Known as the Djidji Ayokwe, the Ivorian drum seized by France during colonization is about to be returned to the Ivory Coast. This follows the restitution plan that was promised by French President, Emmanuel Macron some time last year.
Stolen by settlers over a century ago, the sacred Djidji Ayokwe drum was used to communicate warning messages up to thirty kilometres around villages.
The indigenous drum was owned by the Ebrie people who are also known as the Tchamans. In 1916 the drum was confiscated by the French colonial administration and transferred to France in 1930.
The “talking drum”, as it was nicknamed, has been restored in a workshop near Paris under the supervision of the Quay Branly Museum.
“You can see that it has been quite badly affected by wood-eating insects which have dug galleries, certainly repeatedly, and that this has structurally weakened the drum”, said Nathalie Richard, head of the conservation-restoration department at the Quai Branly Museum.
“We consolidated the material, the wood itself, by impregnating it with a resin carried by a solvent. The resin makes it possible to regain a slightly solid structure and to avoid small breakages on the edges, on the edges of the galleries, on the edges of the gaps, and so that vibrations and handling do not damage the drum anymore”, concluded the head of conservation.
The drum is three metres long and weighs 430 kg. This wooden instrument is seen as carrying mystical properties and was used to warn of dangers, mobilise for war or summon villages to ceremonies or festivals.
The magnificently gigantic artefact is the first of a list of 148 works that Ivory Coast officially requested the restitution to France in late 2018.
“The drum made it possible to transmit messages over long distances – up to 30 kilometres in all directions – to villages neighbouring the village of Adjamé where it was located and which were therefore interpreted by those who heard them through sound, since the Ebrié language is a tonal language”, said Hélène Joubert, head of the heritage unit of the Africa collections at the Quai Branly Museum.
This traditional object, long claimed by Abidjan, is a central piece of the musical art of the Ebriés, an ethnic group in Ivory Coast.
“This loss was extremely important psychologically, felt as a loss of identity and freedom. And to recover the drum is to recover one’s identity and freedom”, concluded the head of African collections.
The arrival of the Djidji Ayokwe at the Museum of Civilisation in Abidjan can only be confirmed once the French Parliament has voted on a law allowing its official return, similar to the restitution of historical pieces to Benin approved by the French parliament in December 2020.
The traditional Tchaman chiefdom welcomed the gesture and are anxiously waiting for the delivery of the long-lost artefact. On the other end, the Ivorian authorities have already reserved a place for it at the National Museum