A Sami drum is a shamanic ceremonial drum in the culture of the Sami people of Northern Europe. Sami ceremonial drums have two types: a bowl drum in which the drumhead is strapped over a burl, and a frame drum in which the drumhead stretches over a thin ring of bentwood. Both variations are oval-shaped. The drumhead is fashioned from reindeer hide. In Sami shamanism, the noaidi – the Sami shaman – used the drum to get into a trance, or to obtain information from the future or about other places. The drum was held in one hand, and operated with the other hand. While the noaidi was in trance, his free spirit left his body to visit the spiritual world or other places. When used for divination purposes, the drum was used together with a drum hammer and an vuorbi (index or pointer) made of brass or horn. Answers could be interpreted from where the vuorbi stopped on the membrane, and at which symbols. The patterns on the drum membrane reflect the world view of the owner and his family, both in religious and worldly matters, such as reindeer herding, hunting, householding and relations to their neighbours and to the non-Sami community. Many drums were taken out of their use and Sami ownership during the 18th century. A large number of drums were confiscated by Sami missionaries and other officials as a part of an intensified Christian mission towards the Sami. Other drums were bought by collectors. Between 70 and 80 drums are preserved; the largest collection of drums is at the Nordic Museum, Stockholm.
File:Freavnantjahke gievrie Koch 2005 04.TIF The northern Sami terms are goavddis, gobdis or meavrresgárri, lule Sami term is goabdes and the southern Sami term is gievrie. Norwegian: runebomme, Swedish: schamantrumma; in English it is also known as "rune drum" and "Sami shamanic drum".
The northern Sami name goavddis describes a bowl drum, while the southern Sami name gievrie describes a frame drum, coherent to the distribution of these types of drums. Another northern Sami name, meavrresgárri, is a compound word: meavrres from meavrit and Finnish möyriä ("kick, roar, mess"), and gárri from Norwegian kar ("cup, bowl").
The common Norwegian name for the drum, runebomme, is based on the earlier misunderstanding that the symbols on the drum were runes. Suggested new names in Norwegian are sjamantromme ("shaman drum") or sametromme ("Sami drum"). The early Swedish name trolltrumma is now considered derogatory, and was based on an understanding of Sami religion as witchcraft ("trolldom"). In his Fragments of Lappish Mythology (ca 1840) Læstadius used the term divination drum ("spåtrumma"). In Swedish today, one uses terms as the Sami drum ("den samiska trumman") or simply the drum ("trumman"), depending on the context.
There are three categories of sources to the history of the drums. First the drums themselves, and what might be interpreted from them. Secondly the reports and treatises on Sami topics during the 17th and 18th centuries, written by Swedish and Dano-Norwegian priests, missionaries and other civil servants. The third category are the sporadic references to drums and Sami shamanism in other sources.
The oldest mentioning of a Sami drum and shamanism is in the anonymous Historia Norvegiæ (late 12th century). Here is mentioned a drum with symbols of marine animals, a boat, reindeer and snowshoes. There is also a description of a shaman healing an apparently dead woman by moving his spirit into a whale. Peder Claussøn Friis describes a noaidi spirit leaving the body in his Norriges oc omliggende Øers sandfærdige Bescriffuelse (1632). The oldest desriction by a Sami was made by the Pite Sami Anders Huitlok in 1642 about this drum that he owned. Anders also made a drawing; his story was written down by the German-Swedish bergmeister Hans P. Lybecker. Huitlok's drum represents a world view where deities, animals and living and dead people are working together within a given landscape. The court protocols from the trials against Anders Paulsen in Vadsø in 1692 and against Lars Nilsson in Arjeplog in 1691 are also sources.
During the 17th century, the Swedish government commissioned a work to gain more knowledge of the Sami and their culture. During the Thirty Years' War (1618–48) rumours were spread that the swedes won their battles with the help of Sami witchcraft. Such rumours were part of the background for the research that lead to Johannes Schefferus' book Lapponia, published in Latin in 1673. As preparations to Schefferus' a number of "clergy correspondences" ("prästrelationer") was written by vicars within the Sami districts in Sweden. Treatises by Samuel Rheen, Olaus Graan, Johannes Tornæus and Nicolai Lundius were the sources used by Schefferus. In Norway, the main source are writings from the mission of Thomas von Westen and his colleagues from 1715 until 1735. Authors were Hans Skanke, Jens Kildal, Isaac Olsen, and Johan Randulf (the Nærøy manuscript). These books were part instructions for the missionaries and their co-workers, and part a documentation intended for the government in Copenhagen. Late books within this tradition are Pehr Högström's Beskrifning Öfwer de til Sweriges Krona lydande Lapmarker (1747) in Sweden and Knud Leem's Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper (1767) in Denmark-Norway. And especially Læstadius' Fragments of Lappish Mythology (1839–45), which both discusses earlier treatises with an critical approach, and builds upon Læstadius' own experience.
