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How the Drums Talk

by Bryan Donaldson

If you like talking to the telephone, you might like African drums
talk even better. Drum sheds are still used in the Congo and gong
messages echo through the jungle just as they did when Henry Morton
Stanley searched for Dr. Livingstone.
African languages are tonal. Within each word are syllables of high
and low pitch. An incorrect pitch alters the meaning of the words. One
missionary was horrified to discover that he was teaching the children to
say May thy kingdom not come, may thy will not be done on earth as it
is in heaven.
Congo drummers translate high and low sounding syllables into
gong messages. Gong phrases rather than individual words are used to
clarify similar syllable combinations.
Congo drums are made from logs. A slit is carved and the red heartwood is hollowed out. One side of the drum is made thicker than the other
side. Womens Lib has not yet come to the Congo. The thin side of the
drum is a female gong; it produces high, gentle tones. The male side is
used for bigger and lower syllables. Sometimes two different drums are
used to produce male and female sounds.
Some drums are carved into animal shapes complete with head,
tail, and four legs. The carved-out slot follows the animals backbone.
Each gong has its own name which is beaten out at the beginning and end
of every message, much like radio-broadcasting station identification.
Birds do not steal from a person without food is the name of one gong.
Another: Ears of mine do not listen to what people say
Sometimes a small piece of iron attached to the drum produces a
voice-like quality so realistic that at one time many people thought the
drums really spoke words. All talking drums imitate the rise and fall of
vocal tones. In Akan drum language, How are you? is said Wo ho ten
sen? The first and third syllables are low and the drummer beats on the
male drum.

Drums convey many kinds of messages: warnings, praise, blame,


and greetings. Even poetry and prayers are chanted in Akan drum
language:
The heavens are wide, exceedingly wide.
The earth is wide, exceedingly wide.
We have lifted it and taken it away.
We have lifted it and brought it back.
From time immemorial.
The God of olds bid us all
Abide by His injunctions.
Then we shall get whatever we want.
Be it white or red.
It is God the Creator, the Gracious One.
Good morning to you, God. Good morning.
I am learning, let me succeed.
Important messages are often relayed from village to village, and a
distance of 100 miles can be covered in a few hours. There is no universal
drum language, but drummers are often bilingual.
Sometimes other African musical instruments use gong language.
Antelope horns can send messages a mile or more. Wind instruments that
have only one finger hole are blown like a flute or clarinet to produce high
and low sounds as the player covers and uncovers the hole. Fishermen
boast of their catch by calling vocally in drum language. Ki represents the
high tone and li the low tone.
Each person in drum-signaling communities has a drum name.
Wawina, a medical assistant in Likela, was called, The proud man will
never listen to advice. Bofoma, a servant, answered to, Dont laugh at
a black skin because everybody has one. John Carrington, author of
Talking Drums of Africa was named. The white man, if he dances up into
the sky, men of the village will laugh ha! ha!
Sports are broadcast on drums: Let the wrestling begin. Trip one
another up. And when the match is over. See the hero! Full of pride!
War is announced on drums:
War which watches for opportunities
Has come to the town
Belonging to us

Today as it is dawned
Come, come, come, come
The drum encourages the fighter:
Make the drum strong.
Strengthen your legs, spear, shaft, and head.
The noise of running feet; Think not to run away.
The drum calls the Lokele folk to the universal African pastime, the dance:
Let us dance
In the evening
When the sky has gone down the river
Down to the ground.
Talking drums telegraph their messages by pitch and not by
anything resembling Morse code. Drumming requires skill achieved only
by a few. A drummer in the act of drumming is considered a sacred
person.
Drums are much used by popular bands, by associations such as
hunters, military, and religious groups, and by the state. Drummers
perform on command or by custom and tradition.
The drummer of the talking drums enjoys an honored position. He
can mildly insult the chief and remain free. He is thought to be closest to
the spirit of the ancestor chiefs.
Questions Adopted from English Expressways Textbook for Second
Year
1.
2.
3.

