N'Koku Ngoombu (Slit Drum)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Yaka typically turn to a ngoombu (diviner) when seeking identification of an illness or misfortune. It is the ngoombu's responsibility to identify the cause of the aliment and recommend a remedy, without prior knowledge of the client or his/her situation. A n'koku ngoombu slit drum (also called n-kookwa ngoombu in some sources; meaning 'diviner slit drum') is an object that forms part of the divination ensemble. While divination is in progress, the ngoombu taps the drum with a small gong attached to it. It is believed that the sounds made are used to call on spiritual powers and also represent words from the mouth of the diviner and in turn he must translate the sounds to reveal the cause of the misfortune inflicted upon the client.

The drum is also used in a number of different ways:

  • A chorus of drums are sounded during the initiation of a new diviner
  • Beaten at the funeral of the diviner
  • Used to announce the arrival of the diviner into a community signalling his/her availability for consultations
  • Used as a seat for the diviner during client consultations
  • Used to prepare magic medicines as remedies for identified aliments

Distinguishing Features

  • Height = 10 - 20 inches
  • Male head forms handle of the gong
    • Head is enhanced by a crested hat (usually 3 or 5 lobes)
    • Carved line outlining the face
    • Prominent ears
    • Eyes on head are usually closed
  • Long, narrow, cylindrical body
    • Body bisected by a vertical cavity in front of body
    • Medicine sometimes found packed the cavity
  • Cord attaches striking baton to stil drum
    • Phallic drum stick placed at a slant in the central body cavity

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