Award for Grassroot Innovation in March 2017 by former President, Pranab Mukherjee.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Moa says that it took a lot of trial and error over many months before he invented this instrument. He was looking for a traditional Naga instrument which would best work for his wife, Arlena’s compositions, with whom he has formed a folk fusion band called Abiogenesis.
“There aren’t too many traditional Naga instruments—we have a couple, but our options are limited,” Moa tells The Indian Express. He goes onto talk about how “western” instruments like the guitar, piano and violin couldn’t capture the essence of his wife’s compositions.
On one fine morning in December 2004, when Moa was testing his new instrument, Arlena called out asking, “‘Moa, what is that beautiful sound?’ And then I knew, I had finally found what I was looking for,” he tells the publication. First introduced on stage the following year, the band promoted Bamhum through their performances.
Arelena is the lead singer and Bamhum player of their band.
Made of bamboo, the flute-like instrument requires the user to hum a tune into its “hole,” which instantly produces a sweet sound. Even a novice, who has no musical training, can play it. While the flute takes a year to learn, a beginner can learn Bamhum within a week, says Moa.
“I have used the Bamhum for a few of my performances. It’s definitely one of the easiest instruments to play. But of course, you do have to know how to sing,” says Alobo Naga, a popular Naga musician, to The Indian Express. “It’s a clever idea—as kids, we used to fashion similar instruments out of papaya stems. But using bamboo is pure genius.”
Moa currently manufactures Bamhums in a workshop at home all by himself. After picking out quality bamboo, it takes him about six-seven months to the test the Bamhum before it takes the form of a full-fledged musical instrument.
“We don’t require much machinery—a stove to heat the iron rods to make the holes, and the regular cutting equipment,” he says, adding that a tribal Naga cloth is attached to the end of it.
Besides simplicity, the Bamhum is also representative of the region in terms of the material it uses—bamboo. The plant is found in abundance, and Naga culture is steeped in its use of bamboo.
You can purchase a Bamhum from an online retail portal called Illando. Meanwhile, the National Innovation Foundation, under the Centre’s Department of Science and Technology, is reportedly helping Mao to establish a manufacturing unit to mass produce the instrument.
Now, Moa is looking to patent his instrument, and who can blame him for wanting to do so?
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)