MANGBETU – Water Drumming

When the Mangbetu people of northeastern Zaire play music, they might make use of elaborately carved and decorated instruments — or they might take advantage of whatever’s at hand. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History. This month we’re celebrating ten years of broadcasts and 2,000 programs.

“What we’re hearing is a group of women and young girls playing the water in the river with their arms and elbows. This technique of water drumming is very developed so that they actually play melodies and create different sounds out of the water.”

Tom Miller is with the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Anthropology.

“The reason they do this is that in this part of central Africa, musical instruments are the prerogative of males, and while women may sing and dance the same songs as men, they are not permitted to play instruments. One of the ways that women have circumvented this prohibition is to use the river and their own bodies as musical instruments.

“People in this region have many inventive ways of adapting their environment to their particular uses, and using the river as a drum is an example of this. And when they push their arm or hand down into it, they displace the water, which gives that characteristic sound.”

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Additional funding for the series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

MANGBETU - Water Drumming

Mangbetu women are forbidden to use musical instruments, so they bend the rules by playing percussion on the river.
Air Date:12/31/1991
Scientist:
Transcript:

When the Mangbetu people of northeastern Zaire play music, they might make use of elaborately carved and decorated instruments -- or they might take advantage of whatever's at hand. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History. This month we're celebrating ten years of broadcasts and 2,000 programs.

"What we're hearing is a group of women and young girls playing the water in the river with their arms and elbows. This technique of water drumming is very developed so that they actually play melodies and create different sounds out of the water."

Tom Miller is with the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Anthropology.

"The reason they do this is that in this part of central Africa, musical instruments are the prerogative of males, and while women may sing and dance the same songs as men, they are not permitted to play instruments. One of the ways that women have circumvented this prohibition is to use the river and their own bodies as musical instruments.

"People in this region have many inventive ways of adapting their environment to their particular uses, and using the river as a drum is an example of this. And when they push their arm or hand down into it, they displace the water, which gives that characteristic sound."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Additional funding for the series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.