Visit the LA Law Library through the end of February to view a 360-degree display of groundbreaking research on colonial-era laws regarding the control of drumming in Africa. This exhibit features drums from the department's world musical instrument collection and was put together by Neel Agrawal, Global Law Librarian at the LA Law Library, with a team from UCLA: Aaron Bittel, Archivist, UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive; Kathleen Hood, Director of Ethnomusicology Publications; Helen Rees, professor and Director of the UCLA Center for World Music; and Dr. Jesse Ruskin, lecturer and African music specialist.


Research Documents Cultural Oppression In Historic African Drumming Laws

By: Neel Agrawal
Published: February 1, 2016

Through the end of February, LA Law Library is featuring a 360-degree display of African drumming laws and exemplars of the drums and other percussion instruments they regulated. In particular, the display showcases groundbreaking research into the English colonial drumming laws throughout Africa that were designed to prevent the local populations from assembling, communicating, performing, and practicing rituals. 

Lead researcher Neel Agrawal (Global Law Librarian at LA Law Library) is the first worldwide to collect and index statutes from Africa strictly regulating drumming, primarily during the colonial period. The display features the laws from LA Law Library’s renowned Global Law collection, as well as ethnographic research, African percussion instruments, and photographs from the World Music Center at UCLA.

Colonial statutory law often prohibited drumming or required fees to apply for a permit lasting up to one day. Violations of these and other stringent penal and township codes resulted in additional fees and/or imprisonment. The colonial governance regime relied on localized authority, such as Native Councils, to implement and enforce colonial drumming laws intended to exert control over African communities.  In contrast, the critical role of drumming in African societies had been codified in preexisting African customary laws for generations.

The research on display illuminates the historical legacy of these conflicting legal systems, illustrated by the relationship between colonial and customary African drumming laws, and serves as one example of how statutory law was used to repress native customs and override local customary laws.

Over the next year, a research grant from LexisNexis and the American Association of Law Libraries will facilitate further exploration of the critical legal and cultural issues presented in this display.

For more information go to the Law Library's Facebook page:


Neel Agrawal (left), Ralph Stahlberg, Director, Reference and Research, LA Law Library (center), and Dr. Jesse Ruskin (right).



A portion of the exhibit.




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