Sound is often understood as generally having a privileged role in the production and modulation of fear, activating instinctive responses, triggering an evolutionary functional nervousness.
The power of sound to instill dread was well known to the heavily outnumbered Maroons, the tribal nation turned guerrilla fighters who claimed a number of astounding victories in their asymmetric conflict with the English colonialists in Jamaica during the
late eighteenth century.
The abeng, a fashioned cow horn, had two uses: by slave holders to call the slaves to the cane fields and a “traditional form of communication among the communities, warning them and sending messages across difficult terrain.”
The Maroons used the abeng in tandem with their other special techniques—drum communication, the ambush, and camouflage—in order to outwit the British: “They embedded themselves in leaves and vines and melted into the surrounding bushes. The
British repeatedly walked into clearings where their surroundings would suddenly come
alive and close in on them.”
The abeng, as a system of communication, produced signals “reproducing the pitch and rhythmic patterns of a fairly small vocabulary of Twi words, from their mother language, in most cases called Kromantin (Maroon spelling) after the Ghanaian port from which many slave ancestors were shipped.”
Sentries stationed outside the villages would use the different pitches to communicate the British approach, the extent of the weapons they carried, and their path. But the abeng also had another affective function: to scare the British with its “hideous and terrible” dislocated tones, sometimes managing to repel the invaders with sound itself. Gradually, as the British learned to assign a cause to its shrieking, high- pitched sound, their terror of Maroon ambush only intensified.
Found in 1738: Bad Vibrations, from:
SONIC WARFARE Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear, by Steve Goodman.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2010.