There are many colourful legends of how the djembe may have originated.
One goes that the basic shell evolved out of the large mortar used for pounding grain or millet.
Apparently, the village idiot's wife pounded a hole clear through the bottom of it one day while he was conveniently hanging around with a goat skin. He stretched it over the head of the mortar and the rest is musical history.
Here's my favourite, edited from recounts by Hugo Zemp in Serge Blanc's book and cd 'African Percussion':
'Long ago, before humans knew of the drum, it was owned by the chimpanzees, which played it in the trees. At that time there was a great trapper named So Dyeu. The chimpanzees would often come near his camp and so one day So Dyeu spotted them eating fruit and entertaining themselves with the drum.
He said, 'This thing they are beating is beautiful, I will set a trap', so he dug a whole and laid a snare.
The next day he heard a great commotion and the sounds of the young and old chimpanzees crying. He went to investigate and found the chimpanzee drummer caught in the trap. So Dyeu captured the drum and returned to the village, where he gave it to the village chief.
The chief said, 'We have heard the voice of this thing for a long time, but no one has seen it until now. You have brought it to us; you have done well.' , and in return, the chief gave his first daughter to be So Dyeu's first wife.
So the chimpanzees were left without the drum and that's why they can only beat their chests.'