A kashaka is versatile percussion instrument that originates in West Africa. It is traditionally constructed of two small, ball-shaped gourds that are filled with shaker material and connected by a short string.

It is known by many different names throughout West Africa, and has been reproduced in plastic in various countries under different names: Kashaka (Canada), Patica (Japan) and Kosika (USA).

Kashakas create both shaking sounds and percussive clicks, by swinging the balls around the hand, and by making the balls hit each other. Learning to catch the Kashaka can be difficult at first, but it enables a much larger variety of rhythms to be created. Also, as hands come in different sizes, it is important to play a Kashaka that is the right size, as it makes learning how to play and master different rhythms much easier.Kashakas can create hundreds, if not thousands, of different rhythms. When a Kashaka is played in each hand by an experienced player, polyrhythms can be produced by playing two different rhythms with different time signatures.

Kashakas are considered a toy to some, a percussion instrument to most, and are also a skill development tool that can improve dexterity, ambidexterity, brain hemispheric synchronization, and the ability to multitask. It can also build muscle mass and improve flexibility in the hands, arms, shoulders and chest. It is also considered a meditative tool that can create a trance state, promote relaxation and lower stress levels.

Many countries in West Africa are impoverished, and for many children, a Kashaka is their only toy. This is because they literally grow out of the ground.

How They Are Made

Each ball of the Kashaka is a hollow gourd that grows like lemons on the Swawa tree (see below for more information about the tree). When the gourds dry and fall off the trees, the children collect them and fill them with orange pebbles from the iron rich soil of the Sahel. Along the coast of West Africa, small pieces of shells are used instead

The two gourd balls are attached to each other by a small string (sometimes made from old rags braided together), in one of two ways:

One way is to make a single, round hole in the bottom of the Kashaka. Once the shaker material has been added, one end of the string is knotted and inserted in the hole. Then a small stick, which has been tapered at one end by a knife, is inserted into the hole until it can go no further. It is glued to the thin wall of the gourd, and once it has dried, the end of the stick sticking out of gourd is carefully sawed off. The length of string between the balls can vary from 6-12 cm, depending on the size of the ball (the larger the ball, the longer the string).

Another way to make Kashakas is to make a hole on both the top and bottom of each gourd, and once the shaker material has been added, the rope is threaded through both holes of each gourd and knotted on the outside of the gourds. Kashakas made in this way are adjustable, as the knot can be moved up or down the string. This can be advantageous, as it is much easier to learn how to play and master Kashakas when they are the correct size for your hand.

Mali: Where Women are the Masters of Kashaka

In Mali, only women and girls play with Kashakas. Sometimes it's for work, and sometimes for play. Everyone in Mali has to help out - as soon as girls are old enough to babysit, they will lean how to play Kashakas to entertain their younger siblings. When they get older, and a little better at playing, they get together with their teenage friends and have some fun: they surround a tree and sing folk songs, rhythmically bouncing their Kasso Kassonis off the trunk at the same time.

The men and boys in Mali think Kasso Kassonis belong to the realm of women's things. Even the great Malian drummers don't use them.

Elsewhere in West Africa

In other parts of West Africa, like in Togo, Benin and Ghana, male drummers have been using Kasso Kassoni (or Kashaka) for generations. They were probably introduced to Ghana by their legendary fishermen, who have traveled far up and down the Gold Coast, trading and sharing cultural traditions and rhythms (so far, more than 20 names for Kashakas have been discovered).

In some places in Cameroon, Kashakas have a unique traditional use. Whenever villagers gather to meet with the chief, they all pull our their Kashakas and begin shaking them as soon as the chief enters the room. In Guinea, Kashakas are played by young women after their rite-of-passage ceremonies, when they travel to the river for a ritual cleansing.

The gourd giving treeIt was formerly in the family Flacourtiaceae but is currently in the family Salicaceae.

Species: Oncoba spinosaCommon Names (English): Snuff Box Tree, Fried Egg TreeCommon Name (Twi): AsratoaCommon Name (from Field Guide to the Forest Trees of Ghana): AsratowaduaRange: Northeast South Africa to Arabia

It has been exported to the United States, and is advertised as an attractive yard tree for Florida, and it has also become naturalized in parts of Texas.

The information about the Kashaka tree was generously researched and provided with permission to share by: Kyle Arvin, Director, New York State Seed Testing Laboratory, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Department of Horticultural Sciences, Sturtevant Hall, Cornell University.

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