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”.
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.