Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Importance Of Drums In Buganda

There are two drums that are of
eminent importance in the Baganda
society: the embuutu (big drum) and the engalabi (long drum).

- Embuutu - big drum

The embuutu is considered a so-called engoma enkazi (female drum). The holy, double-headed drum that is provided with double membranes is made of pinewood and decorated using cowries and pearls. The secular embuutu is decorated lacing up the skindhide, the non-resounding skin.

Two clinging pearls as abalongo
(twins) are arranged before the head is sealed using the skinhide.
The embuutu determines the main
melody for dancing and for everyday life, wherein women are mainly responsible to guarantee the survival of the community. It is their task to give birth to children and to raise the children as well as to gather food for the family (farming).

Engalabi - long drum

- The engalabi (long drum) as engoma ensajja (male drum). This traditional drum has a head made of a reptile's hide and is attached to a wooden resonant cavity (a slim lower part), an allusion to the male phallus.

This is a single-walled drum. Wooden little rods are pressed into the skin, with the wooden resonant body being decorated.
The engalbi plays an important role
in ceremonies and the theatre of the
region Buganda. It is designated as
okwabya olumbe, this is, successor of a person deceased. In the Luganda language of the Baganda there is the saying tugenda mungalabi , meaning
„we go to the „engalabi", this is
"drumming for a long time".
Only the hands are allowed to be
used for playing the drum.

In earlier times, only men were
permitted to play the drum in a
community. Men used the
doubleheaded drum embuutu and the long, cylindrical drum engalabi for men's dances.
The saying ekiwumbya engalabi
mwenge kubula means: a shortage of beer is the cause of sepsis in a human being. In former times, it was a taboo for women the drink the common beer or to participate in such drinking bouts. "Beer" was only reserved for men.

There were certain taboos for women in handling the drum. They were only permitted to use the double-headed fur drum embuutu, with which they accompanied such
women's dances. Women
menstruating and breast feeding
were prohibited to play the drum.
One reason for restricting the women in terms of playing the cylindrical long drum engalabi was that the drum has to be held between the thighs, which was considered indecent. The most important ritual for women to play the drum that was permitted was within the palace, when the Royal orchestra dedicated a masiro to the king's predecessors.
This cult is still in use, especially for hurial rites or initiation rites
(customs and traditions).

Women have changed traditional
standards and taboos, and they have started to play all instruments.
Changes within the Baganda
community were realized in colonial
times, then turning upside down way of thinking and status quo. In schools and at universities, however, girls now are allowed to play all instruments, including the drum, also on the occasion of musical, dance and theatre performances. Social and
cultural changes have triggered the
course of emancipation.


  1. Thanks for this information. Both these drums have been in my family. My father was given the Embuutu drum from his company when he retired from there. I was given the Engalabi drum as a present many years ago and still have it. It has been played and enjoyed at many a party in my home. I was unaware of the true meaning behind the drums, so again thanks for sharing that. It is interesting to see that my dad was given the female drum and I was given the male drum. How subtle is that; I find it very beautiful.

  2. This gives you the chance to test out the different types of drums and collect base prices. Now you should know if your list of needs and budget are possible. Cheap drum sets under 100


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