Things Fall Apart

by: Chinua Achebe

Drum language

Quotes Drum language
The drums were still beating, persistent and unchanging. Their sound was no longer a separate thing from the living village. It was like the pulsation of its heart. It throbbed in the air, in the sunshine, and even in the trees, and filled the village with excitement.

The opening ceremony for Umuofia’s great annual wrestling match has begun, and the drums resound throughout the village. The persistent drums signal the initiation of the event. But the drumbeat also builds anticipation, and everyone in Okonkwo’s family feels anxious to get to the village ilo and watch the spectacle. Okonkwo’s second wife, Ekwefi, has a longstanding love of wrestling, and Okonkwo himself “trembled with the desire to conquer and subdue.” In this quotation Achebe captures the pervasive sense of excitement by characterizing the drumbeat as a language that speaks not in words but in the community’s lifeblood.

The drum sounded again and the flute blew. The egwugwu house was now a pandemonium of quavering voices: Aru oyim de dededei! filled the air as the spirits of the ancestors, just emerged from the earth, greeted themselves in their esoteric language.

Drums once again call a large crowd to assemble, this time for a ceremony in which the titled men of Umuofia will settle a marriage dispute. This ceremony features the egwugwu, or ancestral spirits who appear in the form of masked impersonators, and the drums serve to activate the “pandemonium of quavering voices” emanating from the nearby structure where the egwugwu have gathered. In this moment, then, the drum language functions in contrast with the “esoteric language” of the spirits, stirring up a sense of excitement and mystery among the observers who eagerly await their appearance.

Go-di-di-go-go-di-go. Di-go-go-di-go. It was the ekwe talking to the clan. One of the things every man learned was the language of the hollowed-out instrument.

This transcription of drum language opens chapter thirteen. Instead of translating the message of the “talking” drum, the narrator begins by informing the reader that such a message is readily understandable among the Igbo people, who become fluent in drum language early on. The narrator leaves the reader in suspense for several sentences before revealing the meaning of the ekwe’s rhythmic message: “Somebody was dead.” By actually transcribing the drum language here, the narrator elevates it to a status similar to the other languages that appear in the novel: English and Igbo.