Akan Drum, Gold Coast, early 18th cent.

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This record was last updated on 24 Dec 2012

Image Reference

Photo taken, with permission, from the website of the British Museum (www.britishmuseum.org); © Trustees of the British Museum

An Akan-style wooden drum (approximately sixteen inches high), originally from the southern Gold Coast, West Africa. It was transported across the Atlantic, probably on a slave ship, and collected by a Reverend Clerk in Virginia. Evidently, the drumhead was reskinned (likely with the American white-tailed deer) in America before Clerk sent the drum in the 1720s or 1730s to Sir Hans Sloane, a prominent English physician and naturalist. Upon Sloane’s death, the drum became part of the founding collection of the British Museum in London (where it is still housed). Initially misidentified in the museum’s collections as an “Indian” drum (suggesting that it may have been collected from a Native American group), the object was correctly identified as African in 1906. Drums were the most common musical instruments used on eighteenth-century British slave ships when captive Africans were forced to “dance” for exercise, and this drum may have served that purpose. Aside from archaeological specimens of African origin (e.g., “Newton Plantation Cemetery” images on this website) this is one of the oldest known ethnographic objects of African origin that migrated to North America via the transatlantic slave trade. For details, see the British Museum website (www.britishmuseum.org) and Devorah Romanek, “To the Beat of the Drum,” British Museum Magazine (Autumn 2010), pp. 28-29. Thanks to John Davy of the British Museum for his help in interpreting this object. For drums on slave ships, see Handler, “The Middle Passage and the Material Culture of Captive Africans,” Slavery and Abolition (Vol. 30, March 2009), pp. 1-26.