Akan Drum: Symbol of African resilience and transatlantic connections

Stories and facts

The Akan Drum, originating from West Africa and later discovered in the Colony of Virginia, stands as one of the oldest African-American artifacts in the British Museum and possibly one of the oldest surviving anywhere.

Its significance lies not only in its antiquity but also in its representation of the interconnectedness of Africa, America, and Europe through the transatlantic slave trade.

Crafted from two indigenous African woods, Baphia and Cordia africana, the Akan Drum showcases the craftsmanship and musical traditions of sub-Saharan Africa. Its resonance, attributed to the fine-grained Cordia africana, makes it well-suited for musical purposes.

The drumskin, made from deer hide, was stretched over the wooden structure using vegetable fiber.Produced in the Ghana region of West Africa between 1700 and 1745, the Akan Drum likely sailed to America aboard a slave ship.

Enslaved individuals, deprived of personal belongings, couldn't have brought it themselves, leading to speculation that it was either carried by a crew member or a descendant of the African chief who facilitated the trade. The Reverend Clerk, acting on behalf of Sir Hans Sloane, acquired the drum in Virginia, mistakenly believing it to be of Native American origin.

Initially thought to be Native American, the drum's true African origins were realized in 1906. In the 1970s, botanical analysis confirmed its African wood source. Serving as a key exhibit in the British Museum's founding collection, the drum was featured in the renowned radio series "A History of the World in 100 Objects." In 2010, it headlined a special display titled "From Africa to America: Drumming, Slavery, and Music," exploring its role in slave culture and its influence on musical evolution, including jazz and rock and roll.

In September 2020, the Akan Drum was spotlighted in the British Museum's "Objects of Crisis" series on YouTube, curated by former deputy chair Bonnie Greer. This acknowledgement underscores its enduring relevance as a testament to the resilience of past generations facing immense challenges.



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