Drums in communication

Developed and used by cultures living in forested areas, drums served as an early form of long-distancecommunication, and were used during ceremonial and religious functions.

In Africa, New Guinea and the tropical America, people have used drum telegraphy to communicate with each otherfrom far away for centuries. When European expeditions came into the jungles to explore the local forest, they weresurprised to find that the message of their coming and their intention was carried through the woods a step inadvance of their arrival. An African message can be transmitted at the speed of 100 miles in an hour.

Among the famous communication drums are the drums of West Africa (see talking drum). From regions knowntoday as Nigeria and Ghana they spread across West Africa and to America and the Caribbean during the slavetrade. There they were banned because they were being used by the slaves to communicate over long distances ina code unknown to their enslavers.

Talking drums were also used in East Africa and are described by Andreus Bauer in the 'Street of Caravans' whileacting as security guard in the Wissmann Truppe for the caravan of Charles Stokes.

The traditional drumming found in Africa is actually of three different types. Firstly, a rhythm can represent an idea(or signal). Secondly it can repeat the accentual profile of a spoken utterance or thirdly it can simply be subject tomusical laws.

Drum communication methods are not languages in their own right; they are based on actual natural languages. The sounds produced are conventionalized or idiomatic signals based on speech patterns. The messages arenormally very stereotyped and context-dependent. They lack the ability to form new combinations and expressions.

In central and east Africa, drum patterns represent the stresses, syllable lengths and tone of the particular Africanlanguage. In tone languages, where syllables are associated with a certain tone, some words are distinguished onlyby their suprasegmental profile. Therefore, syllable drum languages can often transfer a message using the tonalphonemes alone.

In certain languages, the pitch of each syllable is uniquely determined in relation to each adjacent syllable. In thesecases, messages can be transmitted as rapid beats at the same speed as speech as the rhythm and melody bothmatch the equivalent spoken utterance.

Misinterpretations can occur due to the highly ambiguous nature of the communication. This is reduced by contexteffects and the use of stock phrases. For example, in Jabo, most stems are monosyllabic. By using a proverb orhonorary title to create expanded versions of an animal, person's name or object, the corresponding single beat canbe replaced with a rhythmic and melodic motif representing the subject. In practice not all listeners understand all ofthe stock phrases; the drum language is understood only to the level of their immediate concern.