A contemporary description of an extant Sami drum (c. 1723)

Closely associated with the so-called Nærøy manuscript by Johan Randulf, vicar in Nærøy and dean in Namdalen, written when the missionary Thomas von Westen visited in 1723, is a drawing of a different drum from the one described there and an accompanying interpretation of it. Though there are some discrepancies, there can be little doubt that this drum is the one that is now in the Meininger Museen in Germany; one of the very few that still survive out of the more than one hundred that von Westen collected and sent to Copenhagen, as most of these were destroyed in a fire in 1728.

The manuscript is known as XA Qv. 23 in the Gunnerus library at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, NTNU. It is bound with a copy of the the drawing of the drum described in the Nærøy manuscript (omitted here), and its text shares some odd word choices with that work.

The handwriting is hard to read, but the text is reproduced in Just Qvigstad’s Kildeskrifter til den lappiske mythologi (1903). I have reproduced this text below with some corrections based on the high resolution scans of the original that are now available. This text silently expands abbreviations of the words som, paa, den, the syllable for and geminated n and m. The text is in Danish, but Norwegian words with no obvious Danish counterpart are written in their Norwegian form, and in one instance such a word is interpreted to be a Sami word.

For clarity, I have removed the original numbering of the individual symbols from the drawing, and added modern numbers in light red in the same places. In the English translation below, I have not repeated this illustration, but replaced it with a copy of Ernst Manker’s tracing of the original drum. Here the numbering is altogether removed, as he renumbered the symbols for his own description.

Underretning
om
Rune-Bommens rette
Brug iblandt Finnerne i Nordlandene
og Findmarken saaledes, som det har
været af fordum-Tiid.

Naar en Finn har besluttet et at forrette, adspurde hand sin Rune-Bomme, tog den i sin venstre Haand, vendede den Ende, hvor Rins-Dyrenes Samling præsenteres (No. 1) til sit Bryst, faldt ned paa det venstre Knæ, med det høire oprakt, tog hammeren, som er ar­beidet af Rins-Horn, tillige med det lille Messing Instrument |: Viiseren kaldet :| i den høire Haand, lagde Viiseren oven paa Skin­det, og med Hammeren bankede paa Skindet. Imedens hand saa banke­de, sang hand en Sang paa Finsk, som vel uden Tvil har været vantroen­de, efterdi ingen Fin vil give Meeningen tilkiende; ved denne banken paa Skindet bevægedes Viiseren fra et Sted til et andet iblandt Characterene, indtil den før Sangen var ude, blev u-bevege­lig liggendes, i hvor meget hand vilde banke, paa det Signo, som betegne­de Finnernes Forehavende, om hans propos skulde blive lykkelig; men skulde det ikke lykkes, da bevegedes Viiseren under og efter San­gen hist og her ved Finnens Banken, som af Begyndelsen. Dette har været Finnerne et infallible Tegn paa en lykkelig eller u-lyk­kelig Udgang.

Charactererne haver efterfølgende Betydende:

  1. Det Gierde, hvor Finnerne haver deres Rins-Dyr samlede, særdeles om Sommeren, naar de malker Hin­derne.
  2. Finnen gaaer paa Skytterie.
  3. Hermelin-Dyret.
  4. Finne-Hytterne.
  5. Træe i Skoven.
  6. Egeren, eller som de kalde det Dyr, Ikorn.
  7. Rune-Bommen, hvilket Signum tilkiende om Rune-Bommen spaaer sandt.
  8. En Fin kommer at besøge den anden.
  9. Fisker-Baaden med Garnet bag efter.
  10. Finnerne gaaer paa Biørne-Skiøtterie.
  11. Biørnen.
  12. Fugle-leeg ɔ: en Sted paa grønne Enger og gierne hos Fiske-Vand, hvor Uhr-Høns og Tødderne om for­aaret samler sig og spiller med hver anden.
  13. Finne-Quinden agter at gaae til Staburet.
  14. Fieldet, hvor Reensdyrene gaae.
  15. Staburet, bygt i Skoven paa 4 ved Toppen afhugne Træ­er 10 à 12 Alen høi fra jorden, hvori Finnen giemmer sine Madvarer og bedste Varer, alleene forvaret med en Pind for Døren; men naar derfra, da giemmer de Stien saa vel, at en Fremmed ei kand finde den.
  16. Finne-Hytter i andre Finne Byer.
  17. Ulven og Riins-Dyret i Fieldet ɔ: om Ulven har giort Skade blandt Reens-Dyrene.
  18. Gud den Hellig Aand.
  19. Om Ulven har været i anden Finne-Bye og giort Reensdyrene Skade.
  20. Els-Dyret.
  21. Gud-Fader.
  22. Færge-Baaden.
  23. Guds-Søn.
  24. Bøygden, det er Byer, hvor Bønderne boer.
  25. Om mange Kiør skal døe for Bønderne ved foraars Tiid.
  26. Om gamle Hester skal skydes ihiel hos Bønderne, hvor­efter Finnerne søger, som de derved fortiener Penge for at tage Huden af Besterne, og beholde Kiødet til Spise.
  27. Gand-Flue til at beskade Qvæget.
  28. Kirken.
  29. Bever-Dyret, som bygger sig selv Huus i stridige Aa­er 2 à 3 Etager, at de kand have sine Boliger, som van­det voxer og aftager.
  30. Gand-Flue til at skade Mennisker.
  31. Finnen kiører i sin Kirritz med Rinsdyr for.
  32. Finnernes Begravelse i Fieldet, som er gierne i en Bergrift eller Huule, hvorind de putter deres Liig, iført daglig Klæde-Dragt.
  33. Finne-Tøiten, ɔ: Finne-Konen.
  34. og 35. De Mands-Personer, som vogter Rinsdyrene.
  35. Finnen, som leder efter de Vildfarende Rinsdyr.
  36. Dievelen.
  37. Det Reens-dyr, som er bleven borte i Fieldene.
  38. Solen om den skal skinne og det skal blive klart Veir.
  39. Gand-Find, som har lært at udsende Gann.
  40. Goup-Dyret.

Det røde Kaars som paa Rune-Bommen er malet med Biørne-Blod, som Finnen har taget af den skudte Biørns Hier­te, og anstrøgen dette sit Oracul med, paa det hand fremdeles skal blive lykkelig i sit Biørne-Skøtterie.

De smaae Tinn-Nagler, paa den anden Ende af Ova­len i Træet findes inddrevne, viiser hvor mange Biørne efter denne Rune-Bommes prophetie ere fældede.

Ligeledes inddriver de smaae Tin- eller Messing-Nagler udi deres Bøsser for hver Biørn de skyder.

Remmerne med Tinn-Traaer omviklede og med gammel Tin og Messing i Enden prydede, ere som Gaver og Taknemmeligheds Tegn til Rune-Bommen, hvilke Finnerne giver, naar de efter dens Anvisning har været lykkelige.

Jo ældre en Runebomme er, jo større Tillid er der sat til den; hvorfor Finnerne efter 2de Aars ofte skiede Anmodning neppe vilde nedføre hosfølgende af Fieldene og lade den fare, som samme skal være arved i 4de Leed.

Characterernes Betydninger aabenbarer ingen Fin, saa­længe hand er ædrue; men bliver hand skiænket med Brendeviin, kand man undertiden lære deres Arcana.

Disse Anmærkninger over Rune-Bommens Charac­terer med meere ere givne av 2de gamle Finner Bendix Andersen Frennings-Field og Jon Mortensen Torchelsen Fiplings-Skov, hvilke Fielde henhører til Brøndøe Præ­stegield.

In the translation below, I have retained the original’s grammatical vagrancies, such as switching between the past and the present tense and other inconsistencies; and have here and there chosen an old-fashioned word or turn of phrase if it allows the translation to follow the original more closely in structure and meaning.

Notification
of
the magic drum’s true
usage among the Sami in Nordland
and Finnmark, such as it has
been since ancient times.

