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Underground Drum Sanctuary:
Community Drum School for Women & Youth

Plant the fertile seed ofcreating a Community Drum Sanctuary in your part of the world. Establish a sanctuary for holding the drumz sacred and for bringing together multi-ethnic individuals and groups to participate in socially appropriate initiatives and spiritual activism.

Afia Walking Tree will guide you in how to begin your own sacred drum sanctuary and mentor you in teaching ongoing drum and dance classes. She will visit your site periodically and assist you to in set into motion your vision of a drum sanctuary, teach drum and dance intensives and share her "grass-roots drumpowahment" music.

Herstory & Functions of the first
Underground Community Drum Sanctuary


In September 2001, the Underground Drum Sanctuary opened as a project of Spirit Drumz, an institute for activism in leadership, education, drumming, and the creative healing arts. The Underground commemorates the historical Underground Railroad, which continues to be a symbol of resistance, survival, freedom, safe haven, community, and cultural pride for many Africans and their allies in North America and Canada. Both the purpose of the Underground and the physical space itself, remind us of our connection with ancestors and their legacy of resilience.

The first Underground Drum Sanctuary operated in Oakland, California, from September 2001 to 2006. There, we offered classes, held ceremonies and rite of passage initiations, consultations, drum jams, rehearsals, public marches, and many other community events. Various sacred spaces and altars were maintained at the Underground and held the drumz and all of our prayers for world empowerment, harmony, love, freedom, and joy.

Afia Walking Tree talks about the Underground: then and now

In June 2004, Lonny Shavelson interviewed Afia Walking Tree at the Underground for a radio story about Harriet Tubman. Lonny Shavelson is a writer, photojournalist and physician whose articles and photographs have appeared in numerous publications: The New York Times, TIME, People, Family Circle, Hippocrates (now Health), Lear's, Mother Jones, Der Spiegel, Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, and others.

In the radio story, Walking Tree discusses The Underground Railroad when Harriet Tubman was its leader in the 1800s, and now at the Underground Drum Sanctuary in Oakland in the 2000s. Listen to the story and see pictures at Photo Words.

Drum Sanctuary Community

(applicable to all spaces where drumz are held and played)

Welcomes everyone to drum, dance, sing, feel, and pray. All instruments and skill levels welcome. This space is created for women, youth, and male allies who walk with the drumz and wish to share this gift.

Honors the drumz as a common language, a container, a tool for gathering from all cultures and ages. The drumz creates a mosaic of sound, which inspires our movement as we walk, dance, sing, play, and communicate rhythms and sounds merrily on our way.

Re-members that we are sharing community space and are mindful of our volume within the larger community.

Promotes JOY, FUN, and PLAY as our collective rhythmic sustenance that vibrates the source of healing sound power within all of us.

Plays together and listens to the basic rhythms in the circle; allowing for a community experience that is an expression of our individual and collective experiences and stories.

Recognizes the unique experience in culture, styles, stories, sounds, rhythms that define OUR DRUM SONGS individually and collectively from the African Diasporic drumming pantheon and beyond. Drum and Dance intensives offer instruction in the areas of African drumming lineage, technique, practical tools and specific drum-songs.


Many traditions of spiritual paths and healing modalities are practiced within a Drum Sanctuary. It is our goal to honor as many ancestries as we know how to and welcome you to bring an offering or totem, which honors your traditions as well. Please let us know how to care for and honor your totem's, sacred path ways.

