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Jungle Drums

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The wildlife is getting restless.

Bill Boosey: Well, Upsidaisi, what do those drums say?
Upsidaisi: Dey say... "Boom diddy, boom diddy, boom boom boom".

A sister trope to The Natives Are Restless, this harks back to the days in deepest darkest Africa, where the mood of the natives can be determined by their midnight drumming. If they're banging away on those puppies till the wee small hours, trouble is definitely brewing. The more anxious white people can be driven to nervous exhaustion by Those Infernal Drums (a good name for a band), but the moment you really worry is when they stop, suddenly. Sometimes we get to see the wild abandoned dancing of the natives.

They are also used by the natives to communicate, as the native guide will often grab plot-relevant info from them (Truth in Television, in fact). See also Jungles Sound Like Kookaburras.

No relation to the types of drums used in jungle music, like the Amen Break.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Invoked in the manga version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind with the Doroks, a bizarre mashup of various "non-western" cultures who hold ceremonies involving frantic drumming and dancing as they prepare to besiege enemy cities.

    Comic Strips 
  • Since The Phantom's base of operations is in Darkest Africa, these are often seen-heard conveying information across the jungle.
  • Parodied in a The Far Side cartoon, where two explorers are hiding out in a tent from a percussionistic native tribe. One of them notices what the natives are beating and says, "Wait, Morrison!... It's OK—those are jungle triangles!"
  • A cartoon by Whitney Darrow invoked the communication angle by showing a fellow pounding away on a drum while another drummer tells a white explorer, "Momboango gives the news behind the news."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The 1953 movie serial, Jungle Drums of Africa.
  • Airplane!. A brief scene has a native beating on drums as an analogy to a news broadcast.
  • Carry On films:
    • The trope is parodied in Carry On Again, Doctor. The natives are using their drums to broadcast the week's English football results.
      Dr Nookey: Oh, those damn drums! What do they keep pounding like that for?-
      Gladstone: Sh! Sh! (listens) Hang on! (runs off)
      Dr Nookey: Gladstone, where are you going? (he stumbles drunkenly after him) Gladstone? (taps him on the shoulder) Gladstone, Gladstone-
      Gladstone: Sh! Sh! (grabs a pencil and paper and listens, stunned) It can't be!
      Dr Nookey: (nervously) Wh-wh-what's wrong?
      Gladstone: Manchester United 6... Chelsea 1! Arsenal 5... Wolves 0! (Nookey sinks to the ground)
    • In Carry On Up the Jungle, after drumming has been heard, the bearers refuse to go any further, because the locals eat people. The expedition leader claims this is nonsense; there is no such thing as cannibals! The bearers counter that the first drum says "Lay the table for five" and the second one says "Yum-yum!".
  • In George of the Jungle messages are sent via Bongo-gram.
  • Jumanji. The board game's Leitmotif.
  • When Sister Luke goes to Africa in The Nun's Story one of the mission sisters listens to the drums and tells Sister Luke what they're saying about her.
  • You will also hear communicating drums in I Walked with a Zombie and other Voodoo pictures whenever they bother to be the least bit authentic.
  • In The Phantom, the Bangalla natives use message drums to summon the Phantom when trouble is brewing.
  • Although an American Western version, there's this scene in The Villain.
    Nervous Elk: We attack... at dawn!
    Cactus Jack: Chief, why don't we attack now, when they're off guard?
    Nervous Elk: Indians never attack till dawn!
    Cactus Jack: Why?
    Nervous Elk: 'Cause at night, Indians too busy pounding on those damned DRUMS!
  • In King of the Zombies, voodoo drums are a constant (and unnerving) presence whenever the main characters are outside the mansion.
  • Heart of Darkness (1958) sees the "bush telegraph" version Played for Laughs when the Accountant dictates his "interoffice memo" to a drummer, who relays the message with surprising terseness.

  • Parodied in this joke.
    Most jazz musicians probably know this joke — the one about the guy on Safari, who when travelling through the jungle hears some incredible drumming coming from a distance. The following conversation ensues with his local guide:

    Guy: Wow! That's amazing — let's see if we find it!
    Guide: No! We must go now — when drums stop, big trouble!
    Guy: But the drumming sounds amazing, I really want to check it out.
    Guide: No — we must go, when drums stop, big trouble!
    Guy: But this is the kind of thing I came here to experience! I really want to hear it!
    Guide: No! We must go before drums stop!
    Guy: But why? What happens when the drums stop?
    Guide: Bass solo!
  • Another joke tells of two guys on safari who hear a drumming coming through the jungle, and one of them says to the other "I don't like the sound of those drums!" And it gets louder, and he says "I really don't like the sound of those drums!" And then they hear a voice saying "Yeah, well, it's not our regular drummer."

