“Gentle Thunder” by Julie R. Dargis (Morocco)


Gentle Thunder

by Julie R. Dargis (Morocco 1984-87) 

BEING, AND WORKING WITH PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS throughout Africa, allowed me to experience some of the more exotic cross-cultural aspects of venturing into an environment different from one’s own. But, even with the divisiveness of the political climate of late, I don’t believe that humanity wants or needs to be fractured. As I once wrote, what I have learned from many cultures around the world is that “ . . . notwithstanding our many cultural differences—at our very core, we are all the same.” Now that I am home, through a program at the California Institute for Human Science (CIHS), I am learning that energy fields surround us all, and gravity does not discriminate. The essence of communication is sound, and its vibration has the ability to promote our own capacity to heal.

Sound comes in many forms. One of the more mysterious elements in African culture is drumming. In North Africa, where I was a Volunteer, the cadence of the two-handed cylindrical double-sided Tabl, amplified the rhythm when coupled with the Bendir snare-drums or the Qas’ah kettledrums.  Large metal Qaraquib, the likes of magical castanets, interlaced the beats reverberating within the musicians who shook them into long-winded tunes. As these tunes, lasting more than six times the length of a western ballad droned on, men often danced trancelike around them. Throughout Africa, drums are used for ceremonial purification, spiritual reckoning, as a direct interface with nature, or a means of daily communication. Each culture, basing centuries-old practices on the teachings of a long-line of ancestors.

For many of us, who found ourselves standing in awe during drumming ceremonies while a Peace Corps Volunteer, sound belted out a melody of cohesion. No matter how strange or different the corresponding culture, the waves of sound that passed through us carried the ability to unite and the essence to heal. Sound healing is a traditional method found in many ancient traditions. In addition to drums, gongs, and the ringing and tinkling of bells, there are Tibetan and crystal bowls. Cutting-edge research in the West is considering how the resonance of signing bowls affects our health and well-being. Through this research, science has joined forces with the ancients as sound waves continue to thread the larger energy field that surrounds us, connecting us more deeply to ourselves as well as others.

In North America, drumming is a long-held tradition of native Americans. Drums are used in tribal ceremonies and spiritual festivals. Recently, on the campus of CIHS, I attended a sound healing conducted by Gentle Thunder Niidlista, who works through the intuitive gateway of her ancestors to grid the earth and provide toning ceremonies to groups. As I settled onto my yoga mat, the drumming began. Words immediately swirled through my mind: “That my feet may have wings, my heart may float above the moon, and my mind may rain on the stars.” The beginnings or middle section of a future poem, I thought. But as my mind rained back down to earth, it fell upon the banks of the Ubangi River, above the equator in the Republic of Congo where village drummers stood in wait, ears piqued, hands at the ready. As the sound traveled along the river, Africa’s ancient telegraph surpassed the Western tradition of the internet. What was once an exotic African experience was replaced by the pulsation of practicality. On the Ubangi River, drummers relayed the message from village to village that the canoe carrying the health team was on its way to the next outpost. In the auditorium of CIHS that night, as Gentle Thunder plucked a dreamcatcher with her fingers, my mind strung itself within the confines of the space around me. As the drumming beats on, I lay in wait, brain waves piqued, heart at the ready to welcome healing and enlightenment.

Julie R. Dargis is an international development advisor and organizational consultant based in Carlsbad, CA. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Integral Health at the California Institute for Human Science. 


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  • An informative description of the magnetism of drumming. I live in Harlem where Africans, African Americans, West Indians and Latinos drum to the tolerance, at best, and disgust, at worse, to the ears of gentryfying Eurocentric new comers who only hear noise but never take time to close their eyes and liken the beat of their hearts to that of the drums

  • I heard lots of drumming in Zaire (now the Dem Rep of the Congo) 1977-79. At times, spellbinding. I’ve spent my career in the mental health field and what we know is that the act of drumming itself can be enormously helpful to the client/patient as well as for the listener who dances, moves, and gets the beat. I’ve recommended both to many clients through the years.

  • Thanks for this poetic description of the effects of drumming. While a volunteer in Senegal, I always responded to the sounds, the beat, the timbre of all the drums, and loved doing my “toubab” dance with the village women. Always laughing, always joyful, transcending some harsh realities together to the beat of the drums.

    Leita Kaldi Davis
    (Senegal 1993-96)

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