Accession No

2008.118 A-F


Birch wood drum decorated reindeer skin membrane with beater, pointer and stand made by Helge Sunna. Used with the T-shaped reindeer antler beater and antler pointer and purpose made museum stand and antler suspension peg


Europe; Northern Europe; Fenno-Scandinavia; Sweden; Stockholm



Durand, Carine [collector]; Crowther Beynon Grant [monetary donor]



Reference Numbers

2008.118 A-F

Cultural Affliation

Lule Sámi


Wood; Leather; Antler; Skin; Pigment; Ivory; Metal; Wax; Fibre; Flax

Local Term



Context (Production / use)
Durand noted that Helge Sunna’s drums were only made with birch from the Kiruna area, as “to him birch trees from the Stockholm area wuold not make good drums, as they did not grow in the Sapmi region and ‘did not know anything about drums’” (Durand 2007:8, citing Sunna). Drum made using the splint technique (svep teknik) where the 5mm boards were soaked in hot water for a week to increase their flexibility and then bent, secured by a strap around a wooden truck and stored in a dry room. The wood was sanded with two different sanders to give a ‘rustic effect’ and painted with tar paint (Tjara [in Swedish]), and heated with a blow lamp, allowing a deep penetration. Tar paint is a substance derived from wood where the heating of the Pine wood causing tar to drip away from the wood, producing charcoal. Birchbark is used to mark particularly fine tar. Traditionally the Shaman would use the flame of the bonfire in the centre of the kata (traditional Sami dwelling) to heat the frame after the application of the tar paint. After the frame was painted and heated, it was sanded vertically with sandpaper and the blade of a knife and brass rings were added.
Event Date 2007
Author: rachel hand

Context (Field collection)
Commissioned and collected by Carine Durand, 2007 as part of a Crowther Beynon grant. The following is taken from her report on the acquisition and making of the drum.
“Sami drums were made as an aid to reach a trance, to travel, see, hear and communicate with gods and spiritual beings”, Durand citing the artist Sunna.Helge, 2006. Trumma/Drum: In Samelojdstiftelsen Sami Duodji (ed.) Duodji Arbi Arvet: Handicraft in the Sami culture, pp.23-5). The second function of the drum was to foretell the future, when the shaman would place the pointer on the skin and while playing would interpret the future according to the symbols it pointed to.

Today, there is a clear distinction between ‘copies’ and ‘own’ drums. Copies reproduce precisely the world picture of old drums, whereas when making his own drums, Sunna aims to use the older symbols and figures found on old drums as a link to the past but that as a contemporary artist he also tells a story about his own living environment (Durand citing Sunna 2006). In an interview during the process of manufacture, Sunna noted that his drums show “current issues regarding the land, hunting and much more... you can see mining on that drum, rackets... winter tourism... you can find everything and it is our life today. Of course there are also the old gods in these drums but they are not placed in the same way as they were on the old drums” (Sunna, interview 8 June 2007).

Figures, including the goddess Sarakka and the god of the fumes, Oskan (os guden), a white reindeer and a bear hunting scene are engraved into the wood (using the sharp point of a knife), highlighting the lighter natural colour of the wood. The figures on the handle which represent the goddess Mattarakka and the god of the wind, Bieggolmai are ‘modern’ versions of the gods and human figures traditionally found on historic drums. The figures were initially drawn on paper, and then drawn on the handle in pencil. The outline was also drawn on the antler in pencil and and cut with an electric saw, and smoothed with a sander and hand-file, and later painted with tar paint. The handle was secured to the drum with antler as Sunna ‘did not use metal to make this drum, but only organic materials’. (Durand 2007:16, citing Sunna, recording 2nd November 2007). Historically amulets of silver and brass or pieces of bone and teeth of different animals were often hung at the rear of historical Southern Sami drums and Sunna used a long reindeer thread around the back of the drum’s frame to recall this function. The brass rings were driven into the frame to increase the strength of the drum, and ‘to make the old comes back into the present’ (Durand 2007:10, citing Sunna, recording 9 October 2007).

The membrane of reindeer skin is soaked in water before being stretched, and then stained with brown, blue, pink and yellow, resulting in green, purple, blue, brown yellow and pink colours. The skin is prepared using the Southern Sami tradition, but the artist also introduces his ‘own way of seeing the world’, where the drumskin is the background to his world picture, as well as a map divided into earth and sky. He uses a ‘unique’ dying technique, where the colours are poured onto the wet skin, starting with the brown (the earth) at the bottom of the skin, and then the blue (the sky) on top. He added pink and yellow colours in the centre in order to render the background ‘more lively’, and then swung the skin gently until the colours started to emerge. As the colours are not painted but rather ‘moved by themselves’ it is impossible to reproduce. In Sami tradition, the Holy Dog figure (heliga hunden) would assist the shaman to see and hear spiritual beings (Durand, citing Sunna recording 2 November 2007). The technique of attaching the beater’s and pointer’s long cord to the base of the beater allows it to be hung around the musician’s neck or suspended on the stand that Sanna designed specifically to enable the display of the drum in a museum.
Event Date 18/12/2008
Author: maa

Description (CMS Description)
Drum with beater, pointer and stand (in 3 parts).
A: Oval shaped drum of birch wood, with birch wood stand base and support strut and ridged antler suspension point. The membrane is made of reindeer skin with green, purple, blue, brown yellow and pink colours. Membrane sewn with reindeer leather thread, with a loop handle at top and base made of twisted leather. Wooden sides decorated with engraved figures, including the goddess Sarakka and the god of the fumes, Oskan (os guden), a white reindeer and a bear hunting scene. Decorated with figures positioned around the rim. The tension is maintained by means of twisted reindeer leather cords. The birch wood handle at the rear is secured to the drum at the top and base with pieces of reindeer antler and decorated with inlaid figures in reindeer antler, with red velvet incorporated into the central section. The figures represent the goddess Mattarakka and the god of the wind, Bieggolmai.
B: T-shaped reindeer antler beater decorated on both sides with black geometric engravings. The handle of the beater is wrapped in soft brown reindeer leather with twisted 2-ply neck or suspension cord attached. Leather glued to beater and sewn with waxed flax thread.
C: Antler pointer carved with the mythological Holy Dog figure (heliga hunden) in the centre, with two-ply reindeer leather cord.
D-F: Round birch wood stand vaulted with a crescent shape taken out, stained with tar, and engraved with the artist’s initials, ‘HAS’. The support strut,
E, carved with zigzag designs along the side, fits into the centre.
F, the antler suspension peg, slides into the hole at the top, with three ridges to suspend the drum, beater and pointer from.
Event Date 18/12/2008
Author: maa

Context (Display)
On display in 'Sápmi' (Case 67), Maudslay Hall, MAA, from 26/02/2010 onwards. The display was co-curated with staff from the Ajtee Museum in Jokkmokk.
Event Date 26/2/2010
Author: rachel hand


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