ArchivesSite MapSubmitOur GangHot Sites
tearing the rag off the bush again
Drums PDF E-mail
In times of peace, the following would have been dedicated to ivy leagues of research, to missionaries of all sorts, etc. However, in this time of war, the government and its military complex are the more worthy recipients of the said dedication.


First day—Nothing.

Second day—Nothing.

Third day—What? The search in the jungle, instituted by the government and the pentagon, was on all day but nothing was found until the hot mist lifted, when finally many of the clues the investigators looked for appeared blatantly before their eyes. It made them wonder how earnestly they had looked before, perhaps wary of finding those clues: branches of trees bent by prevailing winds and grotesquely woven together, saplings of trees intertwined and matted in their upward growth, tree trunks twisted in corkscrew fashion as if a giant and persistent tornado had exerted its omnipotent will. Slowly and grimly the members of the investigation team arrived at the truth: a presence stronger than theirs had been at work here—except for a bumble bee that flew in once in a while, and they swatted it away. They had set up camp in a near-by village where natives lived in seemingly total ignorance of what was going on in their backyard. A woman who had come here with a military reconnaissance team a few months earlier was abducted from the village, wrung out like a wet dish rag by a twisting force, tossed and deposited on the outskirts of the village. It was the investigators' task to find out what had happened.

Fourth day—Nothing.

Fifth day— The members of the investigation team try to talk to the villagers. But the villagers do not want to talk to the investigators. They are busy playing drums. The few who agree to talk have no useful information.

Sixth day—Nothing.

Seventh day— The villagers are busy drumming their talking drums. Boomba, toomba, oom-ta-ta. The sound booms, and swells, and reverberates. It sets in motion air waves that oscillate higher and higher, stronger and stronger. The louder they drum the higher the waves oscillate. All the villagers, from the oldest to the youngest, hold on to the talking drums and drum.
Eighth day. Strange sensations go through the members of the investigation team. First—a twitching of one finger, then another. A strand of hair lifting, then falling. First one of the team, then another seems to lift off the ground, then is set down again. The wind currents generated by the drumming grow stronger, then begin twisting and pulling three men and two women from the team to the outskirts of the village. Suddenly there is a hissing sound and all five are sucked out of the village entirely, wrung out like so many wet dish rags, then spewed out and deposited in the jungle in between the twisted saplings, contorted trees and branches, while the villagers hold on to their drums, and drum, and drum.

Nothing until the fourteenth day. One villager, dazed and confused by so many strangers walking about, steps on a snake and drops to the ground. A woman from the investigation team leans over him and tries to revive him with mouth to mouth resuscitation. The other villagers approach the two with an aghast, then with a disgusted expression on their faces. One of them runs to his hut and fetches a drum. Others follow suit and begin to drum. Boomba, toomba, oom-ta-ta. The woman rises from the man she’s been trying to resuscitate, then seems to lift off the ground, not of her own volition. The drumming becomes louder, there is a swishing sound. The woman is suddenly and rapidly spun on her axis, her face contorts—aaah! and she's gone.

The investigation team hurriedly leaves to file its report with the government.

A few months prior to the above event and in preparation for war, a two-and-a-half-star general was sent as the leader of a reconnaissance team to study the terrain. The village could be reached through the jungle by a rutted path, in a rugged terrain vehicle, but preferably on a horse or a mule, the general found. What he also found was that drumming was the natives’ main preoccupation: in dance rhythm, in processional accompaniment, initiation ceremonials and weddings, and in funeral rituals.
On orders from the headquarters but against his sense of how he should proceed (the general was a good sort) the villagers were to be subjected to a multiple question procedure, not in writing because they were illiterate but verbally. They became angry, then confused. They walked in circles, semi-stuporous, stepped on snakes and dropped dead, poisoned. The lianas that had earlier drooped airily, the gracefully shaped orchids, the vividly red, blue, yellow birds that had flitted through the branches when his team had arrived, gradually disappeared. All became dark, twisted and contorted, smelling of putrefaction and discontent.
While the reconnaissance was moving on in its initial phase, the general himself learned to play talking drums as the natives played them in all their rituals. Friendly at first and teaching him the beat, the natives did not take kindly to all the questioning and enquiry concurrently taking place. The situation turned grim. The villagers were restlessly oombing and boombing on their drums. In spite of the fact that three of the general’s team died after eating scrambled parrot eggs, mysteriously poisoned, they were scheduled to return for a second phase of the reconnaissance.

The general felt he should definitely not have returned but, instead of a raise in rank by half-a-star, he would have had to face demotion for insubordination. He also felt that he should not have let the woman from Oshkosh (from one of the states that was later found to be red and friendly) to administer those multiple choice exams. She was a mere private, inexperienced in other forms of inquiry in the field, but this was the only thing she knew and pleaded with the general to let her do it. Fascinated by drumming in her civilian life, she had often heard it in dance rhythms, and here was her chance to research it in its other forms: as part of weddings, initiation ceremonials and funeral rituals.

The multiple choice exam went like this:

You play drums: yes, no.
Drumming is: good, bad, not good or bad.
Who drummed in your family: father, grandfather, great grandfather, none of them, all of them?
When you are drumming you feel: sad, happy, neither.
Drumming makes you: cry, smile, neither.

All respondents said they played drums, ‘yes’, drumming was ‘not good or bad’, their fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, ‘all of them’ had drummed, it made them feel ‘neither’, most not knowing what ‘neither’ meant, but said it just to get the team members off their backs. After the exam they seemed dazed, stepped on snakes. ‘Is this kind of inquiry worth the aggravation it causes?’ the leader wondered. Yet it had to be done, it was part of the reconnaissance protocol. Protocol! It made him mad that the procedure could not have been dropped, that he had to follow it.

The nights seemed never to end. Usually the general did not sleep well; he felt that the darkness played into the hands of evil, unfamiliar to him. But then the dawn would come, and all concern would be pushed aside. Until the day of the bumble bee. It had arrived from God knows where. It buzzed and buzzed around everyone's ears, the military’s, as well as the 'natives'. It was bad luck to kill a bumble bee, everyone put up with it yet became increasingly tired and irritated, especially the natives. Night came, and everyone fell into bed, exhausted. That is, almost everyone. The general thought he heard sounds and whispers around his hut, but then a high wind rose and he thought no more about it. When he awoke in the morning the woman from Oshkosh was gone, the natives had taken up their drums, and drummed, and drummed oomba-toomba, oom-ta-ta, the funeral beat all day.

First day—Nothing.
Second day—Nothing.
Third day—What?
< Prev   Next >