Thursday, August 5, 2010

Blow Ékpè: Conjuring the voice of the leopard.

"In Calabar history, Ékpè say they 'blow Ékpé' (as translated from Efik). In his
book Efik Ékpè, Eng (Chief) Bassey equates the Voice sound with a trumpet,
metaphorically." Dr. (Chief) Ivor Miller

Click Here for M.H. Masts 1989 article on The larynx of roaring and non-roaring cats.

The larynges of the four 'roaring' cats, the lion, tiger, leopard, and jaguar,
can be distinguished from larynges of 'non-roaring' cats by a large pad of
fibro-elastic tissue which constitutes the rostral portion
of the proportionately very large vocal fold.

This paper presents a more detailed anatomical study of the larynx of all
species of the big cats and a representative number of small cats. The
structure of the vocal folds of the family Felidae are discussed in terms of
functional morphology, with 'roaring' versus 'non-roaring' vocalisation
described in principles of musical acoustics.

It was found that all species of genus Panthera ('roaring cats'), with the
exception of P. uncia, can be distinguished from 'non-roaring' cats by a large
pad of fibro-elastic tissue which constitutes the rostal portion of each of the
proportionately very large undivided vocal folds (Fig. 1 a). p. 118

Because of their large mass, the Panthera vocal folds - the sound generating
element - have a low natural frequency and, when vibrating, will produce a high
acoustical energy. p. 119

As in other species of the cat family, sexual differences are quantitative, with
the male larynx, on the average, larger than the female. P. 119

The entire vocal mechanism of the roaring Panthera, i.e. subglottic larynx,
vocal folds, supraglottic larynx, pharynx and open mouth, is analogous to the
brass trumpet. The Panthera vocal folds simulate the form of a trumpet
mouthpiece. The mouthpiece, when added to one end of the tube (supraglottic
larynx and pharynx), adjusts frequencies of the harmonics. The result is to
increase slightly the effective length of the tube and to cause the instrument
to behave acoustically like an open tube with a new length; the instrument
(vocal mechanism) will then produce a set of resonances which includes all the
notes of the overtone series (Berg & Stork, 1982).

The wide open mouth of the cat is analogous to the bell of the trumpet. Adding a
bell or wide open mouth to the cat's trumpet-like vocal apparatus provides the
correct match between instrument and outside air to transfer the sound most
efficiently; a bell also modifies the frequency and stability of the harmonics,
increasing their production and radiation (Bachus, 1977; Berg & Stork, 1982).

The configuration of an instrument employing a mouthpiece at one end of a
straight tube and a bell at the other end will produce a sound that is louder,
and a tone that is brighter and more 'trumpet-like' than any instrument that
lacks either a mouthpiece or a bell (Holmes, 1985). Finally, the replacement of
the epihyal by an elastic ligament in genus Panthera allows the larynx to be moved a greater distance from the tympanic bulla and is analogous to the modem valve brass trumpet or slide trombone, where every lengthening of the instrument by 6% will result in a decrease in pitch of one semitone i.e. about 6% in frequency (Bachus, 1977).P.120

Visit Dr. (Chief) Ivor Miller on Facebook and view his photographs of Calabar, its people, and surrounding areas of Cross River State. Dr. (Chief) Ivor Miller is a visiting Fulbright scholar from the African Studies center Boston University, conducting research in Cross River state, southeast Nigeria and many of the surrounding regions.

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