The drums are always oval; the exact shape of the oval would vary with the wood. The remaining drums are of four different types, within two main groups: bowl drums and frame drums.
In his major work on Sami drums, Die lappische Zaubertrommel, Ernst Manker lists 41 frame drums, 1 ring drum, 2 angular cut frame drums and 27 bowl drums. Given this numbers, many tend to divide the drums into the two main groups bowl drums and frame drums, seeing the others as variations. Judged by these remaining drums and their known provenance, frame drums seem to be common in the southern Sami areas, and bowl drums seem to be common in the northern Sami areas. The bowl drum is sometimes regarded as a local adjustment of the basic drum type, this being the frame drum. The frame drum type has most resemblance to other ceremonial drums used by indigenous peoples of Siberia.
The membrane is made of untanned reindeer hide. Lars Olsen, who described his uncle's drum, the Bindal drum, in 1885, said that the hide usually was taken from the neck of a calf because of its proper thickness; the sex of the calfe was probably not important, according to Olsen. The symbols were painted with a creme made from alderbark.
The motives on a drum reflects the world and world view of the owner and his family, both in question of religious beliefs and in modes of subsistence. It is said that the drum depicts one's world; showing images of reindeer both domesticated and wild, and the carnivores that threatens the flock. Modes of subsistence are also shown: game animals, boats with fishing nets, and reindeer herding. We see mountains, lakes, people, deities, and the camp site with tents and storages houses. Symbols also represent the threats from the surrounding and expanding non-Sami community: churches and houses. Each owner chose his set of symbols, and there are no known drums with identical sets of symbols. The drum mentioned in Historia Norvegiæ, with motives such as whales, reindeer, skies and a boat would have belonged to a sea Sami / coast Sami. The lule Sami drum showed right reflects an owner who found his mode of subsistence more as a hunter than as a reindeer herder.
A typhology based on the structure of the patterns can be divided into three main categories:
In Manker's oversight over 71 known drums, there are 42 southern Sami drums, 22 Central Sami drums and 7 northern Sami drums.
The Bindal drum is a typical southern Sami drum, with the sun symbol in center. Its last owner also explained that the symbols on the membrane were organized in four directions, according to the cardinal directions around the sun. South is described as the summer side or the direction of life, and contains symbols for the Sami's life in the fell during summer: the goahti, the storehouse njalla, the flock of reindeer and the pastures. North is described as the side of death, and contains symbols for sickness, death and evil.
Kjellström and Rydving have summed up the symbols of the drums in these categories: nature, reindeer, bears, moose, other mammals (wolf, beaver, small fur animals), birds, fishes, hunting, fishing, reindeer herding, the camp site – with goahti, njalla and other storehouses, the non-Sami village – often represented by the church, people, communications (skiing, reindeer with pulk, boats), and deities and their world. Sometimes even the use of the drum itself is depicted.
The reindeer herding is mainly depicted with a circular symbol for the pound that was used to gather, mark and milk the flock. This symbol is found on 75% of the southern Sami drums, but not on any northern or eastern drums. The symbol for the pound is always placed in the lower half of the drum. Reindeer are represented as singular line figures, as fully modeled figures or by their antlers. The camp site is usually shown as a triangle symbolizing the tent/goahti. The Sami storehouse njalla is depicted on many drums from different areas. The njalla is a small house in bear cache style, built on top of a cut tree. It is usually depicted with its ladder in front.
Sami deities are shown on several drum membranes. These are the high god Ráðði, the demiurge and sustainer Varaldi olmmai, the thunder and fertility god Horagallis, the weather god Bieggolmmái, the hunting god Leaibolmmái, the sun god Beaivi / Biejjie, the mother goddesses Máttaráhkká, Sáráhkká, Juoksáhkká og Uksáhkká, the riding Ruto who brought sickness and death, and Jábmeáhkká – the empress of the death realms.
