Friday, May 18, 2012

Akan Talking Drums Verses From R.S. Rattray's book "Ashanti" - Part I

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part post which presents the English translation of several Ashanti talking drum verses found in R.S. Rattray's 1923 book Ashanti.

Part II of this post provides additional verses from that book. For Part II, click

The content of this post is presented for historical, educational, folkloric, and aesthetic purposes. The copyrights remain with their owners. My hope is that reposting the book excerpt helps to raise positive awareness about Ghanaian culture & prompts viewers to learn more about that culture.

My thanks to the composers of these drum verses, and to R.S. Rattray for documenting these verses.

[The author's words are given here in italics to better distinguish them from the drum verses. The title of these verses is given here in capital letters but is written in italics in the book.]

"The chief took about forty-five minutes to dress and change into his rope of state, and this interval was filled by the old drummr, Osai Kojo, talking on his two ntumpane drums, and telling all who could understand their language the history of that particular division.

I have given elsewhere in this volume an account of the talking drums and of the drum language, and I shall here quote only a few verses of what the drums were saying on this occasion at B___. It must, of course, be understood that I did not follow at the time one-tenth of what they were recounting. I later spent many weeks with the old drummer, working out syllable by syllable and tone by tone, what is here given in an English translation only.

Oh, Divine Drummer, I am scarcely awake and have risen up.
I, the Ashanti porcupine chief's drummer,
I am scarcely awake,"
I have made myself to rise up,
I am about to sound the drum.
If you have gone elsewhere and I call you,
The fowl has crowed in the morning,
The fowl has awakened and crowed,
Very early,
They are addressing me and I shall understand.

He then called upon the spirit of the cedar-tree and of the elephant, part of which had gone towards the making of the composite drum. The following verse is a variation of that used at Mampon.

There are swamps, swamps, swamps,
Which can swallow up the elephant.
A river may lie small in the valley
Between great hills.
But it flows on for ever and ever.
If you (spirit of the elephant) have gone elsewhere and I call upon you
The fowl has crowed in the morning, &c.[etc.]"

[Continued in Part II of this post.]

*Source - R. S. Rattray: London, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1959, Chapter V "A Wednesday Adae Ceremony", pps 100-101; originally published in 1923

Click for information about Robert Sutherland Rattray (1881– 1938).

ANOTHER RELATED LINK West African Talking Drums

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