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The Royal Drum Makers of Mpambire

Updated on April 6, 2016
The Royal Drum Makers of Mpambire
The Royal Drum Makers of Mpambire | Source

Head down the Kampala-Masaka road in Uganda for about 40 kilometers and you will hit the equator and the Royal Drum Makers of Mpambire. People from many countries come here to purchase hand-made drums which have been sold in this location for about 75 years to churches, NGO's, tourists and Kings. It is a fascinating process to watch and the finished product is beautiful. I bought my drum and lugged it home from Uganda and prize it as being the "real deal" as far as African drums are concerned.

Workers Outside the Drum Shop in Mpambire
Workers Outside the Drum Shop in Mpambire | Source
Finished drums for Sale
Finished drums for Sale | Source
Stretching and Drying Cowhides
Stretching and Drying Cowhides | Source
Stretching and Drying Cowhides
Stretching and Drying Cowhides | Source

Stretching Cowhides

The drums are made from eleven different types of wood which are found in local forests. Mpanga forest is one of the prime locations to find trees. Although it is illegal to cut down the trees, many are felled at night after bribing the forest rangers. The wood which is used resists cracking and is resistant to wood boring insects. The top of the drums are made from cowhide, a material that is perfect in strength and tone. The sides are often made of the hide of a bull. The hide is wet down and stretched on wooden peg frames and dried in the sun. The skins are then cut to the approximate size of the drum and wet again to be placed on the sides of the drum. It takes several days to dry in the dry season and over a week in the wet season. Small pieces of hide are used to decorate and pull the top skin tight against the drum and the drum's tone is adjusted.

Drum Maker Working on the Hides


Frames for Long Drums


The Engalabi

The long drum or Engalabi is another type of drum made at the Drum Shop. A hollowed out tree is shaped by hand with tools and the frames are left to dry for several months. Monitor Lizard skin is applied to the top of the frame after it dries and is nailed in place. The Engalabi is often used as the lead drum and is used to add special rythms. There is a picture of an Engalabi in the photo above entitled "Finished Drums for Sale". It is the drum that looks different than the rest.

Drum Frames Drying and Ready for Use


The current Royal Drum makers have ancestors who have worked at the shop over 70 years ago. They have made drums for royalty and commoners. They were honored to make the drum for the coronation of Kabaka Ronald Mutebi, the King of the Baganda people. Drum makers who have apprenticed at the shop run most of the major drum shops in the large cities in Uganda. This little shop has captured a place in Ugandan History and Culture.

Standing on the Equator at Mpambire


Playing My Ugandan Drum


Mpambire Uganda

Mpambire Uganda:
Mpambire, Uganda

get directions


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    • Lenzy profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Arlington, Texas

      Thank you. I found this place to be very fascinating and drums were certainly an integral part of our stay in East Africa. Lenzy

    • sligobay profile image


      6 years ago from east of the equator

      Excellent research and presentation. Drums are the heartbeat of civilization.


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