Sami (shaman's) drum
Sámi, 17th century AD
From northern Scandinavia
The Sámi people live in northern Norway, Sweden and Finland and north-western parts of Russia. Numbering up to 100,000 today, the Sámi were traditionally hunters and trappers. Some groups developed nomadic reindeer herding in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as the numbers of wild reindeer diminished, while others settled, making a living from fishing, stock-farming or agriculture. However, many aspects of their traditional culture and language have been preserved, and increasingly active links are made between Saami groups across state boundaries.
Before Christianity became widespread among the Sámi, drums were used by shamans to reach a state of ecstasy through which he could interact with the spirit world, and as an instrument of divination. Perhaps because little is known about Sámi shamanism, the drums have become a particular focus of research.
The detailed images painted onto the drums' surface frequently depict the three levels of the Sámi universe, hunting scenes and animals such as reindeer, elk, bears and wolves. It has been suggested that the images may relate to the position of the stars and chart the journey of the shaman's spirit during religious rituals.
Sámi drums were used as symbols of resistance to the teaching of the Christian church in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, when this example was acquired by Sir Hans Sloane (1669-1753).
T. Ahlback and J. Bergman (eds.), The Sami Shaman drum (The Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History, Finland, 1988)
W.B. Fagg (ed.), Sir Hans Sloane & ethnography (London, The British Museum Press, 1970)