Talking Drums

When we think of drums being used to communicate, we often think of the drum as conveying a signal. Signal Drums have been used throughout history. However, drums have also been used as a speech surrogate. A Speech Surrogate replicates the tone and rhythm of oral speech. Drums that are used as Speech Surrogates are also referred to as “tallking Drums”.People of the Drum of God, Paul Neeley, author

Paul Neeley wrote the book, the “People of the Drum of God – Come”. Mr. Neeley carried out his studies in 1988, while working with SIL International in Cameroon. Mr. Neeley had relationships with many people in the community of Mekomba, particularly through the drummers, his teachers in Cameroon.

Mr. Neeley’s interest was sparked by the beat of an nkul, a wooden slit drum, that reverberates at dawn around and through the trees and houses of the Ewondo people of Mekomba, Cameroon.

Mr. Neeley recorded the audio versions of a drummed message. Though the general message was the same for each performance, the differences were strikingly noticeable. It was apparent that this was not a recital of a fixed piece. He wondered how many different ways a text could be drummed and still be understood, and how exact was the correlation between speech sounds and drum strokes.

By examining in detail the performance paradigm of Antoine Owono, a church leader who was involved in drumming for more than forty years, Paul Neeley presented a thorough analysis of this communication event in his book People of the Drum of God–Come!

The analysis ranges from phonology of drumstrokes, to the discourse level, to the level of community comprehension. This study draws from such diverse disciplines as sociolinguistics, anthropology, semiotics, cognition, aesthetics, and ethnomusicology to make an invaluable contribution to our understanding of African culture and communication.

SIL International and the International Museum of Cultures Publications in Ethnography(formerly International Museum of Cultures Series) is a series published jointly by SIL International and the International Museum of Cultures. The series focuses on cultural studies of minority peoples of various parts of the world. While most volumes are authored by members of SIL International who have done ethnologic research in a minority language, suitable works by others also occasionally form part of the series.

Click on the picture to hear an example of a Talking Drum

4 thoughts on “Talking Drums

  1. Dear Andrea Simmons, Director of Museum Education:

    If you check my message to you from yesterday June 27th, about your curriculum project, you will find the following exact link!!!

    Synchronicity, or “Magic”…


    Allen Berg

    Drum Language in Ghanaian Schools
    Ethnography research by Dr. Cati Coe at:
    Music education multimedia interactive resources
    1. To find out more about how schools teach culture in modern-day Ghana, read Dilemmas of Culture in African Schools: Youth, Nationalism, and the Transformation of Knowledge by Dr. Cati Coe. University of Chicago Press; 2005. If you would like to see and hear excerpts from a School Cultural Competition in Ghana, you may also view Dr. Coe’s videos and Powerpoint presentations at:

  2. Pingback: The Talking Drum, from the International Museum of Cultures’ Virtual Field Trip for Teachers « International Museum of Cultures BLOG

  3. Pingback: Why is Learning Through a Museum So Effective | International Museum of Cultures BLOG

  4. Pingback: Multi-Sensory learning at the Museum | International Museum of Cultures BLOG

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