When a Sami has decided a course of action, he inquired his magic drum, took it in his left hand, turned the end where the reindeer gathering is shown (No. 1) to his chest, fell down on the left knee with the right one upright, took the hammer which is wrought of reindeer horn together with the small brass intrument called the indicator in the right hand, laid the indicator on the drumskin and beat on the skin with the hammer. While beating, he sang a song in Sami, which doubtlessly has been pagan, as no Sami will reveal its meaning; by this beating on the drumskin, the indicator moved from one place to another among the symbols, until it before the song ended remained motionless, no matter how much he was beating, on the symbol which designated the Sami’s purpose if his proposition were to be fortunate; but should it not succeed, the indicator would keep moving under and after the song hither and thither by the Sami’s beating, as in the beginning. This has to the Sami been an infallible sign of a fortunate or unfortunate end.

The symbols have the following meanings:

  1. The fence, where the Sami keeps their reindeer gathered, especially in the summer, while milking the hinds.
  2. The Sami goes shooting.
  3. The ermine.
  4. The Sami huts.
  5. Trees in the forest.
  6. The squirrel, or as they call the animal, ikorn. [‘ikorn’ or ‘ekorn’ is actually the Norwegian word, which the author has not recognised as such]
  7. The magic drum, whose symbol signifies whether the drum prophecies correctly.
  8. A Sami comes to visit the other.
  9. The fishing-boat with the net behind.
  10. The Sami go bear-shooting.
  11. The bear.
  12. Bird lek, i. e. a place in green meadows, often by fishing-lakes, where black grouse and capercaillies gather in the spring, lekking with each other.
  13. The Sami woman goes to the storehouse.
  14. The mountains, where the reindeer roam.
  15. The storehouse, built in the forest on four trees cut off at the tops, ten to twelve ells tall from the ground, in which the Sami hides his provisions and best goods, solely protected by a stick across the door; but when leaving, they hide the path so well that a stranger cannot find it.
  16. Sami huts in other Sami settlements.
  17. The wolf and the reindeer in the mountains, i. e. whether the wolf has caused damage among the reindeer.
  18. God the holy ghost.
  19. Whether the wolf has been in other Sami settlements and caused damage to the reindeer.
  20. The elk.
  21. God the father.
  22. The ferry boat.
  23. God the son.
  24. The village, that is settlemens where the farmers live.
  25. Whether many of the farmers’ cows will die in the spring.
  26. Whether old horses shall be shot among the farmers, after which the Sami seek, that they thereby earn money for removing the hide from the beasts, and keep the meat to eat.
  27. Sorcery-fly for harming the cattle.
  28. The church.
  29. The beaver, which builds itself houses in rapid streams two to three stories high, so that they can keep their abodes as the water rises and falls.
  30. Sorcery-fly for harming people.
  31. The Sami drives in his sledge drawn by reindeer.
  32. The Sami’s burial in the mountains, which is often in a rock cleft or a cave, wherein they place their corpse, dressed in everyday clothes.
  33. The Sami hussy, i. e. the Sami wife.
  34. and 35. The menfolk who guard the reindeer.
  35. The Sami who searches for the lost reindeer.
  36. The devil.
  37. The reindeer which is lost in the mountains.
  38. The sun if it will shine and the weather will be clear.
  39. A Sami sorceror, who has learnt to send out sorcery.
  40. The lynx.

The red cross that is painted on the drum with bear’s blood, which the Sami has taken from the heart of the bear that has been shot and painted this his oracle with, so that he shall remain fortunate in his bear-shooting.

The small tin nails that are driven in the wood at the other end of the oval shows how many bears that have been felled after the prophecy of this drum.

Likewise, they drive small tin or brass nails into their guns for each bear they shoot.

The straps wound with tin thread and decorated by old tin and brass at the end, are gifts and tokens of gratitude which the Sami gives to the drum when they have had good fortune by its guidance.

The older a drum is, the more it is trusted; which is why the Sami after two years of frequent requests barely would bring the accompanying one down from the mountains and let it go, as it is claimed to be passed down for four generations.

The meanings of the symbols no Sami will reveal as long as he is sober, but if he is given strong liquor one may sometimes learn their secrets.

These annotations on the symbols of the magic drum and more are given by the two old Sami men Bendix Andersen Frøyningsfjell and Jon Torkelsen Fiplingskog, their surnames being mountains in Brønnøy parish.