ata·​ba·​que ˌä-tə-ˈbä-kē How to pronounce atabaque (audio)
plural atabaques
: any of several tall, single-headed Brazilian drums of tapering, barrel, or goblet shape with ropes for tightening the head that are played with the hands and are associated especially with candomblé and capoeira
The karate was followed by rhythmic chanting and drumming on an atabaque by enthusiasts from Capoeira, many of them children.Nancy Chapman, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida), 13 Sept. 2005

Word History


borrowed from Portuguese, borrowed from Arabic aṭ-ṭabaq, from aṭ, assimilated form of al, definite article + ṭabaq "lid, plate, shallow bowl, tray"

Note: The sense "drum" of the Portuguese word contrasts not only with the Arabic etymon, but with the meaning elsewhere in Iberian Romance. Spanish tabaque appears in older dictionaries as a kind of basket (glossed cestillo o canastillo pequeño de mimbres, que regularmente sirve para traher su labor las mugeres, y tenerla à mano, "little wicker basket, which women regularly use to carry their work, holding it by the hand," in the Diccionario de Autoridades of the Real Academia Española, 1739); the word in approximately this sense is attested from the 14th century (for details see Juan Corominas, Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico). The "basket" meaning is actually assigned to the Arabic word ṭbaq (= canistrum, calathum) in the 12th-century Latin-Arabic glossary, probably produced in Toledo, in the library of Leiden University. The path by which "lid" or "basket" became "drum" in Portuguese is not clear. Early occurrences of atabaque (first attested as atauaque in the 14th-century Livro de Linhagens do Conde Dom Pedro) tend to be within enumerations of musical instruments (North African, sub-Saharan, or Asian) that are otherwise not defined, so that it is possible that atabaque originally denoted some sort of cymbal or tambourine. However, the following passage from the Peregrinação of Fernão Mendes Pinto (written before the author's death in 1583, though not printed till 1614) appears to refer to a drum: " … oito homẽs & cinco molheres … bailando todos ao som de hum atabaque em que de quando em quando dauão cinco pancadas, & dando outras tantas palmadas com as mãos, dezião alto & muyto desentoado, cur cur hinau falem" (" … eight men and five women … all dancing to the sound of an atabaque, on which they beat five strokes from time to time, and as many times clapping their hands, they uttered loudly and very discordantly 'cur cur hinau falem'.") (Pinto was somewhere on the shores of the South China Sea at the time.)

First Known Use

1824, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of atabaque was in 1824

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Cite this Entry

“Atabaque.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 May. 2024.

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