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Ancient African drum on display at British Museum

posted 13 Sep 2010, 05:58 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 13 Sep 2010, 06:00 ]

The oldest African-American object on display at the British Museum -- the Akan-drum was taken from West Africa to the Colony of Virginia as part of the slave trade.


LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (SEPTEMBER 10, 2010) REUTERS - The Akan drum is the oldest African-American object in the British Museum, brought from West Africa to the Colony of Virginia as part of the slave trade around 1735.

'Akan' refers to an ethnic and linguistic group from West Africa which includes the Fante, Asante and Akuapem, and its culture is most apparent today in Ghana.

The drum was acquired by Sir Hans Sloane, whose collection formed the basis of the British Museum when it was founded in 1753.

Broadcaster, playwright, and British Museum Trustee Bonnie Greer has been involved in the creation of the display, which focuses on two main themes - the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the origins of African-American music.

"First of all it is the oldest African-American object in existence," Greer said. "It is an ancestor in a way that African peoples understand ancestors because it made their crossing."

The first part of the display describes the journey of the drum from West Africa to the Colony of Virginia, relating the suffering and displacement of peoples as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

This journey would have typically included the practice of 'dancing the slaves', where enslaved Africans were forcibly exercised on board the slave ships, a practice in which it is likely this drum would have played a part.

Greer said that the drum was probably used for the so-called 'Dance of the slaves'. "It is very difficult for us now to take on board now that these people who were stolen and sold on the West coast of Africa were basically merchandise, they were like horses or fine cars, and you had to keep them moving so if you can imagine people being underground on a ship, a grotty little wooden ship on a terrible Atlantic journey, having to be brought upstairs to get some fresh air, not to be depressed, to fight disease, because the minute they got off the ship in Virginia they would have been put in a holding pen and then put up to be sold. So this drum enabled them to remember, to hold on to some kind of connection with the old country."

Devorah Romanek, the curator of the North American Collections at the museum says that the knowledge about the slave trade is especially very important because "... the history is very painful and people should know it to understand their contemporary existence in terms of the trans-Atlantic slave trade but it's also something to be celebrated and people should understand that and sort of make their connection that history can be like that, can be incredibly painful and really also something to celebrate."

The second part of the display examines the massive influence of African and African-American music on most popular music from the 20th century onwards, including jazz, blues, R&B, and rock 'n' roll, as Greer explains its influence.

"This drum holds the traditions of loads of things, like rap, salsa, reggae, a lot of the music that is contemporary in West Africa now, European music, it's about that call and response, it's about the groove, it's about all of those notions that we have in rock'n'roll, jazz and rap and all of it," she says.

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