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The shaman's drum
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The drum is never the first accessory the shaman acquires and it is never made by him. It is not even an indispensable prop, and it is not exceptional for a shaman to have practiced his whole life without a drum, using simply a beater or a ìhobbyhorseî.

The drum is made for the shaman by his community when it decides to entrust him with leading the ritual meant to obtain ìluckî in the coming seasonís hunting. To make it, the community sends a group of men, allies and not kin to the shaman, to procure what they need; they must take a band of larch wood and kill a male moose (or reindeer) to make the drum head, in accordance with the indications given by the shaman, who has seen all this ìin a dreamî.. The only contribution by the shaman concerns the shaping of the frame (Mazin 1984: 77ñ85). The women then execute the paintings on the skin. During the ritual, the shaman must ìanimateî the drum, that is give it life by infusing it with the animalís spirit; this is the condition of its ìsymbolic effectivenessî. In some groups, the ìanimationî of the drum is the main purpose of the ritual.

The drum shown to the right was brought back from the Orochon Evenk reindeer herders living in the Stanovoi Mountains in eastern Siberia by Joseph Martin. It bears the number MH.87.42.3.

This is a single-headed drum, like all Siberian shamansí drums.
The frame, 8.5 cm in width, is made of larch, the head, of wild reindeer skin sewn onto the frame. Around the outside of the framework, three cords made of reindeer tendons are stretched over three protuberances ok.. The head of the drum is painted with figures of reindeer (fifteen black and fourteen red) in single file. They follow the path of the sun, featured at the top symmetrically opposite the crescent moon on the bottom. Inside the opening of the drum is a wrought-iron grip in the form of a cross. The four arms of the cross represent the shamanís ìroadsî or ìpathsî in the four cardinal directions.

The shaman holds the drum by the handle, vertically, open side against his chest. He beats it from the outside, moving the drumstick up and down, vertically. This drum has two beaters. (References for these beaters MH 87.42..4 and MH 87.42.5).
The drum is often considered, in the wake of Mircea Eliade, as the shamanís prop par excellence, and particularly as the support for his ìjourneysî because of its symbolism as a ìmountî and for his ìtranceî because of its role as a musical instrument. Yet examination of drum terminology and its ritual ruses leads us to propose another view of its symbolic functions and values and to envisage the symbolic functions and values of the beater separately.

Author(s): R. Hamayon
Date created: 2003-09-09 - Date modified: 2004-04-14


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Movie(s):
Ulch (Amur Tungus) drum player (0MB)
An Udeghe (Amur Tungus) bear dance. (0MB)

Evenk shaman's drum (outer side)

A sitting shaman beats his drum

Evenk shaman's drum (inner side)


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