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This unit focuses on aerophones a group of instrumental communication. According to Ibagere (1994:91-91) aerophones:

…are musical instruments which produce sound as a result of the vibration of a column of air which is forced through a kind of pipe. It is the mouth that is usually used to force this air through the instrument. The aerophones include instruments such as the flute family, reed pipes, horns, trumpet and other such kinds.


At the end of this unit of study, students should be able to:

  1. list the types of aerophones drawing from their cultures 
  2. discuss some types of aerophones found in their cultures 
  3. discuss the communication functions of aerophones in African. 


3.1 Whistles, Pipes and Flutes

Whistling by forcing breath through closed lips communicate in Africa. Similarly, Akpabio (2003) stated that the use of instruments like deer horn, ivory tusk, gourd or reed pipes serve as devices and for the most parts as musical instruments in African communication. Similarly, drawing from the Ukwuani speaking people of Ndokwa West Local Government Area of Delta State, some examples are discussed below.

Odu, according to Ogwezzy (1999), Odu is the biggest of all. It is of wild animal large horn, e.g. Antelope. Odu Ossai is the herbalist flute. It is produced mainly from tips or fractions of elephant tusks. It could also be fashioned out of soft wooded trunks of plants. It is called Odu Ossai because it is used for shrine services.

Opi is a slim gourd trumpet. According to Ogwezzy (1999), it is the widest traditional channel of communication since it could be heard at a distance of over four miles. It is the people’s voice and news media.

Ekpili or Eze-Anu is a trumpet made of elephant tusk. It is like hawk among the family of birds. So, it is among other instrumental sound producing appliances. It is their king honoured above all (Ogwezzy, 1999). It is usually beautifully designed by artists who carve them. They have two openings. The larger ones release sound into the air. The small ones are carved from elephant canines and just scarcely enough to admit the tips of the two lips, which are very firmly printed in the whole to force out sound and required messages. Only experts in it produce audible and intelligent messages from them, because they are difficult to operate. They are very precious possessions, which only monarchs and their children own. Those who possess them automatically are princes and so exempted from community labour or taxes of all kinds. Owners only carry them and occasionally blare them into the air to show that the community is at work.

Ofili is operated by only skilled pipers who comfortably blow in air that force out required sounds and messages. Its messages are received well by actors to whom the message is directed.

The piper exerts greater force than others to produce the required sounds and messages. It sends the head reeling with burning desire to act in defiance of even death. It acts, serves in absence and defiance of Ekpili or Eze-Anu. It is a master of itself and can appear in any show that demands force and valliancy. It raises very high sensations in people.

Ulete are flutes produced from good branches of Indian bamboos. The tail of a node of the branch is neatly cut off. The other end is also neatly cut off very close to the corked point. It usually has seven holes all on top and on straight line. However, the first hole is separated from the other six which are located closer to the open end. The piper’s hole is located far from others to enable him blow or pipe comfortable into it for his desired music for social entertainments.

3.1.1 The Communication Functions of Whistles, Pipes and Flutes

Odu is the instrument used in summoning the Council of Elders’ meeting – the council of the community. Early in the morning at about five-thirty (5:30am) on Eke days (native Sunday, of nine days interval); it is blown to invite everybody to the Council of Elders, chiefs and all. It could be blown also on emergency cases on ordinary days when something requiring the attention and action of the people such as sharing of meat got from hunting expedition or sharing fish from community lakes and when there is any emergency.

Odu Ossai produces only a kind of sharp sound to show the presence of a herbalist or a physician. When a physician visits “sacred places” such as cemeteries, grave yards, lakes, streams, rivers, evil forests etc, they blow it once on a sharp note to inform or warn spirits of the approach of people. Its use is believed to invoke spirits, warn them of the presence of lay people and invite them to the services of herbalists. It is one of herbalist’s tools. It has a place among collections of ancestral shrines of rich families.

Opi: The uses of Opi are numerous but mainly for social purposes. It is used to summon people to community labour, hunting and festival camps and camp sites; and inform farmers that it is time for them to leave for home for security reasons; encourage, discourage, stop, warn and moderate a speaker in an audience. It calls the hunters together in emergency. It also coordinates the hunters and points the way to a lost hunter in the bush. At nights, this same medium sounds to ward off thieves. The whistle also summons hunters to meetings. It informs them of the time to go for game-hunting and when to return home.

It offers secret guide or advice to a speaker and people who understand its language. It also offers checks and balances on a speaker’s time by secretly advising him on brevity.