  • The childrens' book by Graeme Base, Jungle Drums.
  • In Explorers of Gor, which took place in a Fantasy Counterpart culture combining Darkest Africa with the Amazon rainforest, the natives communicated via drum. Justified via "certain drum sounds correspond to the vowels of the language, and the drum rhythm mimics the rhythm of the native language."
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Beyond the Black River," the Picts are communicating in drums, much to the displeasure of Conan and the others at the fort. To be sure the Picts are both white (a point lampshaded in the story) and in what would one day be Europe, but the trope is treated identically.
  • Heart of Darkness by Jospeh Conrad.
  • Tarzan has the dum-dum drums being played by mangani, the apes that raised Tarzan, at midnight gatherings.
  • In Congo Mercenary by Mike Hoare, the Wild Geese find a huge village drum. One of the mercenaries drums out a flawless beat, then listens. An answering beat is heard in the distance.
    "What's he saying?"
    "Wrong number!"
  • Jungle drums are a constant presence when Doc Savage and his crew are in Darkest Africa in Land of Long Juju.
  • As indicated by the title, the Dragonriders of Pern novel Dragondrums details how the human transplants to the planet Pern use drums to communicate between settlements.
  • One of the early chapters of Roots describes how little kids learn to listen to the drums and gradually understand what they're saying.
  • The Peshawar Lancers gives it a twist: with Europe having been ravaged by natural disasters and its civilization collapsed, mention is made of drums in the night along the savage Rhine River.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Goodies episode with the "The jockies are restless tonight". Cue Bill playing bongo drums. And the obligatory Visual Pun. The message sent on the drums involves a drum thrown at Tim and Graham with a message written on it.
  • Turns up in an episode of The Man From Uncle.
  • These occur during the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch with explorers dining at a jungle restaurant.
  • Parodied in a Gilligan's Island episode. The castaways hear drums, implying an impending attack from the natives. Then the drums stop, at which point the Professor assures them that the attack has been called off. Cut to the natives with a broken drum, and a chief lamenting (via subtitle) that They Don't Make Them Like They Used To.
  • One episode of the 80's revival of The Twilight Zone depicts the havoc created when a granted wish causes all the sound effects for a jungle-adventure radio show to be produced by authentic sources. This includes, naturally, a feathered and painted native beating on a drum.

  • The most famous example is Drums of Passion by Babatunde Olatunji, the album that broke African music to the West.
  • The Emiliani Torrini song and video, 'Jungle Drum'.
  • The Clyde Otis song, 'Jungle Drums'.
  • The Cadets' "Stranded in the Jungle" from 1956. Meanwhile, back in the jungle...


    Puppet Shows 
  • In one Sesame Street sketch, Ernie is looking for Dr. Livingstone (who is that kind of doctor) to ask him an important question, with Bert reluctantly tagging along and wanting to go home at every setback. At the end, the drums are also beaten after Ernie asks his question, and Dr. Livingston remarks about the jungle being full of jokers. Before that, however, one of the people they run into is Taxi Driver McGillicuddy. (Or however it would be spelled.) His identity clarified, they hear Jungle Drums:
    Taxi Driver: Those drums! Those drums! They're sayin', "Taxiiiii!" I tell ya, it's a jungle out heayuh.

  • Used in the intro to Moon Over Africa, about an expedition through Africa. The natives use drums for long-distance communication, and the white adventurer protagonists read the drum-talk to determine whether they are friendly or hostile, and to intercept news and gossip.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Traveller Supplement 2 Animal Encounters. Subverted in one possible encounter. The PCs hear this sound in the distance. If they investigate they find that it's a natural phenomena caused by a grove of hollow trees.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Dragon #189 "Bazaar of the Bizarre". When the Drums of Menace are played, everyone within 1,000 feet (except the person playing it and their allies) becomes paranoid. They are overly worried about ambushes and traps, more likely to be affected by illusions and so on. The feeling of menace continues as long as the drums continue to be beaten.
    • Basic D&D supplement The Book of Marvelous Magic. When Native Drums are played at night those trying to sleep within 50 yards can't get to sleep and suffer penalties the next day.
  • Venusians in Rocket Age play war drums deep into the night before opening hostilities, as both a war to declare their intentions and as a form of psychological warfare.

  • The bit with the natives playing drums as a sign of impending trouble was popularized by a 1918 melodrama, The Drums of Oude, apparently based on the Sepoy uprising (which was India, not Africa, but ne'mind).
  • In The Emperor Jones, the natives' drums start beating faster every time Jones expends a bullet.
  • In Porgy and Bess, the Kittiwah picnic scene begins with 49 bars of polyrhythmic African drumming.

    Video Games 
  • In World of Warcraft, a skilled leatherworker can make many kinds of drums and sound them during a battle to give his team various bonuses. A typical kodo steed is shown to have some attached to the saddle but they aren't usable (unlike Warcraft 3, where a drummer mounted on a kodo increased combat effectivenes of nearby troops.)

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • The Superman short, "Jungle Drums".
  • Jonny Quest episode "Pursuit of the Po-Ho". The jungle-dwelling Po-Ho Indians communicate using drums.
  • Phineas and Ferb episode "Tri-Stone Area": the cavepeople versions of Candace and Stacy use this instead of cellphones.

    Real Life 
  • Drummers of Sri Lanka used the drums to communicate people during the ancient times. They are known as Beras.
    • Ana Bera means informing the Sri Lankan people about orders from the King.
    • Vada Bera means that a criminal is taken for beheading.
    • Mala Bera means a funeral was in process.
    • Rana Bera means that the army or the police when going out to meet the enemy.
  • This trope originated in West Africa, where drums were indeed used to communicate long distances; however, the drummers did so over wide grassy plains. Jungles do not let sound carry far. There is an art to real message drumming and many musicians have taken up the art and passed it along to keep it from becoming an Endangered or Dead Language.
  • Any East and Southeast Asian drums.


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