Some matters from the non-Sami world also appears on several drums. These are interpreted as attempts to understand and master the new impulses brought into the Sami society. Churches, houses and horses appear on several drums, and drums from Torne and Kemi districts show both the city, the church and the lapp commissary.
Interpretation of the drum symbols might be difficult, and there are given different explanations to some of the symbols. There has often been assumed that the Sami deliberately gave wrong explanations when they presented their drums to missionaries and other Christian audiences, in order to reduce the impression of heathenry and underline the Christian impact of Sami culture. There is also an opposite assumption that some of the symbols has been overinterpreted as religious motives while they actually represented matters from timely, everyday life.
Håkan Rydving have evaluated the drum symbols from a perspective of source criticism, and divides them into four categories:
Rydving and Kjellström have demonstrated that both Olov Graan's drum fra Lycksele and the Freavnantjahke gievrie have been spiritualized through Manker's interpretations: When the explanations are compared, it appears as if Graan relates the symbols to householding and modes of subsistence, where Manker sees deities and spirits. This underlines the problems of interpretation. Symbols that Graan explains as snowy weather, a ship, rain and squrrels in the trees, are interpreted by Manker as the wind god Bieggolmai/Biegkålmaj, a boat sacrifice, a weather god and – among other suggestions – as a forest spirit. At the Freavnantjahke gievrie there is a symbol explained by the owner as "a Sami riding in his pulk behind his reindeer", while Manker suggests that "this might be an ordinary sleigh ride, but we might as well assume that this is the noaidi, the drum owner, going on an important errand into the spiritual world". On the other hand, one might suggest that the owner of the Freavnantjahke gievrie, Bendik Andersen, is under-communicating the spiritual content of the drum when the symbols usually recognized as the three mother goddesses are explained as "men guarding the reindeer".
Accessories are mainly the drum hammer and one or two vuorbi to each drum. The drums also had different kinds of cords as well as "bear nails".
The drum hammer (nordsamisk bállin) was usually made of horn, and was T- or Y-shaped, with two symmetric drum heads, and with geometrical decorations. Some hammer has tails made of leather straps, or have leather or tin wires wrapped around the shaft. Manker (1938) knew and described 38 drum hammers. The drum hammer was used both when the noaidi went into trance, and together with the vuorbi for divination.
The vuorbi (index or pointer; northern sami vuorbi, bajá or árpa; southern sami viejhkie) was made of brass, horn or bone, some times even by wood. The vuorbi was used for divination.
The cords are leather straps nailed or tied to the frame or to the bottom of the drum. They had pieces of bone or metal tied to them. The owner of the Freavnantjahke gievrie, Bendix Andersen Frøyningsfjell, explained to Thomas von Westen in 1723 that the leather straps and their decorations of tin, bone and brass were offers of gratitude to the drum, given by the owner as a response to luck gained from the drum's instructions. The frame of the Freavnantjahke gievrie also had 11 tin nails in it, in a cross shape. Bendix explained them as an indicator of the number of bears killed with aid from the drum's instructions. Manker found similar bear nails in 13 drums. Other drums had baculum from a bear or a fox among the cords.
Ernst Manker summarized the use of the drum, regarding both trance and divination:
Samuel Rheen, who was a priest in Kvikkjokk 1664–1671, was one of the first to write about Sami religion. His impression was that many Sami, but not all, used the drum for divination. Rheen mentioned four matters in which the drum could give answers:
Of these four ways of use mentioned by Rheen, one knows from other sources that the first of them was only performed by the noaidi. Based on the sources, one might get the impression that the use of the drum was gradually "democratized", so that there in some regions there was a drum in each household, that the father of the household could seek to for advice. Yet, the most original use of the drum – getting into trance, seem to have been a speciality for the noaidi.
Sources seem to agree that in southern Sami districts in the 18th century, each household had its own drum. These were mostly used for divination purposes. The types and structure of motives on the southern Sami drums confirm a use for divination. On the other hand, the structure of the northern Sami drum motives, with its hierarchical structure of spiritual worlds, represent a mythological universe it which it was the noaidi's privilege to wander.
The drum was usually brought along during nomadic wanderings. There are also known some cases where the drum was hidden close to one of the regulars' campsites. Inside the lavvu and the goahti, the drum was always placed in the boaššu, the space behind the fireplace that was considered the "holy room" within the goahti.
