Well, many have called and asked why such a heavy article as Magic & Ritual Abuse: Female Circumcision in Central and West Africa and how does this relate to women drummers? The answer must be given in social and cultural context. We wrote earlier on the history of djebe drumming in America, and that the djembe came to popularity in the early to mid 70’s. Many Africans began teaching traditional drumming in the United States and later established drum camps in Africa frequented by many American and European students.
Africans first began teaching primarily in the African American communites. Initial attempts by African American women, to engage with these teachers met with incredible resistance and in many cases, hostility. These teachers brought with them their inherent cultural beliefs, including the belief that women should not play the djembe, a drum reserved for men. While some women were taught to play, many were emotionally, physicall and psychically abused. It was easier for these teachers to teach white males and females than to drum with African American Women. In addition, African men who taught women, were also abused and scorned. One master drummer told me over dinner how he was physically beaten on several occasisions for daring to teach African American women to play the ngoma. I asked him why, then, would he continue. “ His response was simple, this is America and I can do here what I can’t do at home. I can make a living and the tradition will continue. Women know and women want to know.
Fortunately, many of these women, these Grandmothers of the Drum, as we call them, continued to play and focused their attention on bringing the drum and it’s messages to other women. A women;s Drummng movement ws born. Among these Grandmothers are Nurdafina Pile Abena, Edwina Tyler, Linda Thomas Jones and Ubaka Hill. These women influenced and helped to create a viable women’s drumming movement. they may not have intended this, but the fact is that is what occurred. Women now make up the vast majority of djembe students and djembe drummers in the United States. We will be posting articles on these living oracles in the coming weeks.
While women compose the bulk of African drum students we have noticed that, as a group, few African American women attend drumming classes or drumming circles. In fact, while the sistahs step out to dance and back it up, most black women will not touch a drum; still perceiving this as the dominion of men. I know some black women who will play a conga, but won’t touch the djembe, and those who will play djembe but show genuine fear when asked about playing bata. They will play the bell, chekere, anything but the drum.
I believe the issue rest in the understanding of Odu and the Desecration of the Womb. While the term “Odu” is specific to the Yoruba based traditions, of Ifa, Santeria and Lukumi, the concept is universal in West and Central Africa. The prohibition of women not playing the drums of men, the power drums, was an inherent step in appropriating the power of women.
It is estimated that 80-90% of all African Americans are of Yoruba descent. Femal circumcisionis part of the tribal make up of most Yoruba tribal cultures. In this generation, 90% of Nigerian women have been circumcised in one way or another. As stated in the previous article, the practice began in Egypt and followed what became the Yoruba people as they migrated from Egypt to West Africa. If one embraces the concept of racial memory, genetic programming, then it follows that the boons and taboos of the culture are deep within the psyche of the African American. Many African Americans agree that the trauma of slavery is carried genetically, that the trauma of Willie Lynch indoctrination is carried genetically and is taught, by default, in African American families. These psycological traumas manifest as many of the destructive behaviors in the black communities. Many in Black Academia and the social sciences are actively addressing these social ills in the black communities in light of these understandings. What has not been addressed is the trauma of the Defiling of Odu, a much older and insidious psychic program transfered here with the first slaves out of Africa. Many African Americans have embraced afroc-centric approaches to being in society. In spite of this, many are experiencing the disappointment of another system which seems to fall short of desired outcomes. Something is missing. We believe it is the embracing of the power of Odu. This is the drum which was forgotten.
Now, we know we have opened a can of worms by even mentioning the word “Odu”. I am sure initiated priest, both male and female, have many thoughts and opinions on this subject. We hope so. We invite comments to the site rather than personal phone calls. This way, everyone can benefit from the discussion.
In the meantime, we wish to pay tribute to those sistahs who brought the drums into the public domain for women. We don’t presume to know each one’s full story. We have heard some and not the others, however, we do know that these women went through incredible personal outpouring to bring the drum to women. Some of them know what they were doing but I wonder if they relaized, in totality,the full spiritual impact of what was being done. In our next article, Grandmothers of the drum, you will have a chance to meet some of these women. We will then return to the discussion of Odu.