A Historic Shaman’s Drum is Restored to the Sámi People

The drum was used in divinitory rituals. (Photograph: Trustees of the British Museum)

In the fall of 2021, Sámi[1]Also called Laplanders, who live in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and a bit of Russia people living in Norway asked the the queen of Denmark and the  Danish National Museum if they could have one of their old-time shaman’s drum back.

The drum belonged to a Sámi shaman, Anders Poulsson, who was arrested and imprisoned, according to court records. It was confiscated and became part of the Danish royal family’s art collection before being transferred to Denmark’s National Museum in 1849. . . .

“Through this drum, we will be able to explain so much about Sámi history. It tells a story about emancipation and the Sámi struggle to own our culture,’ added [the president of the Sámi parliament, Aili] Keskitalo. “The drum is the key to explaining our heritage.”

Nomadic Sámi people, about 1900. (Wikimedia Commons)

The drum, confiscated in 1691 as part of a larger effort to turn the animistic Sámi into good Lutheran Christians, went to Denmark because at the time Norway was ruled from Denmark, a “union” that lasted four hundred years and ended in 1814.

Now the wheel — or the drum — has turned.  The Danish royal family, which technically owned it and had loaned it to the museum, has agreed to return it.

It is the first Sámi drum to be repatriated from abroad and the only one in the collection . .  .  Now undergoing conservation, the drum will go on display as the centrepiece of a new exhibition on 12 April.

The formal handover of the object is an event of huge significance, according to Sámi film-maker Silja Somby, who is making a film about rune drums to be shown during the Venice Biennale in August. They are, she said, “like bibles for us. Each has its own special meanings and symbolisms”. . . .

Rune drums were once a central aspect of their nature-based religious life. When a noaidi struck a reindeer-skin and birchwood rune drum with a reindeer-antler hammer, a brass ring would move across its surface. Depending on how the ring moved in relation to the symbols on the drum (painted in a red dye made from alder resin), the noaidi would divine future events. The drumming would also help the noaidi enter a trance and travel in different realities, for example among the spirits of the dead.

Notes

Notes
1 Also called Laplanders, who live in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and a bit of Russia

1 thought on “A Historic Shaman’s Drum is Restored to the Sámi People

  1. This is good news and important news. Peoples should have significant cultural artifacts back from museums, where many ended up. It could mean, among other things, that Pagans these days get to keep their own, too.

    At university, my introduction to Sami shamanism–and shamanism overall–was through watching an ethnographic film of a group of Sami men ritually partake of some psychedelic mushroom products. I have reflected on shamanism and shamanism within today’s Paganism ever since (never considering myself to be one).

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