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Painted military drum


Diameter: 45.000 cm

Christy Collection

AOA 2144

Room 26: North America

    Painted military drum

    Algonquian, AD 1850s
    Probably from Manitoulin Island, Ontario, North America

    Mide dream symbols

    The Midewiwin, or 'Grand Medicine Society', was a shamanistic organization in which serious illnesses might be cured, success in life or afterlife sought, or the general health of the community ensured. Candidates for membership passed through four levels. The Midewiwin was significant over much of the Midwest and western Great Lakes, for instance among the Ojibwa and Miami, and may have arisen as a response to rapid cultural change in the eighteenth century.

    In the nineteenth century the spiritual leaders of the Midewiwin were faced with the difficulties brought by disease and encroaching Europeans. As a result they incorporated aspects of Christian ideas, while fiercely defending their right to continue traditional religion. Black Duck, an Ojibwa in Manitoba in the 1850s asked of the Revd William Stagg of the Church Missionary Society: 'What would you do if the Metawin had been the religion of your country, and the Book the religion of mine, and I were to offer you my religion?'. Other religious readers promised that God would shower down from the clouds cloth, iron, lead and other trade goods, and also banish the whiteman.

    This drum is painted with dream symbolism: the bottom half with horned cows, spiritually powerful creatures to be treated with respect.

    The Canadian Paul Kane painted a nearly identical drum in the 1840s. This one was probably collected by Henry Christy, perhaps on Manitoulin Island, Ontario in the 1850s. During the 1840s and 1850s the Ojibwa would have become familiar with military drums at Fort Garry (Winnipeg) and Fort York (Toronto).

    J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)


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