Ramadan drummers, a noisy but popular tradition

Mella

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#1


Ramadan is a time when old traditions originating from different cultures are revived in Turkey. Among these traditions are highly religious ones, such as “hatim mukabele” (the reciting of the entire Quran), while others are more cultural, as in the case of the Ramadan drummers.

Each morning during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, an hour and a half before dawn, drummers tour the streets, hammering out a repetitive beat to wake people up to have their suhoor (pre-dawn meal) before dawn, when those who are fasting must stop eating and drinking. Ramadan festivities and traditions differ around the Muslim world, but the figure of the drummer seems to be found in many countries with large Muslim populations.

This tradition dates back to the Ottoman era. In Ottoman times, when people didn’t have alarm clocks to wake them for suhoor, drummers would walk through the streets to wake people up. They would also sing a mani, a rhyming couplet -- a reflection of the popular culture. One of the popular couplets at that time was about sleep and prayers: “Why are you sleeping?/What does this sleep earn you?/Make your ablutions, perform the prayer/You will be invited to the heavens.”

There was fierce competition among drummers to sing more creative couplets. All the drummers of a district would gather at a coffeehouse and compete to be named the best couplet singer of the year. One drummer would start the competition with a rhyming couplet and his rival would respond with another. This would continue until one of the drummers failed to respond to the challenge.

At the end of Ramadan, they would go to houses in their street to ask for money for the wake-up service they provided for the neighborhood during the whole holy month. Almost all phases of the drum-beating tradition, from walking through the streets beating the drum to singing rhyming couplets and collecting money, are still alive in our day.

There is an ongoing debate over whether to ban Ramadan drummers from performing their art due to complaints that the drum causes disturbance and has become unnecessary with the widespread use of alarm clocks. Many Turks, however, seem to stand against the banning of this centuries-old tradition and say Ramadan drummers carry the spiritual aspect of old Ramadans to our day.

Local Ramadan drummers are selected in some districts through talent competitions organized by city municipalities. Candidates compete at these contests in a bid to be granted the title of Ramadan drummer.

The head of the Fatih neighborhood in northwestern city of Edirne, Ramazan Tanman, explained why they felt the need to organize a competition to select drummers: “The reason we organized this contest is our desire to have drummers who are appropriate for a European city both in their clothing and conduct. In the past, anyone who grabbed a drum got to be a Ramadan drummer. We will not allow pirate drummers to conduct this business any more,” he said.

One of the winners of such a contest in the Kayseri Municipality was Mustafa Çınar, 91, who claims to be Turkey’s oldest drummer. Çınar said he has been waking fasters in his neighborhood for suhoor for the last 30 years and intends to do so this Ramadan, as well. “I am 91 years old. I used to walk through the streets drumming to wake people for suhoor, but now I drum while on my motorcycle. In this way, I fulfill my task without getting tired,” he stated.

Hanım Polat, Turkey’s only female drummer

Forty-four-year-old Hanım Polat, Turkey’s only female drummer, wakes worshippers in the Işıkkent area of the southern city of Isparta.

Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Polat said her husband is currently working in Russia and she has to work as a Ramadan drummer to meet her children’s needs. “I have eight children and have to beat this drum early in the morning to earn money. I walk through the streets with my eldest son to wake people up,” she explained.

Stressing that drumming is a hard job for a woman, Polat said she continues with this job because she can’t find another one. “Four of my children go to school. I have to meet their needs. I have no other job to do and am obliged to work as a Ramadan drummer,” she added.

Drum beating fading into oblivion

Drummers complain that the Ramadan drumming tradition is fading into oblivion as it cannot compete with fast-developing technologies.


“This tradition is being forgotten every passing day, as it cannot stand against technology. Our people are not very sensitive toward traditions. We were met with great sympathy in the past, but many people believe today that drum beating is unnecessary because they have alarm clocks to wake them up,” said Ebuzer Kalaycı, who has been a Ramadan drummer for 10 years.

He also complained that drummers can’t collect as much money as they did in the past. “People don’t even open their doors when we knock to collect money. They scold us, saying we are disturbing them in the middle of the night. They generally give us flour, sugar, rice, eggs or tea instead of money. However, everything was very different in the past. Children would accompany us while walking through the streets beating the drum and sing rhyming couplets with us. I would have enjoyed this job more then,” he stated.
 
#2
I like the drums. They keep me awake as I'm sweating over the stove at 4 o clock at night, and they make me feel like I'm not the only one doing the same at that time ;)
 
#3
at spot on 4am we had a drummer standing on our poolside banging away i love religous ceremonies as the next but can anyone tell me if these drummers move from sitesi to sitesi or will we have this for a month?
 

Mella

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#4
If it's anything like here then you'll have it every morning for the next month. There are different drummers and they all have their own area where they drum to wake people up. I love it. :grin:
 
#5
Yes i had it the other morning at Olive Grove , been before when it was on , so knew what it was . Oh well when in Rome etc, have to just respect the customs , even if it does wake you up ... Noreen x
 
#7
Good post very interesting because its not something you would ever see here, im going to kusadasi in September during Ramadan do the drummers go round every where or not in the tourist bits?
 
#9
Last year heard the drummer every morning but not yet this year. I like the tradition and it would be a shame to see it die out. Thanks for the informative post Mella although i realised what the drumming was for it was interesting to have details on the tradition.
 

Mella

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#11
Queen B;235542 said:
Good post very interesting because its not something you would ever see here, im going to kusadasi in September during Ramadan do the drummers go round every where or not in the tourist bits?
Well, if you're staying in a hotel you won't hear the drummers. I don't think they go round the British/Irish sitesi's either, it's mainly for the Turkish people as they're the ones that need to wake up to eat.

(I don't think many tourists would be in bed at 4am when they're on holiday anyway. ;))

You will also hear the mosque a lot more during this time too (and they are all lit up - minarets are illuminated when the fast is broken and kept lit until the fast begins again the next day) Earlier tonight I was sitting outside speaking to my mum on the phone and it lasted a good 45 minutes, we live 2 seconds away from a mosque and I have to say sometimes I don't even hear it!

 

zeytin

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#12
Not heard the drummer or the cannons go off once this year here in Guzelcamli! and we are only 10 minutes walk from the village. Mavis
 

Mella

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#13
Mavis the cannon hasn't gone off here either this year (it usually does) and our Ramazan drummer is unreliable and has only been 3 times since it started!
 

zeytin

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#14
A few minutes after i put that thread on yesterday, the cannon went of in the village:doh: not heard it before though.
We were in the village for a meal at 8pm a few nights ago, when the stampede of hungry people descended, and again no cannon, and definately no drumming this year. Mavis
 
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