The Origin Of The Drum
for Djamien Finn
The story of the origin of drums is so old it surpasses the title ancient. It is so very, very old that it is no longer known, except to me. And I learnt it from the falling leaves, the foam crested waves, and a cold, gold moon.
Of course, there are those that say the drum is merely a tool to help those that cannot hear the beat in the world that was always there. That may be so, but the reason the drum came into being wasnít to help those that couldnít hear the cosmic beat; it came as a gift of grief.
The characters in this story didnít have names because they didnít know words. They didnít know much, in fact, except that in the wide, wild and fearful places there was comfort in each other. In their ignorance, space without each other was always wild and fearful. So they gathered under leaning rocks, in caves, and sheltered groves at night, huddling close for warmth and the sharing of their breath.
As the story goes; two of these creatures got separated from their troop and could not find their way back to the others. Too late in crossing a gulch a flash flood came and filled a river before their eyes. They squealed and looked with aching eyes as those on the other side squealed back and beckoned, but the two alone were afraid and could not cross. Two nights they spent in each others arms waiting for the day to see if the river had gone; two nights the others waited, waiting to see if they might cross. On the third day they watched the others drift away.
Eventually the two, as well, turned their backs on the river and went back the way they had come, back to familiar ground and the places they could forage for their food. They were afraid and looked to each other for comfort. Nights were the worst, and each in their turn would sleep fitfully and wake anxious to hear the others breath and fretted grunts in sleep; there was solace in the sound enabling return to sleep.
Months went by and the two creatures were inseparable.
Then, one late afternoon, as the dying sun spread watered blood amongst the clouds in the western sky, one of the two left the cleft in the rock they settled on as shelter for the night. Nature called, the story goes.
Not until the sky turned dark did the other fret and panic for his partners return. It didnít happen. He spent his first night, ever, alone. Without shared breath he slept little. On the day following he searched, and searched in vain for his mate.
Another night without the breath and dozing gasps of his mate was becoming too much and his eyes became haunted as he hunted for her in the lonely days that followed her disappearance.
He didnít find her until the fourth day. It was late afternoon, the sky was the colour of diluted blood, the dark and nightís early hush were coming. He caught sight of her in a rocky depression; she was lying on her back, motionless, her stomach distended, taut, and shiny with the crimson, spattered reflections of a dying sun.
He was young and had never before seen one of his own dead. Didnít quite know what to make of her stillness, and even though the ants and flies tweaked memories of other creatures deaths, he didnít want to make the connection he would, in moments, have to. Doubt creased his brows as he approached. He stretched out a finger to prod the body of his mate, felt hard immobility, and trembled with his knowing.
Once, very young, he had been clipped across the ear by the brute backhand swipe of an angry bull male. At the time he experienced the shock at the action, as well as the pain that followed his surprise. This moment was almost the same; shock and pain, but the pain was inside and nobody had hit him. He shook his head, caught breath convulsed his body, he tottered, fell forward, and with recovered breath groaned lament. He raised his fists and beat upon her chest an angry tattoo that said without words: if only, if only, if only...
With the night creeping closer his anger quickly subsided, his beating of her breast softened and it was then he was surprised to hear her breath, her welcome breath. He stopped his fists and leaned down toward her lips to listen more carefully. There was nothing to hear. In frustration he hit her chest again and heard the escaping air he thought her breath. He pushed her chest with the flat of his hand and heard, once more, her breath escape.
At night when they had slept together he had been comforted by her fitful grunts, her warming breath, and by the sound of something gently thumping behind her breast. The thumping in his own breast he was feeling now; it was fast. He leant across her body and laid his ear against her breast. Nothing.
If only ... if only he could put back the beat in her breast everything might be alright. He listened for the beat in his own body and smacked her chest with his hands in tempo with his heart. More wind escaped. He leaned closer to her head as he beat her chest; was it her breath? He gagged and fell back. There was no sweet, scented warmth, just fetid wind redolent of the dead creatures heíd come across when wandering with his troop.
There was nothing here for him anymore; the she that she had been, had gone. This carcass in her place was nothing he knew.
He left. Left her to the ants and flies and other creatures that would sniff upon the wind, smell her bloated carcass, and rush eagerly to devour her.
If emptiness is sadness, he was sad.
That night, fearful and alone with a sense of future doomed, his fingers, echoing his searching mind, reached tentatively toward the thudding in his chest. His nails scratched through hairs to experience the skin below. No, it was not hard like hers had been, it was soft and warm. The inexplicable pain returned. And just as he had, in fearful anger, beaten her chest, he beat his own.
Later, his chest hurting with the pain of his beating, he tapped more gently in time to the beating of his heart. And as he tapped he heard the beat she had had within her breast; it made him sad yet, somehow, less fearful.
Every night heíd gently beat his breast to ease his fretting, and eventually he would sleep.
It was in the spring, in the lush season, that he breathed them in. There amidst the odours of fallen fruit, wet grass, moist decay, he discovered his troopís return. When he caught sight of them the wind was in his face. It perturbed him they acted strange. He knew them but they didnít know him. Their strange behaviour made him circle them from a distance. It was when the wind was at his back that some of the troop breathed him in and knew. Excited grunted, greetings drew him into the group and he was welcomed back.
As time went on, though, it was clear that he wasnít quite back in the same way. At night he wasnít as quick to huddle with the others, sharing their breath, their beating breast, and comfort. Always, just as night was drawing in he would he would find a place close, but away from the others, off to the side where he would start tapping his chest. The sound he made was familiar and finally, to the others, when the lush season was over, soothing.
The first drum was not a beaten hollow log, or stretched hide over tooled wood, it was skin and ribs over a broken heart echoing a time when it was once complete. Ever since then, when a creature first felt the inklings of love in a heartbeat, since then and down the ages, drums have pulsed with the beat of life to comfort those touched and hurt by the silence of death.