Bugle Carried Behind Emin Pasha: Italian-Made Instrument Blown for the Governor of Equatoria during the 19th Century

Geographical, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Bugle Carried Behind Emin Pasha: Italian-Made Instrument Blown for the Governor of Equatoria during the 19th Century


BEFORE THE INVENTION OF RADIO at the end of the 19th century, bugles and trumpets (the difference is minimal: a trumpet is a cylinder topped with a cone, a bugle is just one big cone) were often used to communicate over long distances.

The ancient Egyptians used trumpets rather like loudspeakers and shouted through them in an attempt to distort their voices and ward off evil spirits. The Greeks set up competitions using them at the Olympic games: the loudest player won the contest (the idea of a trumpet as a 'musical' instrument hadn't yet been considered).

Bugles came later. Initially made out of cattle horns (hence the name bugle, derived from the Latin word 'buculus', meaning 'bullock') and then hammered out of metal, they were used throughout Europe to mark different stages of animal hunts, with the buglers finally gathering around a dead stag to play it a farewell tune.

As transportation developed, bugles were used like car horns to announce the arrival of coaches and horse-drawn postal services. European armies also began to use them (just as the Romans had used long horns previously) to choreograph military manoeuvres.

Bugles were phased out during the late 1800s, but bugle or trumpet calls are often still used by the military to mark different points in the day (time to get up, start work, eat, go to bed and so forth), although the calls are now largely pre-recorded and played through speakers.

This bugle, which is partically covered in leather and fur, making it appear 'almost like a living creature' according to Royal Geographical Society archivist Eugene Rae, was carried behind Emin Pasha by his bugler, a Corporal Abdullah of the East African Rifles.

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