Boat Lutes

Boat lutes are the most common type of lutes found among the people  in the Mindanao and in Palawan.  These lutes are made from wood and have a slender body shaped like a boat and a long neck usually carved to resemble an animal or a mythical creature.  The instrument is referred to by many names with kutyapi and kudlong as the most common.

Among the Maranaw, the kutyapi is very elaborately carved owing to their skill as master wood carvers.  Others like the T’boli and the Bagobo decorate theirs with beads and horse-hair.

The instrument has two strings with movable frets that are attached using beeswax.  Only one string is stretched over the fret though as the other functions as a drone.  The player uses a plectrum to pluck the strings.

These lutes may be played solo or in a duet with a polychordal zither.  In the latter, the lute is played by a man while the zither is played by a woman in love songs.  They may also be part of an ensemble such as in the Maranaw kapanerong where the kutyapi is joined by the inse (ring flute), kubing (jaw’s harp), and saluray (zither).

The Giant Lutes of Palawan

Palawan boasts of giant box-shaped lutes that are quite different from the rest of the boat lutes found in the Philippines.

Though there are smaller versions of the lutes, the more prevalent are large heavy ones that sometimes dwarf the musician playing it.  Also, unlike other boat lutes, the Palawan lutes have frets which  are all placed on the neck of the instrument with none of the body.  However, they are played just like the others; with the strings are plucked or strummed with one string sending a constant drone all through out the music.

The bigger type is tuned to a hemitonic scale— g, f, e, c, b, g, f, e— to accompany love songs (kulilal) based on poems (karang) of two, three, four-line stanzas.  The smaller type is tuned to an anhemitonic scale–f#, e, c#, g#, f#, e—and plays only a bagit music to depict sounds of nature and the physical environment (Maceda, 1998).

The kusyapi, kusypaiq or kudlong as it is called depending on the particular Palawan group is considered  a male instrument while the much lighter pagang (polychordal zither) is female.  Played together, the male kusyapi player always points the neck of the instrument towards the female pagang player especially in courtship songs.

Instrument Distribution* 


Batak – “kudlong”

Palawan – “kusyapi, kutyapi”

Tau’t Bato – “kudlong”


Ata – “kudlung”

Bagobo – “kodlong”

B’laan – “faglong”

Bukidnon – “katyapi”

Maguindanaon – “kudyapi”

Manobo – “kudlong, kudlung, kutyapi”

Maranaw – “kutyapi”

Subanen – “kutapi”

T’boli – “hegalong”

Tiruray – “fegerong”

*from Maceda, J. 1998.  Gongs and Bamboos.  Diliman:  University of the Philippines, Press.

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