A Drummer's Testament
<Home page>

Chapter I-13:  How We Make Our Drums and Gungons  <PDF file>

Craft aspects of drumming; how drums are carved; ritual obligations of drum-makers; how drums are sewn; types of skins used; varying quality of drums and skins; how drum-sticks are made; how guŋgɔŋs are made and sewn

Paragraph outline and links
Proverbs and sayings
Dagbani words and other search terms

Supplementary material


sewing a luŋa (gallery of 27 images)
sewing a guŋgɔŋ (gallery of 14 images in progress)
carving a drum:  drum-carver at Tampion
making a drum stick (lundoli):  cut tree, short axe (lehu), carved straight stick, finished sticks

Contents outline and links by paragraph  <top of page>


1.    hard work to make luŋa and guŋgɔŋ

Luŋa in Dagbon and Asante

2.    Dagbamba drum superior in quality to Ashanti drum (donno)
3.    formerly Ashantis got lunsi from Yaa-Naa; also binda (Mossi calabash drum) and dalgu; gyamadudu, donno
4.    Asantehene gave cola to Yaa-Naa for the drums; no charge
5.    in olden days, no charge; you would go to drum carver and farm for him while he made the drum
6.    after Asantehene’s drums were carved, Yaa-Naa would get skins from chief of butchers and send to Namo-Naa to sew the drums
7.    how Yaa-Naa’s prince would accompany drums to Asantehene; thirty to forty days walk; how Asantehene would receive the drums and give cola
8.    in modern times, Asantehene buys drums; how Alhaji Ibrahim’s brother Sumaani made drums for Asantehene
9.    Alhaji Ibrahim the one selling drums in Dagbon; Ashantis and others from South come to Tamale to buy drums from him. 

Dangers of carving drums

10.    few people carve drums because cutting trees can make people sick; example of Tampion drum carver who became mad
11.    different types of bad trees in Dagbon
12.    karga medicine to protect someone who cuts trees; obtained from kasiɣirba, people who bathe dead bodies; other uses of karga
13.    people who carve drums do not prosper

Cutting trees and carving drums

14.    three trees:  taaŋa (shea), sacrifice of milk; kpalga (violet tree), sacrifice of cowries; siɣirli (cedar mahogany), sacrifice of hen and then carve the wood in bush
15.    nowadays no sacrifices; reason behind the problems
16.    drum from a bad tree can kill a drummer who uses it; drum makers don’t live long; only three in Dagbon, at Tampion
17.    siɣirli the best, very hard, not common; siɣirli drums last long; John’s small drum more than hundred years old
18.    drum-making is hard work; four tools:  axe to cut tree, adze to make hole, cutlass to trim, korgu (curved knife) to carve and scrape; two days to make

Preparing the wood

19.    knife to scrape and smooth the outside and stone to smooth the  mouth
20.    repair holes in wood; formerly used bee’s wax, now use glue and wood dust; shea butter on the wood

Preparing the skin

21.    buy skins from butcher; goat skin is better than sheep; female goat has lighter skin, better sound
22.    skins sometimes difficult to get
23.    use water to soften skins, inside pot until early evening
24.    use korgu to scrape and clean skin, removing any meat; put back into water
25.    soften the skin with ashes and seeds from type of melon (yɔɣli) inside pot until next day; remove skin from pot and remove hair and wash any scent away

Sewing the skin

26.    split and trim reeds from mat; get type of long grass (kpari), in market and also in Dagbon near rivers
27.    make lun’ kuɣra, a ring to seat the head on the drum, by wrapping kpari around the cut reeds
28.    fit skin to ring; lundi’ sherga, the sewing string, how it is made; how the skin is sown; final cleaning

Lacing the heads

29.    the lundihi, the strings that hold the heads; use skin of calf, also bush antelopes (gbɛɣu, walga, kparbua, bambua, saŋkpaliŋ, kɔɣu); some are harder than others
30.    strings from bush animal last long; can use tanned goat skins (red) but are not strong, will dry out and break, not preferred
31.    making the strings:  clean and remove hair, dry, cut thin strip,  soak and roll it; dry it and soften it by rubbing on stone or ceramic; not necessary for goat skin, already soft
32.    finishing the drum:  smooth the mouth, fit the heads, and lace with the strings; tie with leather to seat the heads well; dry overnight

