The Inuit Drum

The Drum

The drum has been known and used in the whole of the arctic region. It represents a tradition that has been adapted to the special nomadic way of life of the Inuit and which has made a great impact on their culture and society. The unwritten history of the Inuit has survived in songs, stories and legends passed on from one generation to the next on dark winter evenings, accompanied by the monotonous rhythm of the drum.

Drum-Song Against an Angry Husband
My enemy calls me a cannibal
he says I feed on human flesh
my friends, that's not true
my enemy calls me a thief
he says I stole his dear wife
my friends, I did not steal her
and it was not wrong to do so
for I am a better singer
and he did not have songs to keep her
only now does he sing to her
who cried in her tent all alone
My friends, she is my wife now

The appearance

The Ammassalik drum is a more or less a round ring with a small handle, often decorated with a little carved face. The availability of wood in the area has determined the size of the drum. Diameter on a normal drum varies from 30 – 40 cm. Preferably, the ring should be covered with skin from the stomach of a bear or walrus, but other animals have been used.

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The Drumstick
The last part of the drum set is the drumstick, which is used to beat the edge of the drum, on the wooden rim. The drumstick is made of wood. It is a little longer than the diameter of the drum and is sometimes decorated with a simple carving. There should be no knots in the wood, as these were believed to be spiritual power points of the forefathers. It was therefore considered unfair in a song fight to use a drumstick with knots.
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The Dance

The drum dance or drum song was an event that took place both in summer and winter and could be performed by both men and women. The songs can be divided into many groups, each with its own social function. Some of the more important functions are described below. The drum dance as a court of law - the song duel - where disputes were settled usually took place at summer gatherings. The >>winner<< of such a duel was the person who received most applause and made the audience laugh the most. The loser could get revenge at a new song duel at a later time.

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Communication with the Spirits

The Shaman's use of the drum to cast spells and communicate with the spirits was a part of the drum ceremony that greatly disturbed the missionaries, so it was promptly forbidden. The drum could also be used for pure entertainment. It was used to accompany stories of the past and songs for children at festivals. In Ammassalik in particular the drum was a source of entertainment and since the missionaries came here just over a hundred years ago, many of the songs from this area have been preserved.

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Drum dance today

Nowadays, the drum songs are generally performed for the sake of tourists and entertainment, but they are still treated with respect. There are still songs that are not sung just for anyone, anywhere at any time. Even in a modern world, where the drum skin bight be made out of the remains of a weather balloon, some mysticism lingers on. A drum hangs in most courtrooms in Greenland - a symbol of settling disputes. The National Library in Greenland has a drum dancer in its logo, signifying the power of legends and storytelling. The culture centre >>Katuaq<< is named after the drumstick. There is a lot of symbolism here, especially if the drumstick is made of very knotty wood!

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O rich summer warmth
like the flesh of a woman
O sparkling day
neither clouds nor wind
and in the blue mountains
a herd of reindeer
grazing in the blue distance
O how it touches me
so miraculous
I lie down on the ground sobbing

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