What can you say about the ingenuity of the Africans in sending
messages?
What kinds of messages are conveyed by drums?
What is meant by the statement African languages are tonal.

4.
How do Africans send their messages? How does their technique
differ from our means of communicating messages? Account for the
differences.
5.

How is the tonal quality reflected in the drum messages?


PARALLEL STRUCTURE

Recognizing Parallel Constructions


When a writer is presenting a series of equally important details in a
sentence, he or she should try to make the items balanced, or parallel.
When the sentences are presented in different forms, they are nonparallel,
and the resulting sentence is not smooth. Let us consider the following
sentence:
Mixed:
We enjoy reading novels, collecting stamps, and
to play tennis.
The sentence is nonparallel because two gerund phrases, reading novels
and collecting stamps, are mixed with an infinitive phrase, to play tennis.
In order to make the elements of the sentence parallel, to play tennis
could be changed into a gerund phrase.
Parallel: We enjoy reading novels, collecting stamps, and playing
tennis.
Remember that one of the fundamental rules of our language is that
similar ideas should be expressed in similar grammatical structures. When
we want to talk about a series of things, qualities, ideas, problems,
processes, or feelings, we combine a word with a word, a phrase with a
phrase, or a clause with a clause.
Parallel words. When a writer lists a series of words, the words in the
series should be all nouns, all adjectives, or all adverbs, but not mixed.
Mixed: The celebrity was charming, witty, and a beauty.
Charming and witty are adjectives; however, beauty is a noun. For the
sentence to be parallel, beauty must be in adjective form.
Parallel: The celebrity was charming, witty, and beautiful.
Parallel phrases. When a writer lists a series of phrases, all the phrases
should be the same all gerund phrases, all infinitive phrases, all
participial phrases, or all prepositional phrases.
Mixed: Her aims were to study, to travel, and someday having a
family.
The sentence is nonparallel because two infinitive phrases, to study and
to travel, are mixed with a gerund phrase, having a family. For the
sentence to be parallel, having a family could be changed to an infinitive.
Parallel: Her aims were to study, to travel, and to have a family.
Parallel clauses. When a writer lists a series of clauses, all the clauses in
the series should be the same. They should all be noun clauses, all
adjective clauses, or all adverb clauses.
Mixed: What we say and the things that we do are never quite the
same.

What we say is a noun clause; the things that we do is a noun followed by


an adjective clause. In order to make the elements of the sentence
parallel, the things that we do could be changed into a noun clause.
Parallel: What we say and what we do are never quite the same.
I.

Parallel Constructions using Coordinating Conjunctions:

A. Words:

Joe found the new jacket light yet firm.

B. Phrases:

Spencer was not fond of sleeping on the hard


ground or of eating freeze dried dinners.

C. Subordinate Clauses: Fred knew that Mabel was the best swimmer on
the team and that Jason didn't have a chance
against her.

D. Main Clauses:

II.

I was concerned about the weather; moreover, I


was worried that the car didn't have enough gas.

Parallel Constructions using Correlative Conjunctions:

A. Words:

Joe found the new jacket not only light but also
firm.

B. Phrases:

Spencer was fond neither of sleeping on the hard


ground nor of eating freeze dried dinners.

III.

C. Subordinate Clauses:

Fred knew both that Mabel was the best swimmer and that Jason didn't have a
chance against her.

D. Main Clauses:

Either you do something about the backlog or I will be forced to take matters
into my own hands.

Parallel Constructions using Punctuation: Semicolons can be used to balance main clauses closely
associated with one another.

George liked hunting with a rifle; Fred liked hunting with a bow.
Napoleon had his Waterloo; I, my grammar test.
[Note that in this construction the comma stands in for the verb. The reader knows that the verb of the first clause is the
verb of the second.]

