Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Drum made of wood and skin, of bowl-drum type, the bowl carved from a single piece of pinewood, with reindeer skin stretched across. The skin is covered in painted designs using ink made from chewed alder bark, and depicting maps, guides and accounts of journeys to the worlds of spirits and gods. Grip at rear formed by two oblong openings cut out of the bowl.
    The skin is strengthened at the edges with thread made of skin, then held with wood legs round the sides, and sewn on through holes pierced in the bowl. |The thread passes through the sides and the back of the bowl. Metal nails at three points provide further reinforcement.


  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • 1500-1700
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 39 centimetres
    • Width: 33.5 centimetres
    • Depth: 10 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Text from Hans Sloane Manuscript Catalogue: 'A Lapland Drum. Lucian Bacchus. p. 850. b'.
    See H.J. Braunholtz, Sir Hans Sloane and Ethnography 1970, pl.4; pp.10-11.

    Text from Room 3 display, 2003:
    Among Sami people, a drum such as this was an important tool for survival. They were magical weapons that, in the hands of a skilled person, could help to protect the community. Magic drums were used by Sami for many generations, and this may be among the oldest surviving examples. The skin has layers of images, some worn or rubbed away, others added, perhaps through years of use.
    In the 1600s Christian missionaries fiercely persecuted Sami people, associating their traditional beliefs with witchcraft. Some Sami added Christian imagery to their drums in an unsuccessful attempt to make them acceptable. Others continued to use drums in secret at great personal risk. By 1700 [?] most surviving Sami had been converted and almost all Sami magic drums had been destroyed.
    The skin of this drum has several layers of symbols and drawings. These are divided into bands that refer to different levels of the Sami universe. Highlighted at the top of the drum are reindeer being herded by figures holding staves or branches. This could represent a successful hunt in the human world, or perhaps a hunt in the realm of spirits and gods. We have no direct record of what these images mean from the people who used or made the drum. Each symbol may have more than one meaning. But we can attempt to understand them based on stories handed down and retold by Sami, and on information from other societies living around the Arctic who still use similar drums today.
    The images on the drum represent the personal visions and experiences of a shaman, or noaidi, which he sketched out to represent his dangerous journey through the different levels of the Sami universe to communicate with spirits. The lower part of the drum may represent the Sami underworld. You can see highlighted the outline of a figure steering a boat across the great underworld sea. This may have associations with the moon, which appears behind the figure. Underworld boats are also associated with the sun, which is carried by boat every night on its return journey to a new sunrise. The sun image is repeated several times, representing its daily journey across the sky from east to west, as well as its return journey through the underworld. The sun outlined [in x] is just cresting the horizon, possibly referring to the winter solstice, the darkest time of year, but also important as a time of transition.
    Sami people, once known as the Lapps, live in arctic and sub-arctic Europe. Their homeland, named Sapmi, covers parts of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, as well as the Kola Peninsula in Russia. The area is marked on maps to your left. For almost three thousand years Sami lived as hunters and gatherers. But from about 1500 they became semi-nomadic, herding reindeer and trapping animals in the north, fishing along the coast and farming in the south. Today there are about 100,000 Sami. Although most live in towns and cities, rural life is still at the heart of Sami identity. The images on the magic drum, of reindeer herding, fishing and the winter solstice, remain important cultural symbols for Sami people. They represent continuity with the land and their ancestors.
    For Sami people there was more to the world than the surface appearance of things. There were parallel worlds that could be entered through dreams and trance. It was here that you could find the powers and spirits that controlled daily life in the waking world. One of the most important people in a Sami community was the shaman, or 'noaidi', someone who could communicate between these worlds. The most vital tool of a 'noaidi' was his drum. In front of a flickering fire, he would take the drum and beat it rhythmically in a public performance, using the sound like a drug to enter a trance. In this altered state, he could transform into other creatures, or even into a breath of wind, to enter the world of dreams. Here he negotiated with the spirits over disease and death, life and fertility, fish and game, good weather and storms.
    The skin of the drum on display is now loose and cannot be played, but its sound might have been similar to the drumming used in Yoik music. Yoik refers to one of several traditional types of Sami chanting.
    (Robert Storrie)

    For further discussion of Sámi drums, see 'Peasant Art in Sweden, Lapland and Iceland', Autumn Number of 'The Studio' 1910, section on Lapland, p. 37, and Veli-Pekka Lehtola, 'The Sámi people: Traditions in Transition', University of Alaska Press 2004, p. 29. See also exhibition catalogue, 'Sámi Dáidda' (Sámi art), Nordiskt Konstcentrum, Helsinki 1981, p. 58-9, pl. 14.
    The drum is probably from the Pite or central Sàmi region in view of the images depicted (information supplied by Morten Olsen Haugen, November 2014).


  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    2005 27 Oct-2006 31 Jan, Haengso Museum, Keimyung University, Daegu, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2005 25 Jul-8 Oct, Busan Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2005 11 Apr-10 Jul, Seoul Arts Centre, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Possibly acquired by Sloane from the Royal Society, and thus likely to be the drum given to the Royal Society in 1681 by John Heysig-Ridderstjerna of Sweden (see Ernst Manker, 'Die lappische Zaubertrommmel' (1938/1950).

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Eu1753D10.1103 (old CDMS no.)
Drum made of wood, skin, with designs on membrane; grip at rear formed by two oblong openings cut out.

Drum made of wood, skin, with designs on membrane; grip at rear formed by two oblong openings cut out.

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Object reference number: EEU3

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