I had a really excellent question from someone who is interested in my medicine drum making workshop. (next week.. details here)
I haven’t been asked it before, but thought it was very sensitive and thoughtful, and I appreciated it.
It’s surprising I haven’t addressed it before, sometimes I forget that what I have been taught is not mainstream information, that I have been so lucky in my teachers, friends and community I live in and what I learn through them.
The question was about making drums, and if it was cultural appropriation. Asking is it a Native American tradition sacred to them that is not for us to get involved in? The pull to this drum making workshop was strong, but she didn’t want to take part if it was disrespectful to Native American culture and tradition.
Like I said, great question! And yes, the frame drum is a part of Native American tradition and culture. And one of the most popular, visible forms of frame drumming being seen today. Also I think it is probably the most highly appropriated form of spiritual practice, culture, traditional dress and aesthetic around. Her concerns are well founded.
The Native American tradition is not the foundation of my work with the frame drum.
Here is a fleshed out version of what I shared in reply.. (we were chatting via FB message on phones, so it was more brief)
The frame drum is one of the first known instruments. Originally thought to be made from the grain sieves with tanned hides stretched over them. Women were the first drummers with these drums. It comes from almost all cultures on the planet. Except interestingly Australia. Some Australian Aboriginal women would make drums of possum skin skirts stretched over their laps, and clap sticks, but not frame drums, as far as we know.
I am of Irish, Scottish and Nordic heritage, all of whom have a history and strong continuing relationship and culture with the frame drum. Shamanic cultures come from all nations with different traditions and practices, most of which having drums as a foundational instrument for shamanic journeying, singing, healing and ritual. I do not practice Native American tradition, but respect and honour it of course.
I reach back further into my own ancestry, but since I am removed from my ancestral lands I live my own kind of earth based practice.. and practices taught to me by my teachers Jane Elworthy, Elizabeth Ryan, Jane Hardwicke Collings and Minmia.
Here are some words by my drumming teacher Jane Elworthy:
“In different cultures they have different names, but they are all from the powerful and ancient family of The Frame Drum.
Believed to have evolved from the grain seive, technically a frame drum is any drum where the diameter of the head is greater than the depth of the body.
As a traditional women’s sacred instrument, it was the main instrument used consistently in ritual, celebration, healing and shamanic journeying for thousands of years.
When Rome adopted Christianity around 200AD it was made an act of heresy to play the frame drum, such was it’s power of collective and personal transformation.” Jane Elworthy
That’s right!! An act of heresy! Women were once drummers, and it was taken from them, taken from us.
Women are remembering the desire to drum, the desire and need to gather and drum together.
Many women remember a feeling of wanting to drum as a child and being told no. This is a recollection of Jane Elworthy, who saved up her money and bought a drum as a child, and also of Layne Redmond, incredible drummer and author of “When the drummers were Women”
I highly recommend this book to learn about the history, origins and lineage of the frame drum.
When I made my first drum in a circle of women, I had such a feeling of having done it before, it was so familiar and somehow in me.
This workshop is actually not about any particular spiritual practice but a journey into the story of your birth and your creative imprint, and in that rebirthing yourself as a drummer, your birth rite.
One of my favourite videos of this amazing drummer and singer Eivbr Pálsdóttir ..
Gather together women, make drums together, play your drums, together and alone, and remember we have done this before.