Yoruba Drumming

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Date: 1917

Region: Africa

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Music


Artist: The people of Yorubaland, Nigeria

Confronting Bodies: British Colonial Government

Dates of Action: 1917, 1938, 1947, 1952

Location: Yorubaland, Nigeria

Description of Artwork: Drumming is an important part of the culture in southwestern Nigeria and is an essential part of festivities and celebrations.

The Incident: The British colonial government in Nigeria was embarrassed and annoyed by the drumming which they saw as "unnecessary noise making". In 1917 three articles were written into the Township Ordinance to prohibit or restrict drumming. Those who broke these laws had to pay a fine of forty shillings. The local Yoruba chiefs also took steps to restrict drumming. Colonial rule had made these chiefs answerable to the colonial government and local drummers often used their music to criticize chiefs. The first chief to try and restrict drumming was the king of Ijebu-Igbo where drummers had organized an opposition movement. The king claimed the drumming was responsible for the spread of smallpox. The colonial government did not accept this excuse and refused to take action to restrict drumming.

By the late 1930s the British were beginning to become fed up with the drumming and in 1938 a prohibition order for Buruntu and Forcados was passed because it was said the people there were drumming and singing through the night and disturbing inhabitants of other islands. In other tribes drumming was banned for fear of religious conflict--that drumming could be used by pagans to interrupt Christian worship. Despite these bans drummers persisted, even though they were frequently fined and jailed.

In the late 1940s many places in Yorubaland had rescinded the bans except for some areas, where officials continued to instate bans.

In 1952 a drumming ban was passed in Ogwashi-Uku "to prevent decline in morals among the young people of the town".

Results of Incident: Nigeria achieved independence in 1960 and at the celebrations drummers were paid to play their music.

Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia