Over at Global Wire Associates, we released the first article in our yearlong series about the history of communication. We highlighted some of the earliest methods of messaging, ranging from cave paintings to hydraulic semaphore systems.
We briefly touched on all of these methods, but the one that most interested me was the West African tradition of “talking drums.” Drumming for communication continues to be prevalent throughout the region, especially in Nigeria. The drums would communicate specific messages across many miles to different villages. Drumming is also used to celebrate community rituals and religious traditions, as well as tell stories and even gossip. It was also used during wartime to rally the troops.
During slavery throughout the Americas, African slaves would pass their time drumming for entertainment. However, drums were banned because the slaves were communicating to each other over long distances, especially during slave revolts, using a code their owners couldn’t understand.
I have been lucky through my work to travel to Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Senegal to learn about the different functions of drumming for communication. Even within the same country, drumming has many different “languages” and traditions.
I found these great videos that explain the history of drumming among African peoples.