Some say, to fully understand the present moment, we must understand the past that has given birth to it. Let’s take a short trip to the Carribeans to understand why the African drum was banned.
The drum has always been a very integral part of African music and it became a very powerful force in the lives of African slaves who were brought to the West Indies to work the sugar plantations during the 17th and 18th centuries.
In about 1740, across the Caribbean, people had been forcefully taken out of Africa, from cultures that were vibrant and communal. To ease themselves of the stress of the day from planting and harvesting, these African slaves either came in with their drums or made some from available materials on site, These drums not only represented a living language loud enough to speak across plantations and in whose rhythm, revolts could be plotted and unrest planned. Importantly, the white planters did not understand the language of drums and so these drums had to be banned. Asides that, it was also regarded as the most feared instrument by white slave masters, who were irked by the ominous sound of the instrument and feared its power.
This wasn’t so much a banning of drumming as it was a banning of blackness – an attempt at taking Africa away from them.
From that period of time, the order was given that black people ought not to speak in the primitive language of drums but ought to speak in the civilized language of English, or French, or Spanish, or the language of violins and pianos.
It took all of four decades of campaigning for these laws to be recognized for their inherent racism and to finally be repealed.
In St Vincent in 1912, the Shaker Prohibition Ordinance was introduced. Trinidad followed 5 years later with their own Shouter Prohibition Ordinance.
Even after emancipation the drums were not, themselves, completely emancipated. Subsequent laws across the Caribbean continued to ensure that whatever was associated with Africa, especially such things that might encourage black people to congregate in spaces away from white eyes or white control would continue to exist on the wrong side of the law. They would continue to be banned and deemed evil.
As the years went by and the bonds of bondage began to disappear, the chanting of the slaves and the beating of drums became a form of entertainment for themselves and listeners who sometimes happened to be whites.
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