This unit focuses on membraneophone, a group of instrumental communication devices.
At the end of this unit of study, students should be able to:
- list the types of membraneophones drawing from their culturesdiscuss some types of membraneophones
- discuss the communication functions of the various membraneophones devices commonly used in African communication.
3.0 MAIN CONTENT
3.1 What are Membranophones?
According to Wilson (1987), membranophones are media on which sound is produced through the vibration of membranes. They include all varieties of skin or leather drum. These drums are beaten or struck with well carved sticks. Such drums include the ‘Iya lu’ in the dundun set or drums among the Yoruba, the “Ikoro” by the Igbo and the drum of the Ikine Society among the Kalabari (Akinfeleye, 1986). It is also called ‘Ajo’ among the Tiv people of Nigeria. (Mede,1998). Again, Ibagere (1994:91) stated that membraneophone:
As Omu (1978:4) puts it when some drums are expertly sounded, they are capable of conveying specific meaning i.e. they “talk”. The “talking drum” is one of the most fascinating agencies of communication in Africa. The Yorubas of South Western geo-political Zone of Nigeria have an impressive array of talking drums sets and probably possess the richest heritage of drums the prominent of which is dundun – said to be able to imitate all the tones and gibes in Yoruba speech, hence can be used to communicate insults, praises, admonition and even proverbs which are understood by the initiated (Omu, 1978:4).
Naming the skin drums Akpabio (2003:17-18) stated that:
…skin drum goes by various names in different parts of Nigeria and the size of the drums are factored into the names they are given. Known as Ibit among the Ibibios, differentiation is made between the big and small drums with the addition of the prefix[es] eka[-] and etok[-] for the former and latter respectively. The situation is different in the Hausa language as each size of drum goes by a different name: emi-big; Kalangu-medium; and Kanzagi-small. Among the Yorubas who have a rich variety of skin drums one encounters names such as Gangan, Bata, Sakara, Omele, Dundun, Iya Ilu, etc
3.2Types of Membranophones
Skin Drums (Rub-A-Dub): Skin drums are found throughout African. Skin drums which Ogwezzy (1999) described as the rub-a-dub of modern days are of various sizes and are used for sundry purposes. According to Akpabio (2003:17) “Though they serve as musical instruments accompanying song and dance performances, they are also known to be capable of “talking”.
Some are two-in-one for joint uses. Others are single for specific uses and occasions. They are made of round parts of trunks of soft-wooded plants of varied girths. Sizes depend on the needs and uses. They range between one foot to six feet tall, six inches and one foot or more in diameter at the top cover. They are hollowed through the middle. Externally, they are carved tapering more to the bottom and a little to the top which is always larger (Ogwezzy, 1999). They are tightly wrapped at the top and bottom for highly sensitive sounds. This description fits the obene, Okili and okuma used among the Ukwuani speaking people of Ndokwa West Local Government Area of Delta State, Nigeria.
Obene are tightly wrapped at the top and bottom for highly sensitive sounding ones used by shrine worshippers and oraclists.
Okili is a small talking drum. It is wrapped on top only for music and other needs. A set is made up of two of them and for it to produce the melody, it combines with some aerophones (a gourd trumpet, Opi; Ekpili or Eze-Anu, elephant tusk (piccolo); and ofili, buffalo horn). These are discussed in the next unit on aerophones.
The largest most revered and awful is okuma. It is about six feet tall and over a foot in diameter at the top. The cover cap is of strange and special skins or leathers which now could be those of tigers, leopards or lions, gorilla, jaguar etc. Okuma is always kept in an exclusive shrine site where only tested men of valour enter. It is put out rarely to the public on a special annual festival ceremony – Ikenge for veteran warlords and intrepid hunters who killed animals such as lions, leopards, tigers, and carried out other acts of valour or heroism.
Almost all have three triangular hole designs at the bottom end to enable them stand if needed. The leathers used to cap the drums (Obene and Okili) except that of rams are mainly of wild animals such as deer, antelope and large snakes. The leathers are tightly strung to the open ends with a net-work of strings of raffia fibres round the open ends of the hollowed ring of wood. The leather work is further fastened by plugging three carved flat pieces of wooden plugs. The wooden plugs are firmly tucked by the sides between the fibre rings and the wooden frame. To constitute a complete set for a leather-capped drum, there must be strikers –Eka Nkwa. It is made of soft or light pieces of wood or soft part of raffia palm branch. It could also be made of cane strung to design to suit needs and uses. The rub-a-dub from the drums depends on the size, length, diameter and of course, the leathers too. To, increase the sound from the drum in the modern day, the user places it close to a microphone.
3.2.1 The Communication Functions of Skin Drums
Among the ukwuani speaking people of Ndokwa West Local Government Area of Delta State, the talking drums are used to stimulate and incite people into actions. Of course, they are also used to mellow down people’s tempers or soothe them, or cheer them up. They produce vibrations that raise spirits of people at tense moments. They are mainly used during festivals, wrestling contests, some burial ceremonies, hunting expeditions, installation of chiefs, etc (Ogwezzy, 1999). During festivals, talking drums are put into rampant uses by all age grades and groups to call their grades and groups into moods, actions and to assemble them. During other ceremonies, they are used to encourage chief artists – dancers and wrestlers to be keen, strong and dexterous (Ogwezzy, 1999).
Talking drums direct chiefs on steps and skills to adopt during public exhibitions to avoid errors and win public acclamations during their initiations in foot-work dances. So, one other special use of the talking drums is the noble dance during installation of chiefs. During the dance, the rub-a-dub drums tell, direct and influence actors’ steps and behaviours at every dance. It incites, excites and stirs them into gale action, when they have to demonstrate various aspects of past adventures and gallantry. When messages and instructions from the instruments die down or slowly fade away; actors slump as if they have just ended a marathon race (Ogwezzy, 1999).
Skin-drums are important in the socio-cultural context of Africans. They promote development and entertainment in Africa and are still relevant in the modern African settings.
Drums produce vibrations, e.g. skin or leather drums. They are beaten to convey, incite and entertain the audience as well as stimulate and motivate the people to keep them going. The objects are beaten with carefully structured and designed instruments such as carved sticks.
SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE
Name the various membranenophones found in your culture.
6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT
- Name two types of drums found in your culture.
- Describe the two drums named.
- Discuss the communication functions of one of the drums described.