  • Upon entering a Drum Sanctuary, give honor in your tradition or by bowing directly to all altars and priestesses in the space. Your bow is an acknowledgement of respect and gratitude. Repeat bow before leaving, always facing the altars; and backing out of the space.
  • Remove shoes to enter Temples in the Sanctuary.
  • Always Sign in at information table.
  • Ring bell or shake rattle at altars to awaken spirit connection; invoke yourself in the space.
  • Light a votive candle; and or burn incense (ask when others are in the space before lighting incense).
  • Everyone bring candles, incense, and water as offerings so we always have an abundance of light, hydration, and clearing scents to guide our journeys.
  • Before using drumz, greet drumz and upon leaving place drums back in their resting space and give thanks for their medicine.
  • Always give honor and an acknowledgment of respect to the Lead drummer(s)/instructor(s)/High Priestesses before leaving.
  • PREPARATION FOR SACRED CEREMONIES (drum, dance, rituals, consultations)

    • Take a Cleansing bath or face wash and collect yourself. Focus on: Your Intention
    • Wear head covering to assist in keeping you centered and grounded as appropriate. White or cooling colors are best.
    • Wear talisman, some kind of ritual jewelry or gems to assist in grounding you (Walking Tree offers spirit-path consultations and creates personal talisman for your journey).
    • Cleanse with smudge, crystals, spritzers, water or any solutions you like to use.
    • Practice Sound Powah affirmation while preparing your psychic consciousness to enter the circle.
    • Gather in a circle before beginning drumming, even with a heartbeat rhythm, calling in your guides to be with us, and at the close, thanking the guides for being with us. Anyone may call this circle.
    • Bring water: (juice, vitamin C, energy sources before and during drumming)


    Utilize for Drum Classes, Circles, Workshops & Rituals
    copyright by Afia Walking Tree, 2006

    Soar in the timeless journey of the drum from the inside and allow the dance of spirit to fill your soul~~Afia Walking Tree

    1. As you enter the space, greet sacred altars and folks with gratitude for holding sacred space. Purification ritual may include fire, water, air, earth elements in the form of sage, cedar, lavender, candles, feathers, spritzers, washing bowls, and other items.
    2. Enter the circle with an attitude of service, humility, and community. Listen first for the basic pulse in the circle. Acknowledge those present (a nod works) as you enter, and notice who is leading.
    3. Please remove all rings, watches, and other hand/wrist jewelry. Jewelry may easily cut through drum skin or crack gourds with a single stroke. Jewelry may also injure the wearer.
    4. Place only protective covers, hands and sticks on drumz as appropriate. Drumz are vehicles for our transformation ~ different from a footstool, table top, arm-rest. Rubbing skins prior to playing assists in warming skin and creates connection with you and your drum.
    5. Personal or extra instruments should be place in center of circle. Give specific directions as to use and return policy to borrower. Keep instruments you do not wish to share close to you.
    6. Ask before borrowing a drum. Ask about specifics of handling instrument(s). Support individual wishes to keep their drumz with openness and understanding as some people have specific relationships with their instruments.
    7. Ask before burning incense as some folks may be sensitive or allergic to certain scents.
    8. Please refrain from TAPING classes, unless advised, invited by facilitator or your personal need is expressed and accepted.
    9. Be mindful of how you come to the circle. Set and hold your intention each time you enter the circle to drum and dance.
    10. When entering the circle, listen, practice vocally, join in softly, increase to group volume, relax into the rhythm, you got this. The best practice is to enter by playing the heartbeat and stay focused on the connection between your heartbeat and the pulse of the circle - OR- stay out a cycle, listen to the music, feel the vibrations, then, when you are in a more grounded place, join in. Practice playing within the group volume, unless you are soul-speaking "souloing" then you are expected to play louder and BE IN YOU FULL POWAH.
    11. Warm up your body as you attune your mind to enter the circle: hands, knees, abdominals, shoulders, wrists, hips, back, are all places we hold stress; stretching and releasing blockages with our mind and breath is integral to easeful playing.
    12. KISS Keep it simply sweet. This way we can all hear what each person is playing in the orchestra.
    13. Keep eyes and ears open, shoulders relaxed, head upright and focused. Be aware of everyone in the circle at all times. Keep eyes on more experienced players and watch for start, stop, break clues. Closing eyes may exclude others.
    14. Speed up by playing softer, and then increase volume as you arrive at intended speed.
    15. Before soul speaking, look and listen where others are in the music and play a break when you are ready to begin your turn of soul speaking.
    16. ASK! Someone KNOWS!

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