Atumpan Drums

The position of Atumpankani has been part of Akan courts for centuries. The Atumpankani is responsible for sending messages from the Asantehene to the length and breath of the kingdom. Additionally, he is responsible for playing welcome statements during ceremonies or festivals as well as play eulogies, recite mmrane (praises) and, most importantly, play Ayan (drum poetry) on Dapaa (Saturday evening preceding Akwasidaɛ), and at dawn on Sunday morning for what is referred to as anyaneanyane (waking up the king; see Kwabena Nketia, 1963: 125-126). We may refer to the Atumpankani as the ‘Minister of Communications” and the notion of Ɔdomankoma Kyerɛma (the creator’s drummer) stems from the above attributes of the Atumpankani. It is believed that his talent for playing complex texts on the pair of atumpan drums is is due to divine inspiration. For these reasons, two sets of atumpan drums are always stationed at the Asantehene’s palace. One was stationed close to the pramakɛseɛho (outside the palace near Pramakɛseɛ) and the second at patokrom (inside the palace near Asantehene’s residence). Both sets are set in place with nkonta (curved sticks) hanging on the pegs. The former set is for the Atumpankani while the latter is for the Asantehene. Should he need to send messages to the larger community, Asantehene would call his Atumpakahene with his drums.

The primary role of atumpan is to ‘speak’ (like the ivory trumpets) and to be used as a speech surrogate since the sound is likely to travel longer distances than the human voice. Although most Akan ensembles including fɛntɛmfrɛm, adowa, and tipre ne amoakwa have a pair of atumpan drums as part of the drum ensemble and play a leading role in guiding the dances with formulaic phrases, the Atumpankani’s set of drums are slightely larger with relatively deeper sonority. While there may be several Atumpankafoɔ in Akan communities who may play text as part of dance music, there is only one Ɔdomankoma Kyerɛma whose office is located in the palace, and at Manhyia Palace, he is the Atumpankahene (chief of atumpan drums). At Manhyia Palace, the present set of atumpan drums became part of the fɔntɔmfrom orchestra during Otumfoɔ Agyeman Prempeh II’s time. In the 1950s, the fɛntɛmfrɛm lost the atumpan player and when they could not find an immediate successor, they asked Otumfoɔ Agyeman Prempeh II to have Kyerɛma Pong (affectionately called, Kyirifufuo) join and play with them. The Asantehene permitted Kyerɛma Pong to join the fɛntɛmfrɛm group but Kyerɛma Pong retained his title and autonomy as Atumpakahene and the Ɔdomankoma Kyerɛma (the divine drummer). Until his death in 1999, Kyerɛma Pong combined all the duties of the Atumpankani with that of the fɛntɛmfrɛm orchestra. Subsequently and at the Manhyia Palace, there are two chiefs for the fɛntɛmfrɛm ensemble: Fɛntɛmfrɛmhene (Fɛntɛmfrɛm chief) and Atumpankahene.

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