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A sacred Ivorian drum held in France is about to be returned home


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The Ivory Coast is about to receive a drum that France took during colonization.

Up to thirty kilometers around villages, warning messages were transmitted using the sacred Djidji Ayokwe drum.

The French colonial administration seized the drum in 1916, and it was given to France in 1930.

The Quay Branly Museum has overseen the restoration of the “talking drum,” as it was known, in a workshop close to Paris.

According to Nathalie Richard, head of the conservation-restoration department at the Quai Branly Museum, “you can see that it has been quite badly affected by wood-eating insects that have dug galleries, probably repeatedly, and that this has structurally weakened the drum.”

“By impregnating the material, which was the wood itself, with a resin carried by a solvent, we were able to consolidate it. Thus, the resin enables the restoration of a slightly solid structure, the avoidance of minor breaks at the edges of galleries and gaps, and the prevention of damage to the drum from vibrations and handling “the head of conservation declared.

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The 430 kg drum measures three meters in length. This wooden instrument, which is thought to have mystical qualities, was used to call villages to celebrations or ceremonies, mobilize them for war, and warn them of impending dangers.

It is the first of 148 works for which Ivory Coast formally asked France to return them in late 2018.

According to Hélène Joubert, head of the heritage unit of the Africa collections at the Quai Branly Museum, “the drum made it possible to transmit messages over long distances – up to 30 kilometers in all directions – to villages neighboring the village of Adjamé where it was located and which were therefore understood by those who heard them through sound, since the Ebrié language is a tonal language.

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This ancient artifact, which Abidjan has long claimed as its own, is essential to the Ebriés’ musical tradition in Ivory Coast.

“This loss was very significant psychologically because it was perceived as a loss of freedom and identity. And to reclaim the drum is to reclaim one’s freedom and identity “, said the director of African collections.

Similar to the restitution of historical objects to Benin that was approved by the French parliament in December 2020, the arrival of the Djidji Ayokwe at the Museum of Civilization in Abidjan cannot be officially confirmed until the French Parliament has voted on a law allowing its official return.

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