Several of the contemporary sources describe a duality in the view of the drums: They were seen both as an occult device, and as a divination tool for practical purposes. Drums were inherited. Among those who owned drums in the 18th century, not all of them described themselves as active users of their drum. At least that was what they said when the drums were confiscated.
There is no known evidence that the drum or the noaidi had any role in child birth or funeral rituals.
Some sources suggest that the drum was manufactured with the aid of secret rituals. However, Manker made a photo documentary describing the process of manufacturing the physical drum. Selection of motives for the membrane, or the philosophy behind it, are not described in any sources. It is known that the inauguration of the drum where done by rituals that involved the whole household.
The noaidi used the drum to achieve trance. He hit the drum with an intense rhythm until he came into a sort of trance or sleep. While in this sleep, his free spirit could travel into the spiritual worlds, or to other places in the material world. The episode mentioned in Historia Norvegiæ tells about a noaidi who traveled to the spiritual world and fought against enemy spirits in order to heal the sick. In the writings of Peder Claussøn Friis (1545–1614) there is described a Sami in Bergen who could travel in the material world while he was in trance: A Sami named Jakob made his spiritual journey to Germany to learn about the health of a German merchant's family.
Both Nicolai Lundius (ca 1670), Isaac Olsen (1717) and Jens Kildal (ca. 1730) describe noaidis traveling to the spiritual worlds where they negotiated with the death spirits, especially Jábmeáhkka – the ruler of the death realms, about the health and life of people. This journey involved a risk for the noaidis own life and health.
In the writings of both Samuel Rheen and Isaac Olsen the drum is mentioned as a part of the preparations for bear hunt. Rheen says that the noaidi could give information about hunting fortune, while Olsen suggests that the noaidi was able to manipulate the bear to move into hunting range. The noaidi – or drum owner – was a member of the group of hunters, following close to the spear bearer. The noaidi also sat at a prominent place during the feast after the hunting.
In Fragments of Lappish Mythology (1840–45), Lars Levi Læstadius writes that the Sami used his drum as an Oracle, and consulted it when something important came up. "Just like any other kind of fortune-telling with cards or dowsing. One should not consider every drum owner a magician." A common practice was to let the vuorbi move across the membrane, visiting the different symbols. The noaidi would interpret the will of the Gods by the way of the vuorbi. Such practices are described for the Bindal drum, the Freavnantjahke gievrie and the Velfjord drum.
Whether women were allowed to use the drum, have been discussed, and sources are not unanimous. On the one hand, some sources say that women were not even allowed to touch the drum, and during migration, women should follow another route than the sleigh that carried the drum. On the other hand, the whole family was involved in the initiation of the drum. Also, the participation of joiking women was of importance for a successful soul journey. May-Lisbeth Myrhaug has reinterpreted the sources from the 17th and 18th century, and suggests that there are evidence of female noaidi, even soul traveling female noaidi.
In the 17th and 18th century, several actions were made to confiscate drums, both in Sweden and in Denmark-Norway. Thomas von Westen and his colleagues considered the drums to be "the Bible of the Sami", and wanted to extinct their idolatry by the root by destroying or removing the drums. An uncontrolled, idol worshipping Sami were considered a threat to the government. The increased missionary efforts towards the Sami in the early 18th century might be explained as a consequence of the desire to controle the citizens under the absolute monarchy in Denmark-Norway, and also as a consequence of the increased emphasis on an individual Christian faith suggested in pietism.
In Åsele, Sweden, collected 2 drums were collected in 1686, 8 drums in 1689 and 26 drums in 1725, mainly of the southern Sami type. Thomas von Westen collected ca 100 drums from the southern Sami district, 8 of them were collected at Snåsa in 1723. 70 of von Westen's drums were lost in the Copenhagen Fire of 1728. von Westen found few drums during his journeys in the northern Sami districts between 1715 and 1730. This might be explained with the advanced christening of the Sami in north, so that the drums were already destroyed. It might alternatively be explained with diffent use on the drums in northern and southern Sami culture. While the drum was a common household item in southern Sami culture, it might have been a rare object, reserved for the few, educated noaidi in northern Sami culture.
Probably the best-known is the Linné drum – a drum that was given to Carl Linnaeus during his visits in the northern Sweden. He later gave it to a museum in France , and recently it was brought back to the Swedish National Museum. Three Sami drums are in the collections of the British Museum, including one bequeathed by Sir Hans Sloane, founder of the museum.