Michele Rosewoman

About Bata


THE BATA- The Heart of New Yor-Uba

Text compiled by Michele Rosewoman and Eddie Bobe

Through the drums, human beings become connected to all of nature and to the supernatural, and thus, the drums are honored and celebrated. The (bata drums) hold, to those who believe, divine power. They are used to communicate with the deities known as Orishas, and with the spirits of the ancestors, known as Eguns.

The bata drums are the orchestra of the Yoruba temple. They are the most important drums in the Afro-Cuban form of the Yoruba religion, known in Cuba as Santeria--also known as Regla de Ocha. Santeros are practitioners of this religious form.

The bata are three two-headed drums, each head with its own distinct tone. In Cuba, 'un tambor bata' does not exist. The three constitute 'the bata' - "Los bata son tres." A ceremony where bata drums are played is called "un toque de bata." To play bata means to play these three drums together. Combined, they constitute 'a conversation of six hands.'

The bata drums play complex rhythms, called toques which correspond with the different phases of the ceremonies. They are considered talking drums because they actually speak the Yoruba language through the call and response conversations that occur between the two largest drums. The toques themselves are highly sophisticated rhythmic patterns that are passed on to the aspiring drummer through the oral tradition. Bata drummers must be able to memorize hundreds of toques and their variants. They are able to retain such a great amount of information through melodic memorization, as the various combinations of rhythmic patterns create distinctly different melodies. Improvisation occurs, depending on the drummer's ability to rephrase these patterns.

The Iya is the largest of the bata drums and means mother in Yoruban. It is played by the master drummer who makes the calls or llames to the Itotele, which is the middle drum and responds to the llames of the iya. Derived from the Yoruban prefix, "I" which indicates action, "toto" which means completely and tele', meaning to follow. The Okonkolo, also known as Omele, is the smallest drum in the ensemble It's meaning seems to originate from the Yoruban word Konklolo which means the god or toy of children. This drum provides the steady rhythm around which the Iya and Itotele converse. The toques, songs and dances invoke the orishas. They also musically reflect the qualities embodied by each orisha, For example, one can hear the sound of thunder in the toque meta meta, played for Chango, the Owner of the drums and God of thunder, The toque and movement of the dancer work together to create this effect. When the rhythm alaro is played for Yemaya, Mother of the waters, the acceleration of the toque and the spinning movements of the dancers combine to create the effect of a whirlpool. The word 'bata' seems to be born of an onomatopeic expression of the sounds of the drum. This is true of the names of many drums--conga, bongo, bomba, bate, taba , tamba, tambo timba, tumba, etc... Like the word 'bata', these names have a hard sound and a soft sound, and are an expression of the union of two different fundamental tones.

The African slaves throughout Latin America; Cuba, Brazil, Haiti ingeniously blended the figures of their deified ancestors with the images of the Catholic Church which were forced upon them. Similarities between the Orishas and the Catholic Saints offered an obvious means by which to preserve their African traditions and forms of worship. For example, in Cuba, Saint Barbara became the embodiment of Chango--Saint Lazarus the embodiment of Babalu Aye, and so on. This need to camouflage gave birth to a new religious form, Santeria, which to this day embraces both the Orishas and the Santos or saints.
Olofi is God Almighty in the Yoruba religion. The Orishas are personifications of the forces of nature . For example, Yemaya is the ocean--the Mother of the waters, the fountain of life It is said that from her came all rivers, the Orishas, and everything which breathes and lives on the earth. She has many caminos (roads) or aspects--different qualities--as does the ocean

The Orisha is a pure, immaterial force that is perceived when it takes possession of a human being. The candidate for possession, chosen by the orisha, is one of its descendants. It manifests in this way to dance in front of its children, to receive their greetings, listen to complaints, counsel them, resolve problems and offer thanks.

The Yoruba religion embraces the concept of family that comprises all of the living and dead who have arisen from a common ancestor. To these ancestors is attributed certain knowledge and abilities, such as control over particular forces of nature and knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants, the ability to guide and change the direction of fate in the lives of their children.

↑ Top of page.