It is also used during festivals to raise festival songs for the chief artists. The trumpeter uses it to direct and stimulate the artists and the whole dance. At times of emergencies, it is used to raise alarm and warn the people of possible danger. It is also of great value when searching for a missing person. The trumpeter uses it to call the person’s name, alert him/her of people searching for him/her, and of the direction of the people. It is used to tell the person to indicate that he/she is alive and how to reach him/her.

Furthermore, Opi is very important to a chief on his initiation day both as an escort, information carrier or errand man in inviting people to the ceremony. During the ceremony, it directs and tells the new initiate on how to take steps, and other actions during installation ceremonies (Ogwezzy, 1999).

One exclusive use of Ekpili or Eze-Anu is to raise alarm. To hear an alarm from Ekpili or Eze-Anu is to see yourself in a war front or search for a missing person. Therefore, to hear the blaring of an Ekpili or Eze-Anu is a warning to charge yourself with whatever would make you a valliant man. The only mild sound of Ekpili or Eze-Anu is heard when a king or a noble or chief is led- through the town and on ceremonial occasions. The owner never blows it except a dire need arises. Wilson (1998) specifically stated that the ivory tusk in Ibibio land is used to:

  1. settle quarrels; 
  2. inform citizens of the death of kings, serious calamities; and grave occurrence; 
  3. place injunctions on disputed land and property; 
  4. offer final word on issues; and 
  5. inform members of secrets societies members about important festivals. 
  6. In other parts of Nigeria, it is used among the:
  7. Igbos to greet kings while passing through their domain; 
  8. Yorubas to communicate the greatness of a hunter for killing an elephant; 
  9. Igbos to welcome new members by the Nze society; and 
  10. Annangs of Akwa-Ibom State to welcome a new wife. 

Ofili is a piccolo. This is a sound producing appliance. It is less than a foot long and of a narrow hole. It is produced from wild animal horns such as buffalos and deers. Most of them are rugged, or twisted. The tips are usually sharp and pointed. Externally, it is rough but smooth internally. It has two openings. The main or larger hole is on the larger end where the horn was attached to the skull of its original owner- buffalo or deer. The second hole is cut to admit lips near the pointed end (Ogwezzy, 1999).

Apart from Ofili produced from horns of animals, there are others from Indian bamboo and wood. This type is very small but powerful. It is less than six inches long. The hole may hardly admit a candle stick. It has only an opening which is carved both sides like a “V”.

Also, among the Hausas, trumpets (Kakaki) are used in addition to drums (Tambari) to herald the Emir to public functions.

According to Akpabio (2003:19), “Cow horn is used to remove bad blood or poison and administer drugs among the Hausa/Fulani [in

Northern Nigeria]. It is also used in consuming palmwine as well as to announce the death of a great farmer”. It dictates tones in music and steps in dances. It tells actors of what to do, how to do, when to do and where to go. It carries and delivers all messages and information that any sound system is required. The sound from it is very high, harsh, inciting and most sensational.

Ulete serves in delivering messages like others, but mainly for entertainments, social and personal needs. This medium is blown like a trumpet. It is used by the age group to communicate communal work to members; while youths practised using it to call and invite their loved ones to their secret hide outs without parents knowing what is happening around them (Ogwezzy, 1999).

Mede (1998) stated that the flute referred to as Imyar is a phallic symbol and consequently played only by men in Tiv land. It is used to relay information on death, war, marriage or other feasts depending on the tune played. Wilson (1998: 35-36) stated that it is used for praise singing and at funeral of members of Ebre society in Akwa-Ibom and Cross-River States); during the installation of Emirs and marriages in Northern Nigeria; in announcing Ogun festival in Ondo town (a town in Ondo State, Nigeria); and to direct Ojomu during new yam festival in Yorubaland. Summarising the functions of aerophones, Doob (1966:100) and Wilson (1998:34) stated that these instruments transmit messages during skirmishes and wars.


Aerophones produce sounds as a result of vibrations drawn from the air to produce the sounds. The player must have enough energy to produce intended sounds; and the skilfulness required, requires training and practice. They are used to entertain, summon people to action at work or war.

In Ukwuani, Ekpili, Ulete and Ofili are sensational. They are like earth moving machines. They move men to dare the devil, vault into battle fronts, rush at foes and their guns as if, they are clamping at games on a hunting ground. They set the heart and blood high at war, love and entertainment. Their sounds, if not for entertainments send women and children scampering into their rooms while the men dress up and dash away to clatter swords, cutlasses and embrace bullets on the fields of valour.


This unit presented aerophones. It looked at the types, features and their communication functions.


List the types of aerophones discussed in this unit.


  1. List two types of aerophones in your culture. 
  2. Discuss the communication functions of the two types of aerophones found in your culture, which you listed in (ii) above. 


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