earth drum

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The earth drum (English ground drum ) is a directly struck membranophone , the membrane of which is stretched taut over a hole in the ground that serves as a resonator. This simple percussion instrument , which does not require a frame or body , stands at the beginning of the development of drums . The earth drum is known from the ancient Indian Sanskrit literature under the name bhumidundubhi and was used by the Xhosa in South Africa, among others, as ingqongqo until the 20th century . Both earth drums were associated with war and used on ritual occasions.


Two indigenous people of the Andaman Islands with a stamping board on which a man stamped his feet during ceremonies. Staged shot by a British photographer in 1875, a few years after the Andamans first had direct contact with the outside world.

In all cultures, moods ( emotions , from French émotion ) are expressed through movements (French motion ) of the body. This happens in a controlled way when dancing, rhythmically stomping on the floor and with other sound events that are produced in the most original form with the body. It probably took a certain amount of time in the history of development until the hits and tones that were created incidentally became the actual and independent purpose of acting, i.e. music.

The first rhythmic devices to supplement the stamping of feet or hand clapping were idiophones struck directly against each other (self-klingers), percussion idiophones struck with a non-sounding object (stick), and also all kinds of rattles . When it comes to the striking movement, a distinction is made between a linear movement when stomping (thrust) and a circular movement – ​​from the arm or the wrist – when hitting the ball. The rhythmic stamping of feet on the ground can be acoustically improved by stamping the feet on a wooden board. Such stamping boards are known from some tropical regions in Africa and Asia as well as from Pacific islands and by Afro-Brazilians . The hits sound louder when the board is placed over a hole in the ground as a resonance chamber. In a further development step, the stamping movement of the feet is transferred to wooden poles or bamboo tubes in order to hit the board with them individually or in pairs. Indonesian women produce a mature musical form with the rammed trough lesung made from a tree trunk , which is otherwise used for threshing rice with long wooden poles. Dancing was also practiced on stamping boards laid over a pit, as is reported from some Melanesian islands.

Indonesian women threshing rice in a pounding trough, lesung , which is also used as a musical instrument. 1900-1920

Elsewhere, such as in Fiji , such boards were beaten with sticks. The striking motion makes the boards independent of their horizontal position above the ground, which is why most striking bars or boards are suspended from a frame or are transportable.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a group of Indians belonging to the Pomo in California stamped their feet on a 3 to 4 centimeter thick board laid across a long ditch in order to accompany the dancers with this rhythm. The Maidu , a Native American people of northern California, reportedly stamped their feet equally on a fire-hollowed log (precursor to a slit drum ) and on a sheet of birch bark (precursor to a membrane) over a pit in the ground, according to a 1905 account.

Since the early days, the earth pit has often been attributed a magical and mythical meaning. In this regard, Curt Sachs (1940) postulates that the motive behind the Paleolithic invention of musical instruments was not primarily considerations of utility (hunting bows for hunting), but rather the idea of ​​supernatural forces, to which one had to respond with magical rituals and symbols (the mouth bow as an older and independent invention). . A construction related to the earth drum is the earth arch , from whose membrane spread out over a pit in the middle a string is stretched to the tip of a stick stuck into the ground next to it. Another original stringed instrument, the earth zither with a string stretched horizontally across the floor, is structurally similar to the pickguard placed over a pit. Curt Sachs (1923) considers the earth zither to be the starting point of the musical bow , which is amplified by a resonator attached to the side , and he assigns the named instrument types earth bow, earth zither, music bow, slit drum and membraneophone to a “middle stratum” of the Stone Age development of musical instruments, which were not but took place in large regions on several continents.

The development of the membranophones paralleled that of the idiophones: from pounding to beating and from the stationary resonator of the earth drum to the stationary tubular drum to the portable drum of any shape. Hitting with hands precedes the use of sticks. Unlike a pickguard, the membrane of a drum does not sound by itself, but only produces a powerful, deep percussion sound when its vibrations are transmitted to the air space of a resonance body. Frame drums without a sound box sound quieter and higher. In the past, some Australian Aboriginal women used to slap each other's buttocks with their palms while standing while dancing, while elsewhere they occasionally slapped the ground with their palms. On the Murray River in south-east Australia, while sitting on the ground, other Aboriginal groups would place a piece of animal skin over their thighs, which they would beat with their hands or with sticks. Northcote W. Thomas (1906) reports that opossum skin was used for this and that there were no other native musical instruments in Australia. Such a percussion skin represents the archetype of a membranophone.

Mythical and magical ideas

Wooden single skin drum of the Lango people of Uganda in a 1910 British Museum ethnographic handbook

In many cultures, drum rhythms are considered to have great power and are indispensable for many rituals. Thus, the rhythmic beating of the shaman 's drum allows the shaman in his ecstatic session to summon spirits, fly to the sky or to the center of the world.

