Object of the Day

Iya ilu Dundun ("Mother" Talking Drum)

May 2 Dundun is a Yoruba word that refers to a family of variable tension drums. The pitch of these hourglass-shaped drums can be changed by squeezing the ties that join the two drumheads between the left arm and the torso while the drum is being struck with a curved stick. This feature is used to mimic the tones and cadence of human speech. The iya ilu, or mother drum, is considered the lead instrument in the ensemble.

Iya'lu dundun (drum)

Label Text
This instrument is considered the most important drum by the Yoruba, who call it iya, literally, "the mother." It is played in almost any situation that requires music, mimicking spoken Yoruba speech tones. The varying sounds are obtained by holding the drum under the arm and squeezing the tension strings while striking the membrane with a curved stick. The bells also add sound.
Wood hourglass shaped double headed drum with hide tension strings, running from head to head, completely surrounding the entire body of the drum. Shoulder strap and two support straps are made of locally woven striped cotton cloth. Locally cast and imported brass bells hang from support straps.
Ambassador and Mrs. Benjamin Hill Brown, Jr., Alexandria, Virginia, before 1971 to 1974
Exhibition History
Audible Artworks: Selected Musical Instruments, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., June 25, 2000-April 8, 2001
Data Source
National Museum of African Art
Yoruba artist
Mid-late 20th century
Credit Line
Gift of Amb. and Mrs. Benjamin Hill Brown, Jr.
Wood, hide, cloth, brass bells
H x W x D: 51.8 x 25.4 x 25.4 cm (20 3/8 x 10 x 10 in.)