Saturday, October 15, 2011

The 279th good thing about Lagos: learning about the talking drum and a fond and caring farewell

When I am free, I enjoy going to the museum for a cultural lecture on Wednesday mornings.  This is designed to be kind of an in-service training for museum staff, but they open it up for expats to attend to allow us to have our own cultural learning.  The first lecture of the fall season was on the talking drum in Yoruba traditional society.

Here's some of what I learned:  The talking drum was originally created as a means of communication.  It was used by the Alaafin, the royal head of the Oyo kingdom, to motivate his army during war.  It was used as an alarm clock at the beginning of the day and a signal at the end of the day.  The morning song for the Alaafin basically tells him "wake up and put on your trousers," meaning, your responsibility cannot be delegated.  The talking drum was also used to preserve the history of the people.  Stories were told, accompanied by the drum, and then the melody of the drum would remind the people of the histories, so the words of the stories weren't necessary.  They believed the drum had a magical power, as it could evoke emotions.  Other drums were made to address only one god, but the talking drum could speak to many gods, and also address royalty, deceased ancestors, and a drum for politicians.  It is believed to be the youngest drum, but also the most powerful, because of its ability to imitate tonal language. 

The drum is shaped like an hourglass, with two heads sown together with leather.  The strings that circle the two drum heads are squeezed and pulled to give the drum beat a different tone.

The talking drum is the mainstay of Yoruba drumming tradition. It is used to praise God and "highly placed people." It adapts to accompany all styles of music. The speaker closed by saying the drum is a gift from the Yoruba people to the entire universe.  Doesn't that make you feel special?

At the museum this day there was also a special ceremony saying goodby to Melissa, who has been a regular and long-time attendee and supporter at the museum, as well as the Lagos expat community in general.  Her husband passed away suddenly in August and she is getting ready to leave Lagos.   I was touched by the warmth and caring the museum staff showed to her.  They gave her a nice gift, spoke a beautiful prayer asking for God to watch over her, sang "For she's a jolly good fellow" and another farewell song, where some got up to dance her a goodby dance.  We wish you all the best as you move forward, Melissa!

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