With the earth drum, an animal skin was stretched over a hole in the ground and fixed with pegs at the edges. The skin of a sacrificed animal was used for a ritual drum. She was beaten with his tail or with sticks. Earth drums are known from the Aborigines in Australia and Africa; on both continents they were mainly beaten by women. In North America , only men played the earth drum among the Apache Jicarilla . During healing ceremonies, they beat the patients' moccasins on the buffalo skin membranes. If North American Indians didn't have drums at their disposal in the past, a few men would stand in a circle. They held an animal skin with one hand and hit it with the other hand. An evolution from the earth drum to a body drum is an earlier construction made by the Ojibwe (Chippewa, Anishinabe Indians) of southern Canada. The Ojibwe drove a series of touching stakes into the ground in a circle, forming a cylindrical shape about two feet in diameter and the same height. They spread a skin over it, tightening it at notches on the pegs. The evolution of the portable tubular drum was completed with the Ojibwe dance drum. It consisted of a thin board of cedar wood, bent into a circle 30 centimeters in diameter, with a membrane stretched over it.

In its most original form, the tubular drum consists of a hollowed-out tree trunk that is placed on the ground and covered with a membrane on top. With its pit as a resonance space, the earth drum corresponds to a kettle drum . All drum types have always been surrounded by magical ideas more than other musical instruments and they are used in religious rituals and secular ceremonies ( ceremonial drums ). The production of drums used in this way is already subject to special customs and rules of avoidance, they are often kept in protected areas (drum houses) or belong to the insignia of the ruler (king's drum, naqqara ).

Curt Sachs (1940) works out the female aspect in the mythical ideas about drums and mentions sacrificial acts for the drum dhol before weddings of the Chamar, who belong to the Scheduled Tribes in northern India. After the drum has received various offerings, the drummer leads a procession of women to worship the folk goddess Dharti Mata ("Mother Earth"). Examples of other rituals and customs refer to the connection between the drum, the female gender, fertility and earth worship. The aspect of fertility is also expressed in the names of the drums of the Lango in northern Uganda. They call the largest drum min bul (“mother drum”) and the smallest atin bul (“child drum”).

Frame drums used in rituals are generally predominantly women's instruments, unless used by men for martial purposes. Terracotta figures from the Sumerian city ​​of Ur around 2000 BC. From this time depictions of dancing women with frame drums from Mesopotamia and many from 1570 B.C. Handed down from the New Kingdom in Egypt. In the eastern Mediterranean, the tof , mentioned in the Bible, was an instrument of women, and in the ancient Greek cult of the god of fertility , Dionysus , women performed with frame drums. In the South American Andes , as in many other cultures, women's drums are the main exception to musical instruments that are otherwise reserved exclusively for men. In this context, Curt Sachs (1940) also refers to some myths in which the drum of the women is linked to the idea of ​​a pit, milk, moon and night, such as an origin myth of the Wagawaga (Deamuni) in the Massim cultural region ( Milne Bay Province at the eastern tip of New Guinea ):

According to this, the Wagawaga used to have no drums until a hunter in a distant region heard muffled sounds from far below. He found a way into the earth and, following the sounds, came to two men who were playing drums. The hunter asked one of them to lend him his drum, but instead of returning it, he ran away with it to his village. The next day, while the two men were sleeping, the hunter returned to the underground location and stole more drums. The Wagawaga copied the drums and have been using them in their dances ever since.

The motif of stealing also occurs in other myths about the origin of drums and other musical instruments. They are usually stolen from supernatural beings. Among the Kiwai of Papua New Guinea, the first drum is born from a woman's body, and further south, in the Purari delta , a woman gives birth to the first drum and at the same time to the bringer of culture Iko, who also teaches people how to drum.

The Wahinda, a former ruling family in East Africa, which explorers reported on in the 19th century, cultivated a cult around a sacred state drum, which they had brought with them from their old homeland in the north to their settlement area of Uganda and neighboring regions as a sign of their dignity. The drum was housed in a special hut and was not allowed to be seen by normal people, even the sultan was only allowed to see it at new moon (and when there was a risk of war), otherwise this could mean death. According to legend, one of the drums was lost by moving itself. Someone found the drum buried in a swamp and recognized it by the spilling of milk. Another drum made off and hid in the earth, where it was accidentally discovered by women who saw a conspicuous mound of earth from which milk spilled as they digged. The drum was heard beating in the ground as it was dug up.

