Talking drums


A folk tale by Jensen La Vende

LONG before fete proposals and couples getting married at the Red House, there was a love story never before told.

It began at a time before you and I. A time when right and wrong seemed to be more clear than they are now. The world was not so blinded to the truth that there is more than we can see. A time when gods walked with men.

He came from the seas. At least so she thought. That was when she first saw him. Taking long strides through the ocean, towering over the ships filled with men, women and children, stolen from their homes to be brought to a foreign land.

He, like that of his kin before, journeyed through the Atlantic and settled in Trinidad and Tobago. He came guarding the West African families that were to be made slaves.

His name was M’gah and he was a moko jumbie. Her name was Kah-Lypso, the spirit of stories and music.

At first sight she was intrigued by his stature. M’gah seemed to be taller each step he took closer to land. She was afar off from him, hidden, but he could feel her presence.

A descendant of Anansi, Kah-Lypso was a storyteller but she did so in song. She sang to speak. M’gah could only understand the language of his people and was forbidden from learning any other. Kah-Lypso could not learn his language, no one could. Only the Mokos knew it.

Their first meeting was awkward. They both wanted to speak to each other but couldn’t. Hand gestures were useless. No one imagined they would fall helplessly in love but, that’s how the best love stories start.

Years passed and they spent time in each other’s company. He would dance when she sang. His dance was understood, somehow by her. Her songs spoke to him but they still were unable to communicate, not freely, not clearly, not as they wanted to.

During one of the annual gatherings that brought all the spirits together, Carnivale, the father of spirits made them each a drum. He knew in this new world there could no longer be separations. He also knew the sacred language of the moko jumbie needed to be protected. He crafted the drums that only the two could beat. When they did it transformed their thoughts to words. Words only they could hear. There was but one condition, they could only use the drums during the annual festivities.

Each year, for years, their thoughts were gathered, waiting to be released in beats only the two could interpret. Each time their fingers stroked the drum they felt closer to each other. Their rhythm made others dance. The spirits saw that when they spoke not only were they happy but all the other spirits. Even the people of the land that heard the drumming were happy when M’gah and Kah-Lypso spoke.

Unable to speak outside of the period, they harboured their words until the spirits met. They had so much to say and would beat for days, weeks even, non-stop. Some argue that each time you hear a drumbeat it is one of the two telling the other something.

For Kah-Lypso she told stories and M’gah would beat in admiration and respond by telling her of his journey and that of his people. Her songs changed to reflect what she learnt. Together they chronicled history, with the rhythm of the drums in the form of stories. Stories that she sang. Some stories are sung to this day.

After a time, learning of each other, speaking in a common beat, they were unified. Their wedding, some say, is what humans of the land call Kambule, and the reception was named after Carnivale, thanking him for their ability to speak to each other.

The couple, now speaking in the tongue of the drum, had one child, a daughter. Her name was Lym’boh.


"Talking drums"

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