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Jungle Drums

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The wildlife is getting restless.

Mr. Boosey: Well, Upsidasi, what do those drums say?
Upsidasi: 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 NausicaƤ 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 Books 
  • Wonder Woman (1942): The African tribesmen who are being forced to work for the Nazis (who are holding their women and children hostage) use drums to summon their neighbors in before attacking them.
  • Subverted in the Dynamite Comics Massive Multiplayer Crossover Legenderry: the main characters all nod understandingly when The Phantom says the message about them came through drums, and never learn that "Drums" is the nickname of the tribe's radio operator.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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!"
  • The New Yorker: 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."
  • Since The Phantom's base of operations is in Darkest Africa, these are often seen-heard conveying information across the jungle.

    Fan Works 
  • The Discworld of A.A. Pessimal has the local analogue of CMOT Dibbler motioning the person he is speaking to for silence while he and his bearers listen to the drums. Howondaland's Dibbler then explains the financial report always comes at the end, miss, and he needed to know the current exchange rates for the Urabean Mhlati against the Rimwards Howondalandian Rand set against the benchmark of the Ankh-Morporkian Dollar.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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-
      Gladstone: Sh! Sh! Hang on!
      Dr Nookey: Gladstone, where are you going? Gladstone? Gladstone, Gladstone-
      Gladstone: Sh! Sh! (Beat) It can't be!
      Dr Nookey: Wh-wh-what's wrong?
      Gladstone: Manchester United 6... Chelsea 1! Arsenal 5... Wolves nil!
    • In Carry On Up the Jungle, when the bearers hear the Noshas' drums, they refuse to go any further lest they be eaten by cannibals. Bill Boosey isn't convinced that cannibals even exist, but Upsidasi explains it to him:
      Upsidasi: Well, dey say dat de first drum says "Lay de table. Dinner on de way". And de second drum says "Yummy yummy".
  • Deadtime Stories: Volume 1: When Angela and her expedition are being pursued through The Amazon Rainforest in "Valley of the Shadow", one of the natives is shown playing a strange drum like instrument whose beat fills the soundtrack.
  • In George of the Jungle messages are sent via Bongo-gram.
  • Played by the Amazons during their celebration in Frankenstein Island. It has a very African beat despite the island in question being in the Philippines and nowhere near Africa.
  • 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.
  • Spoofed in The Hot Chick where a store clerk is explaining why she won't sell a pair of earrings the audience knows to be enchanted to the protagonist, and a wild drumbeat builds for dramatic effect. She then interrupts herself to snap at her employee playing the drums so loud.
  • 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.
  • Jumanji. The board game's Leitmotif. The game uses it to draw in new players, who are established as being the only ones that can hear the drums.
  • Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: The game uses them as a cue that it's about to unleash some fast-paced action on the players.
  • In King of the Zombies, voodoo drums are a constant (and unnerving) presence whenever the main characters are outside the mansion.
  • In Liane, Jungle Goddess, the Botos communicate using jungle drums. Thoren uses his knowledge of the drum language to communicate with Liane after she is captured.
  • 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.
  • In The Phantom, the Bangalla natives use message drums to summon the Phantom when trouble is brewing.
  • The Road to Singapore: Instead of a signal that The Natives Are Restless like how this trope is often used, here (the setting is 1931 India, so during the British colonial era) it's a sign that they're all getting laid. Hugh asks his servant and is told that the nonstop jungle drums are part of a ceremony where the local young men are picking brides and, presumably, having a lot of sex. The drums keep both him and Phillipa (Hugh's neighbor, a lonely wife in a Sexless Marriage) up and apparently lead to them having sex with each other.
  • In the Republic Pictures film The Vampires Ghost, the people of the village of Bakunda somewhere on the West African coast use drums to communicate, and word quickly spreads among them that the local nightclub owner is a vampire long before the white heroes figure it out. Also a heroic example, since the drum network is key to hunting down the vampire in the film's third act.
  • 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!

  • 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."

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Heart of Darkness by Jospeh Conrad.
  • The children's' book by Graeme Base, Jungle Drums.
  • 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.
  • One of the early chapters of Roots describes how little kids learn to listen to the drums and gradually understand what they're saying.
  • Tarzan has the dum-dum drums being played by mangani, the apes that raised Tarzan, at midnight gatherings.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • The Goodies. The South Africa episode with the "The jockeys are restless tonight". Cue Bill playing bongo drums. And the obligatory Visual Pun when the "message sent on the drums" involves a drum thrown at Tim and Graham with a message written on it.
  • Invoked, complete with exact words, for the purpose of conveying wild, carnal depravity in the second episode of Lois & Clark. When Clark is briefly over at Cat's apartment laying low from rampaging government agents, Cat sets him at ease and plays against her reputation, but as soon as he's on the phone with Lois and Perry she turns on a recording of jungle drums at high volume to give everyone at the Planet the impression that the two of them are, as Clark later puts it, "hanging from the chandeliers."
    Perry: Jungle drums?!!
  • Turns up in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
  • These occur during the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch with explorers dining at a jungle restaurant.
  • One episode of The Twilight Zone (1985) 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 Cadets' "Stranded in the Jungle" from 1956. Meanwhile, back in the jungle...
  • The most famous example is Drums of Passion by Babatunde Olatunji, the album that broke African music to the West.
  • The Clyde Otis song, 'Jungle Drums'.
  • The Emiliani Torrini song and video, 'Jungle Drum'.
  • The Van Halen song, "Everybody Wants Some!!"
  • Rhea's Obsession's Memento Mori features some tribal drums starting at about 2:30 and continuing for the remainder of the track.


    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.
  • The Goon Show put their distinctive spin on the idea:
    Neddie: I have a message for you from Bloodnock, in the heart of Africa. *several seconds of jungle drums* Signed... *tom tom* Any reply?
    Grytpype: Jove, yes! This: *several seconds of modern full-kit drum solo* Signed yours sincerely, *congas*, PS, *triangle jingling*.
    Neddie: What beautiful handwriting you have.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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 
  • Bloons Tower Defense has an upgrade called Jungle Drums for the Monkey Village that increases the attack speed of nearby monkeys (or sometimes non-monkeys as well).
  • 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.)

    Western Animation 

  • 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.
  • The Superman Theatrical Cartoons short, "Jungle Drums".

    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.