The two sacred drums in the Ugandan kingdom of Ankole were housed in a separate hut near the royal residence and were only played at the ruler's coronation ceremony. There they lay on a bed frame, surrounded by more drums. One of the drums was always beaten by the guards on a new moon. Bowls stood on the floor in front of the drums and were filled with milk from sacred cows as an offering every morning and evening. In the drum hut, the roof of which always had to be dome-shaped, Curt Sachs (1928) sees a symbol of the mother's womb and a pit in the ground.



The oldest Indian name for a drum, dundubhi , appears in Sanskrit texts from the late 2nd millennium BC. to about the 13th century AD. The dundubhi appears to have been used as a war drum, as it is mentioned in the Rigveda in connection with the thunder and war god Indra . According to other Vedic scriptures, its body was made of wood. Vedic music was fundamentally sacred and must therefore have been strictly regulated. At sacrificial ceremonies , priests sang accompanied by a women's choir. The earth drum bhumidundubhi (Sanskrit bhumi , "earth") is also mentioned in connection with sacrificial ceremonies . It consisted of a pit covered with ox skin, which was beaten with the animal's tail.

At the Soma sacrifice to mahavrata , a pit for the earthen drum was excavated near the sacrificial site, according to several sources from the Middle Vedic period. In addition to its character as a sacrificial ceremony, Mahavrata was a large community festival. The priests sat on wooden seats, the women singing and playing in the choir on mats on the floor. They played several stringed instruments with different names ( apaghatalika, apalavina and picchola , commonly vina ). They were accompanied by snail horns, reed flutes made from palm leaves ( nali, naadi ) and bamboo flutes ( tunava, turava, otherwise venu ). In addition, warriors drove around the sacrificial area in a chariot while shooting with bows and arrows at a piece of cowhide stretched between two posts . Then there was a chariot race. During all this and other activities, the earth drum was beaten. Thus, mahavrata appears as a celebration of the winter solstice and, moreover, as a religious ritual of sacrifice and blessing for the entire participating population: in addition to the Brahmins , there are also Kshatriyas and members of other castes. Similar enumeration of musical instruments in rituals features a large orchestra of bhumidundubhi, dundubhi , another wooden drum vanaspati , cymbals aghati , four different vina , including the 'hundred-stringed' ( satatantri vina , arguably a bowed harp like the yazh of southern India), and besides the mentioned wind instruments another one which was called bakura (cf. bhankora ). In the Katydyana Shrautasutra , on the other hand, only drums are mentioned as ritual accompaniment.

The earth drum beaten in the context of the Vedic ritual represents the sound of the earth and the mighty cry of the buffalo. In the Jaiminiya-Brahmana (part of the Samaveda ), the loud sounds produced by voices and musical instruments are mentioned as being significant in the ritual. The ox lets the mightiest voice sound in the form of the earth drum covered with its skin. Similarly, in the Panchavimsha-Brahmana it is said that in the corners of the altar place drums sound as the voices of the trees and the earth drum as the voice of the earth. All voices together make the voice of the universe.

The ritual counterweight to the earth drum is embodied by the priest of the gods Brihaspati , who in this capacity is related to the god of war Indra. Originally, Indra himself was introduced as a single figure of a combined priest-warrior. The high voice of the priest, which has a magical effect through rhythmic accentuation, is contrasted with the earth drum bhumidundubhi , which speaks from the depths of the earth. In the ritual instruction Apsudiksha it is said about the execution: Drums are positioned at the corners of the great altar. Behind the fire offering place ( agnidhra , from agni , "fire"), a hole is dug for the drum of earth, half inside and half outside the altar. After a wet hide is stretched over it, hairy side up, and fixed with posts ( adhvaryu ) on all sides, a cattle tail is taken to beat the drum.

In this and other versions of the ritual, the earth drum belongs to the mythical conception of the earth cave, which is connected with the underworld and hell of the Vedic tradition. The expression "digged hole" ( khata avata ), from which sweet healing juices flow, corresponds to the vessel in which the squeezed soma is collected. Bhumidundubhi thus includes the contrasting associations of the ominous stranger in the depths and the wondrous source of wealth and well-being. When the cowhide is slapped with the animal's tail, this symbolizes the hero's mythical struggle against the serpent as the monster or dragon in the deep ( áhir budhníyaḥ ), as if the animal's dwelling place or sanctuary is being slapped instead of the taut animal hide. The skin represents both the fertile dairy cow and the powerful bull. The idea of ​​the fertile womb is transferred to the pit. There is a sexual component in the root of the verb used to cover the pit with the animal skin, as does the Sanskrit term puccha / lāṅgūla ('tail') for the striking tool, which has an erotic meaning. In the mahavrata ritual, soma is also crushed with a pestle in a mortar ( ulukhala ) while the drumbeats are heard. According to Paolo Maria Rossi (2019), mortar and drum have the same magical function: when the plant is pounded, the pestle and mortar ensure that the soma juice spreads, just as when the drum is struck, the vibrations of the membrane spread the tones. A sexual component is also linguistically inherent in the mortar. In the ritual, both symbolize fertility and vitality. In a magical defense formula against miscarriage, the expression bhumibudhna ("earth-ground/ground/lowest") leads figuratively and linguistically to the earth drum bhumidundubhi .


