The British Museum Shows Akan Drum

The Akan drum is the oldest African-American object in the British Museum, brought from West Africa to the Colony of Virginia as part of the slave trade around 1735. ‘Akan’ refers to an ethnic and linguistic group from West Africa which includes the Fante, Asante and Akuapem, and its culture is most apparent today in Ghana. Display open through 10 October 2010.

The drum was acquired by Sir Hans Sloane, whose collection formed the basis of the British Museum when it was founded in 1753. Broadcaster, playwright, and British Museum Trustee Bonnie Greer has been involved in the creation of the display, and it focuses on two main themes – the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the origins of African-American music.

The first part of the display describes the journey of the drum from West Africa to the Colony of Virginia, relating the suffering and displacement of peoples as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

This journey would have typically included the practice of ‘dancing the slaves’, where enslaved Africans were forcibly exercised on board the
slave ships, a practice in which it is likely this
drum would have played a part.

The second part of the display examines the massive influence of African and African- American music on most popular music from the 20th century onwards, including jazz, blues, R&B, and rock ’n’ roll.

The drum is one of the objects featured in the British Museum and BBC Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 objects

Devorah Romanek, from the British Museum, explores the journey and influence of the Akan drum, in a lecture on display in Room 3, on Friday 8 October, 13.15 in The Stevenson Lecture Theatre. Free, booking advised, limited places reserved for Members.

Image: mage: Akan drum. Made in West Africa and collected in the American colony of Virginia probably between 1710 and 1745

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