Practice Questions
Q1. These remarks, spoken with asperity, stung the boys to whose they had been directed to. No error.
A
B
C
D
E
Q2. Hamlet vowed he would avenge his fathers murder, punish Claudius for his horrible crime. No error.
A
B
C
D
E
Q3. When the bank examiners arrived to hold their annual audit, discovered the embezzlements of the
A
B
C
D
chief cashier. No error.
E
Q4. Juliet studied the garbled instructions a bemused look on her face. No error.
A
B
C
D
E
Q5. The recent rains filled our empty reservoirs were a boon to the whole country. No error.
A
B
C
D
E
Q6. The carpenter shut the workshop door, sliding the heavy metal bolt into place. No error.
A
B
C
D
E

1.

Choose the correct sentence:

A.
The chapter "Taking Notes" gives
useful hints, such as making
notes that are brief, well organized, and
original.
B.
The chapter "Taking Notes" gives
useful hints, such as making
notes that are brief, organization, and
written in your own words.
C.
The chapter "Taking Notes" gives
useful hints, such as making
notes that are brief, well organized, and
writing in your own
words.
2.

Choose the correct sentence:

A.
We'll never forget the head matron,
who never had a kind word for

anyone, who had no sympathy, was viletempered, and cruel.


B.
We'll never forget the head matron,
who was cruel, unsympathetic, was
vile-tempered, and who never had a kind
word for anyone.
C.
We'll never forget the cruel,
unsympathetic, vile-tempered head
matron, who never had a kind word for
anyone.
3.

Choose the correct sentence:

A.
Mr. Foster is not only an excellent
barber but also he sings.
B.
Mr. Foster is not only an excellent
barber but also a good singer.

C.
Mr. Foster is not only an excellent
barber, but he is also a good singer.
4.

Choose the correct sentence:

A.
Mr. Harris could work on the project
since he is both interested in it,
and also he is familiar with the problems
involved.
B.
Mr. Harris could work on the project
since he is both interested in it and
familiar with the problems involved.
C.
Mr. Harris could work on the project
since he is both interested in it and
has some familiarity with the problems
involved.
5.

Choose the correct sentence:

A.
The college was founded by Amos
R. Tompkins, who was a captain of
industry, a philanthropist, and went to
college himself.
B.
The college was founded by Amos
R. Tompkins, who was a captain of
industry, a philanthropist, and a scholar
himself.
C.
The college was founded by Amos
R. Tompkins, who was a captain of
industry, a scholar himself, and believed in
philanthropy.

6.

Choose the correct sentence:

A.
This computer is good-looking,
economical, and you can take it
anywhere you want.
B.
This computer is good-looking,
portable, and doesn't cost much.
C.
This computer is good-looking,
economical, and portable.
7.

Choose the correct sentence:

A.
The book was written in India,
translated in Germany, and a company in
England published it.
B.
The book was written in India,
translated in Germany, and published in
England.

C.
The book was written in India,
translated in Germany, and a publisher in
England published it.
8.

Choose the correct sentence:

A.
The road is wide, hard-surfaced all
the way, and relatively straight.
B.
The road is wide, hard-surfaced all
the way, and doesn't have many
curves.
C.
The road is wide, hard-surfaced all
the way, and it is also relatively
straight.
9.

Choose the correct sentence:

A.
Uncle Theodore blithely predicted
that we would find Wes working on
either his motorcycle or reading some hotrodder magazines.
B.
Uncle Theodore blithely predicted
that we would find Wes either
working on his motorcycle or reading
some hot-rodder magazines.
C.
Uncle Theodore blithely predicted
that we would find Wes either
working on his motorcycle, or he would be
reading some hot-rodder
magazines.
10.

Choose the correct sentence:

A.
At first, Elias Howe's sewing
machine was thought to be too expensive
and too hard to use for general use.
B.
At first, Elias Howe's sewing
machine was thought to be too expensive
and that it was too complicated for
general use.
C.
At first, Elias Howe's sewing
machine was thought to be too expensive
and too complicated for general use.