Initiation dance of the Bomvana in South Africa with masked initiates ( abakweta ), where women used to beat the oxhide drum ingqongqo .

The San in South Africa , who traditionally live as hunters and gatherers , did not have drums in the past, but probably adopted them from the Khoikhoi , who raised cattle . According to an 1801 report, the San knew of a grating drum ( ingungu among the Zulu ), while in the 17th century several European travelers reported a kettle drum among the Khoikhoi, which consisted of a milk vessel made of wood, bamboo or clay and which still existed - in Made in the old tradition and covered with a damp goat skin - around 1930 at the Koranna . In the second half of the 17th century, Cape Malays who were brought as slaves from Southeast Asia brought the ghoema , a tubular drum with one skin, which was open at the bottom , to accompany these drums with a closed bottom .

In the course of the 17th century, the indigenous peoples of southern Africa were met by Bantu who had immigrated from the north. They knew the earth drum ingqongqo as the simplest drum , which was used by the Xhosa until the first half of the 20th century . No pit was dug for the ingqongqo . Instead, a sun-dried oxhide was fastened to the top of stakes driven into the ground so that the hide was about three feet horizontally above the ground. Small loops of skin were tied at regular intervals to the edge of the membrane. The players held the loops with their left hand to tighten the membrane and hit them with a stick ( amaqoqa ) about 60 centimeters long in their right hand. Another option for the players standing in a circle was to hold the sagging membrane freely with their left hand in order to hit it with a stick in their right hand. Women also left the oxhide on the ground and beat it while sitting around in a circle. Today, instead of the ingqongqo, wooden or sheet metal plates are beaten.

Probably the earliest mention of the ingqongqo is found in Cowper Rose's travelogue (1829). By the 1930s, the ingqongqo had become rare. It was played primarily during the abakweta dances at the initiation ceremony for boys associated with circumcision . During the initiation phase, they lived together in a grass hut ( itonto ), isolated from others. The drumming women were closer relatives of the boys. The drumbeats provided the rhythm of the dances and were intended to set the pace and encourage the dancing initiates. After the ceremonial circumcision, the parents slaughtered cattle and the boys were given plenty of meat food. The Bomvana, a Xhosa-speaking ethnic group in South Africa, also blew a single-tone bovine horn ( butyu , a simpler alternative to the antelope horn phalaphala ) at abakweta initiation.

The skin of the ingqongqo had to come from an ox slaughtered specifically for the abakweta ceremony and whose meat was not eaten. Usually a wealthy man whose son attended the initiation donated this ox. The skin was kept in the boys' initiation hut until it was used. During the time in the hut, the initiates carved decorations on the batons ( amaqoqa ) similar to those on the spears ( assegai ). Accordingly, the drum membrane is said to be derived from the war shield made of cowhide. During the dances, the boys would line up opposite the women in front of the cattle pen. The best dancer of the boys was rewarded with an assegai , the second best received a staff made of umsimbithi ( millettia grandis ) wood, or only umsimbithi staffs were issued. The cowhide was often destroyed at the end of the initiation ceremony.

Except for boy circumcision ceremonies, Xhosa used the ingqongqo in the initiation ( ukombela ) of magical healers ( sangoma ). The ukombela ceremony included drumming, dancing and hand clapping during a nightly gathering where those present sang special songs to induce the healer into a state of ecstasy ( ukuxentsa ). In addition to beating the ingqongqo , bundles of assegai were also beaten up. The Zulu used to practice similar rituals. In the parallel use of drum and spears, the drum membrane appears again as a derived form of the great shield of war.

Also included in this context of meaning is another Xhosa shield called an ikawu , made from spotted oxhide and struck with a black mallet. The smaller dance shield ikawu , a type of ceremonial war shield, was used along with the ingqongqo at night gatherings of boys and girls called umtshotsho . The girls sing and the boys call out in deep voices. According to reports from the early 19th century, Zulu hunters used a club ( knobkierie ) to hit shields ( ikawu ) to accompany songs of praise, such as for one of their own who had successfully killed a lion. Cowper Rose (1829) describes how a Xhosa rainmaker was summoned to a chief who was said to be sick with witchcraft. At the healing ceremony, women stood in a semicircle, uttering monotonous screams and striking great war shields.



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