Akan drum

From Virginia, south-eastern North America, African, 18th century AD

This drum originated in West Africa and was collected in Virginia probably between 1730 and 1745.

It was probably brought from Africa to America on the middle passage of a slave trading voyage. The voyages typically had three passages; the first to Africa, carrying goods, the second or middle from Africa to the American colonies carrying slaves, and the home passage carrying trade goods back.

The drum today symbolizes the importance of music in African-America, both now and at the time of the slave trade. American colonists tried during the seventeenth century to enslave Native Americans but because of Native vulnerability to Old World diseases such as flu and smallpox, Africans were instead imported as slaves. In the eighteenth century African-American slaves sometimes escaped into coastal wetlands and occasionally intermarried with Native Americans. The United States today has a significant population of people descended from both Africans and Natives.

The drum is made of wood (Cordia and Baphia varieties, both native to Africa), vegetable fibre and deer-skin. It was collected by a Reverend Mr Clerk on behalf of Sir Hans Sloane, founder of the British Museum. Sir Hans Sloane entered the drum in his catalogue as a 'drum made of a hollowed tree carved the top being brac'd wt. peggs & thongs wt. the bottom hollow from Virginia'. It is one of the earliest known surviving African-American objects.

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Object details

Height: 41 cm
Depth: 28cm


AOA SL 1368

Room 26: North America

    Sloane Collection


    J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    C.C. Reindorf, History of the Gold Coast and Asante (Accra, 2007)

    I. Odotei, Royal Rites : Death, Burial and Installation of an Asante King (Accra, 2002) 

    T.C. McCaskie, State and Society in Pre-colonial Asante (Cambridge, 1995)

    D.J. Epstein, ‘African Music in British and French America’, The Music Quarterly, 59 (1973), 61–91

    R. Cullen Rath, ‘African music in seventeenth-century Jamaica: cultural transit and transition’, William and Mary Quarterly, 50 (1993), 700-726

    O. Stanwood, 'Captives and slaves: Indian Labor, Cultural Conversion, and the Plantation Revolution in Virginia’, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 114 (2006), 434–463

    D.R. Wright, ‘Recent literature on Slavery in Colonial North America’, Magazine of History 17 (2003), 5–9