Variations among drums

33.    different skins affect the sound of different drums; from the tree and the wood, also from the carving; male or female, white or black; drum maker has to observe to know which type of skin for any individual drum; sometimes need to search for appropriate skin
34.    differences also from length of drum, length or width of neck between the two bowls, from carving, from the bowl; head is more important; some drums do not sound well
35.    differences from skins; light and thin usually better, but break easily; during dry season, skins become thin and break often; drums sound different in South because the air is not as dry
36.    lundihi affect the drum; spacing of the strings; also can dry out, cannot squeeze the drum; also affected by cold; different sound in different places
37.    olden days drums better craftsmanship than modern drums; drummers prefer older drums; the neck and inside are smoother and wider; sound better
38.    new drums change as wood dries; weak wood warps; if tree is mature, the wood will not shrink; main factor in the sound
39.    skins affect the sound; when drum is beaten for some time, the sound changes; drummer may not hear the sound well; spectator will hear it differently

The drumstick

40.    making lundoli, different trees:  puhiga (tamarind), dazuli (gardenia), kuliŋbinli, nim
41.    use short-handle axe (lehu) to carve sticks; make head first then carve neck
42.    to bend stick, put into boiling water; tie neck with rope and bend and tie
43.    untie rope the next day; carve handle; finish and smooth; make hole to tie leather string from neck to handle
44.    many sticks break when bending; younger trees are better for bending
45.    puhiga best; kuliŋbinli next, but too light; dazuli easy to bend, strong and heavy; nim tree frequently breaks

Sewing guŋgɔŋ

46.    introduction to making guŋgɔŋ; use trunk of tree
47.    needs somewhat thick skin:  male goat, saŋkpalin, gbɛɣu, bambua; kɔɣu too thick; use type of rope (gabga) to seat the skin
48.    two people to sew guŋgɔŋ; skin with hair outward over mouths; secure with rope
49.    guŋgɔŋ strings (gbandaa) made from bush animals or cows; thick
50.    turn skin over rope and use awl to punch holes; as sew the two mouths, you pull the gbandaa strings along rope to seat the skin; gbankuɣra or guŋgɔŋ kuɣra
51.    gbanchirga:  pieces of skin to close the sewing hole and prevent tearing
52.    second person on other side of guŋgɔŋ; sew from one side to another
53.    sew around guŋgɔŋ, then trim excess skin; make hole for string to secure cloth to hang guŋgɔŋ
54.    dry the guŋgɔŋ; scrape or shave the hair; tie chahirga, the small string across mouth that vibrates
55.    gbandarigara:  strips of leather to tie to gbandaa and tighten the mouths
56.    have to tighten guŋgɔŋ before beating it; if it loosens from beating, tighten it again
57.    guŋgɔŋ voora:  pulling the guŋgɔŋ;  if the gbandaa stretch over time, have to go around the guŋgɔŋ and pull them to tighten the skin of the mouth again


58.    transition to how a drum is beaten

Proverbs and Sayings  <top of page>

If you are at something today, tomorrow, and the next day, you will know what is in it.

Key words for ASCII searches  <top of page>

Chiefs and elders
Naa Mahama Bila

Musical terms
binda  (singular:  bindihi)
gbankugra  (gbankuɣra)
gungon  (guŋgɔŋ)
gungons  (guŋgɔŋa)
gungon kugra  (guŋgɔŋ kuɣra)
gungon voora  (guŋgɔŋ voora)
lun kugra  (lun' kuɣra)
lundi' sherga
lunga  (luŋa)

Names and people

Towns and places

Cultural groups

Miscellaneous terms
dazuli  [Possibly Gardenia nitida Hook. or Gardenia ternifolia]
gbiegu  (gbɛɣu)
kasigirba  (kasiɣirba)
kpalga  [possibly Securidaca longepedunculata Fres.]
kulinbinli  (kuliŋbinli)
kogu  (kɔɣu)
puhiga  [Tamarindus indica Linn.]
sangkpalin  (saŋkpaliŋ)
sigirli  (siɣirli)  [Pseudocedrela kotschyi (Schweinf.) Harms]
taanga  (taaŋa)  [Butyrospermum parkii; a.k.a. Vitellaria paradoxa]
yogli  (yɔɣli)  [possibly Adenopus breviflorus Benth.]