According to Tchaman's (Ebriés) oral tradition accounts, a colonial administrator named Simon received an order in 1916 to "pacify" the region of Abidjan, which had repeatedly taken up arms against French occupation. The Lagoon distric commander Simon, dispatched several punitive expeditions to squash the rebellion. During each ofensive, the colonial repression troops found themselves facing the Bidjan people with advanced intelligence on the operations and were thus able to defend their positions.
Later, French colonial troops were made aware of the role and importance of the Djidji Ayokwe talking drum in the Tchaman resistance.

Djidji Ayokwe, the talking drum

Djidji Ayokwe, the mythical drum was a transmission tool used to coordinate important messages through various sounds. During the Tchaman resistance, the drum was used as signalling device intended to transmit combatant's positions, political, economic messages or decrees to fighters on the front line.

To alter the course of the fighting, Simon sent combattants in to punish resistants and capture Djidji Ayokwe, the talking drum, in the village of Adjame. They had clear objectives; remove or destroy the drum to continue their progress in the "pacification" campaign.

With an advanced warning of the white men's strategies, the Tchamans defended their positions. However, with sophisticated weapons and  regular reinforcements from conteingents stationed in Abidjan, cololinal soldiers succeeded despite many casualties in removing Ayokwe.

From then on, the Tchamans ceased all armed resistance. First, the villages, then the clans/Mando surrendered to the occupying authority.
With the Ayokwe drum silenced, the Tchamans lost their independence. Like most other Ivorian ethnic groups, they were subjected to the inhuman regime of forced labour to build the Abidjan-Abobote road.

The instrument was later sent to Bingerville until 1929 when writer Paul Morad visited the Ivory Coast. He was so fascinated with this extraordinary drum, that upon returning to Paris, he informed Doctor Rivet who in turn convainced the Lapalud government to ship it to the Ethnography Museum in France.

On March 1, 1930, the paris Ethnography Museum registered the drum  under No. 524, series 03.

In 1958, the Musee de l'Homme sent an ethnologist with several photographs of the famous drum to the Ivory Coast. The researcher's mission was to investigate the origin and function of the instrument. He went to Abidjan-Adjame to meet with  village chiefs for more information. The photographs of the drum brought back bad memories and infuriated the Atchan dignitaries and the population to the point were the researcher had to be rescued by a prominent notable named Koutouan, when time came to lynch him.

People (men, women, young and old) suddenly began to shout battle cries. The wailing was heard accross town. The Bidjan people were paying the last tribute to their mythical talking drum: a symbol of their lost independence. The youth who only ever knew it by name wanted to own a copy. It was a moving and solemn spectacle.

After the ethnologist's visit, the Tchamans wrote to President Houphouet Boigny in an effort to obtain the return of Ayokwe from his French counterpart (Charles De Gaule). The Tchamans suggested sending a genuine copy of this unique piece to Paris. Their request was never acted upon.

The drum remained in the Musee de l'Homme in Paris, under No. 30-5-1, as a donation by the government of Côte d’Ivoire from 1930 to 2022 when France promised its restitution.

The original stolen Djidji Ayokwe piece is 3.5 meters long by 0.78m in diameter. It looks nothing like the "restored" drum of Paris's Quai Branly museum.

The restitution of looted artworks to Africa is one of the highlights of the "new relationship" that President Macron wants to establish with the African continent.

Source: Tchaman Aka Konin.

Published on 1/12/2022 By Patrice Koutouan - Culture Correspondent

With Meyan Nanguy - Lifestyle Editor