As stated earlier, slave masters quickly became aware of the Black man's skill at executing intricate rhythmic patterns, which, when performed on the drum, could be decoded into messages and signals. Realizing that this ability could be put to good use in planning escape or rebellion, the white captors prohibited all types of drumming in many sections of the southern United States. Thus, the slave was denied one of his most valued artistic expressions, for drumming, far from being limited to signaling, often took the place of conversation, and regularly accompanied religious rituals, ceremonies, litigation, dance, as well as many forms of entertainment and amusement. Ever resourceful, the Black man simply transferred his complex rhythmic performances to other instruments, often to whatever was at hand--sticks, tin cans, animal bones, etc. The most convenient percussion instrument was his own body, and accordingly, very intricate patterns of foot stomping, thigh slapping and hand clapping accompanied religious as well as non-religious song. In secular music, this technique, which in some forms was known as "pattin' juba" or "pattin' jibba," was indispensable in ring games, line games and play party songs. (These games and songs were played and performed by adults as well as children in both West Africa and the United States). One favorite routine was "Hambone" which, even today, is a favorite game of small Afro-American boys. According to Harold Courlander, one hand-clapping sequence, which many living adults enjoyed as children, is the line game "Mary Mack," which is directly related to a similar line game played in Ghana. Courlander's notation (3) fails to note the syncopated rhythm which occurs naturally as the game is played, however. It is not too difficult to trace the origin of these games to West Africa. For instance, a basic rhythmic pattern used in the "Prince's Dance," an Ashanti percussion piece recorded by Richard Waterman 


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February 2001