A lost Lule Sámi drum, described by Peter Schnitler ca. 1745

In 1742–1745, major Peter Schnitler prepared a set of border examination protocols in preparation for negotiations between Denmark-Norway on one hand, and Sweden and possibly Russia on the other. These contain a section entitled Beſkriwelſe af Vaardehŭŭs-Amt, eller Finmarken, “Description of Vardøhus County, or Finnmark”. Here he covers various aspects of Sámi life and culture, including a short description and interpretation of a now lost Sámi drum.

This section is published in volume III of Major Peter Schnitlers grenseeksaminasjonsprotokoller 1742–1745, 1985, with Lars Ivar Hansen and Tom Schmidt as editors. As I do not have access to images of the manuscript, I have used their transcription with normalised letterforms.

As this drum description is later than most others with any source value, and is not associated with any drawing or surviving drum, it has largely been ignored. However, the fact that it is independent from all earlier descriptions, and does not seem any more distant from the ultimate source than these, it might well be worth closer scrutiny.

The description

Runn-Bommen har vel været det Sidste Lapperne med deres Overtroe have henget ved; J det de sig intet vigtig foretoeg, førend de havde adspurt dette deres Orakel, og kommer mig for som Ternings-bogen, børnebrugs. Den Runn-Bomme var langagtig-rond, og huul, omtrent som det Instrument Luth, dog uden Hals, paa den eene Side betrækked med Reen-Kalv-Skind, som en Tromme, maled med adskillige Figurer, og behengt med Messing Ringe og nogle Fugle-Fiær; En Runn-Bomme, som jeg af en gammel Missions Skolemester loed for mig eftergiøre, hafde følgende Figurer og Bemerkelser:

Bomm-Skindet var med 2de doppelte Tvær-Stræger deelt i To: Den øvre Deel skulle nu betyde Øvre Jordens Deel eller de Levendes Land, den nedre Deel under de Tvær-Stræger, den Deel under Jorden eller de Dødes Land;

Den 1te langagtige halv-ronde Circel i Øvre Parten øverst paa venstre Side bemerker Regn-buen;

Den 2den Figur imod Regn-Buen paa høyere Haand skal betyde de Store Hielper Mand;

Den 3die paa venstres Sides Bræde, nærmest under Regn-Buen heder den Lille Hielper Mand.

Den 4de paa høyere Sides Bræde derimod kaldes Verdens Mand, som regerer Verden.

Den 5te er en Linie med 3 Tvær-Streger over under Regn-Buen, paa venstre Side, betydenes Høytiden.

Den 6te næst derved under Regn-Buen paa høyere Side skal være Kirken.

Den 7de som er den 2den Figur fra Regn-Buen paa venstre Sides Bræde giver tilkiende Tordenen.

Den 8de imod Tordenen, under Høytiden, paa venstre Side kaldes Tordens Hammer.

Den 9de som nærmeste under Verdens Mand, bemerker Ormen.

Den 10de paa høyere Side derimod afbilder Biørnen.

Den 11te nærmeste under Tordenen er Vargen, eller Ulven.

Den 12te Figur under Middel-Tvær-Strægen i de Dødes Land fremstiller en Kirke.

De øvrige Figurer i de Dødes Land paa begge Sider betyde deels gode, deels skadelige Kræfter, som, hver paa sin Maade, i visse Ting skal kunde hielpe, eller skade; Saaledes er Een, som skal hielpe Barsel-Quinder; En anden adspørges om Raad, hvor begraven Skat i Jorden er at finde? En anden om andet? Den løse Ring brugtes saaledes: Man lagte den paa Bomm-Skindet, og bankede paa Skindet med en Træ-Hammer; Skulle det, man spurde om, lykkes: Saa sprang Ringen op paa Kanten, og hoppede saaleds omkring: J vedrig Fald reisede Ringen sig ei op paa Kanten, men faldt flad ned.

Notes on the translation

The text is a bit awkward in places, and I vary somewhat both between retaing the run-on sentences and rationalising the punctuation, and between verbatim and idiomatic translation. In no cases should this obscure the meaning as far as I can tell.

The magic drum seems to have been the last remaining superstition of the Sámis; as they never embarked on anything important before having consulted this their oracle, which seems to me like the die rolling oracular books which children use. The drum was elongated round, and hollow, similar to the instrument lute, but without the neck; on one side overstretched with a reindeer calf skin, like a drum, painted with many figures; and brass rings and some bird feathers hanging from it. A drum which I had an old mission school teacher reproduce for me, had the following figures and markings:

The drumskin was divided in two by two double transverse lines: the upper part was meant to represent the Earth’s upper part ot the land of the living, the lower part below the transverse strokes, the part under the Earth or the land of the dead.

The 1st elongated semicircle in the upper part on the top left side denotes the rainbow.

The 2nd figure opposite the rainbow on the right-hand side signifies the greater assistant.

The 3rd on the left side board, nearest below the rainbow, is named the lesser assistant.

The 4th on the right side board on the other hand is called the World’s man, who rules the World.

The 5th is a line with 3 transverse strokes below the rainbow on the left side, signifies the holidays.

The 6th beside it under the rainbow is supposed to be the church.

The 7th which is the 2nd figure from the rainbow on the left side board represents the thunder.

The 8th towards the thunder, below the holidays on the left side is called the thunder’s hammer.

The 9th as closest below the World’s man denotes the snake.

The 10th on the right side on the other hand depicts the bear.

The 11th closest beneath the thunder is the warg or wolf.

The 12th figure below the central transverse line in the land of the dead portrays a church.

The other figures in the land of the dead on both sides signifies part good, part harmful forces, who, each in their way, in certain instances is supposed to help or harm. Thus there is one that is supposed to help pregnant women, another is consulted for advice on where buried treasure is to be found, and another about another things. The loose ring was used in the following way: it was laid on the drumskin, and the skin was beaten with a wooden hammer. If what was asked about were to succeed, the ring leapt up on its edge, and bounced about that way. in the contrary case the ring did not rise up on its edge, but fell flat down.

Comments on the content

The description is quite precise in stating where the different figures are placed in relation to each other, but still it remains quite hard to visualise how it all comes together, and how each figure looks, lacing a depiction of the drum.

As many details in layout and style are recurring between drums, especially among those from the same region, the best hope is to see if the description at least partially could apply to a surviving drum. Fortunately, there is a very good match with a surviving Lule Sámi drum, Manker’s number 64, while some details fit better with other drums from the same region, such as numbers 65 and 61.

Ernst Manker’s tracing of the three Lule Sámi drums 64, 65 and 61
A mockup using elements from drums 64, 65 and 61 to satisfy the details in the description, if “under” in two instances can be atypically read as “beside” rather than “below”.