Hudaks are wooden two headed talking drums, and are often simply referred to as talking drums. The drum heads are held in place by cords, and are played by holding the hudak under the arm and squeezing the cords. When you squeeze these cords under your arm, the drum heads tighten, changing the instrument's pitch.
Talking drums are part of a family of hourglass shaped pressure drums; in the Yoruba language of west Africa, these include gan gan (the smallest member of this drum family) or dun dun (the largest of the talking drums.) The drum heads at either end of the hudaks wooden body are traditionally made from hide, fish-skin or other membranes which are wrapped around a wooden hoop. Leather cords or thongs run the length of the drum's body and are wrapped around both hoops. Drums have often symbolized the power of a traditional political leader, and skilled drummers have held considerable status in these west African communities.
Talking drums are so-named because of their ability to closely imitate the rhythms and intonations of spoken language. In the hands of skilled performers, they can reproduce the sounds of proverbs or praise songs through a specialized "drum language. Whether accompanying dances or sending messages, the sound of these instruments can carry many miles. Specific talking drum patterns and rhythms are also closely linked with ogun, or spiritual beings associated with the traditional Yoruba belief system originally celebrated in Nigeria and parts of Ghana. This religion, as well as its instrumentation and rhythmic patterns, spread to South and Central America, regions of the Caribbean and the United States during the era of the slave trade. Because of the perceived potential of talking drums to "speak" in a tongue unknown to slave traders and thus to incite rebellion, hudaks and other drums were once banned from use by African Americans in the United States.