A shaman’s precious rune drum returns home
Instrument confiscated by the Danes is given back to the Sámi people three centuries later.
In 1691, a precious rune drum used to help a shaman enter a trance and walk among spirits was confiscated by the authorities. The owner, Anders Poulsson, was convicted for witchcraft the following year.
Saami shaman and his rune drum. 1767. It almost looks like a constellation map, with the Dipper in rotation at center. pic.twitter.com/Bw79YmIAjz— Hawkeyes (@Hawkeye29301967) March 6, 2022
According to the official records, Poulsson said his mother had taught him how to use the rune drum, because “he wanted to help people in distress, and with his art, he wanted to do good, and his mother said that she would teach him such an art."
Before a verdict was reached, he was murdered, with an ax, by a man who had “taken leave of his senses."
Poulsson's drum was acquired by the Danish royal collection and eventually passed to the National Museum of Denmark - until now. The drum was officially returned to the Sámi people after "a 40-year struggle," according to Jelena Porsanger, head of the Sámi Museum in Karasjok, northern Norway.
The Sámi are a northern European indigenous people that live in Sapmi, a territory that straddles northern Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia's Kola peninsula. "It's a treasured thing for us because it represents our history, values, and culture – but it's also a sign of colonization and uneven power relations," Porsanger said.
The drum had been on loan to the museum since 1979, but previous formal attempts to reclaim ownership had been unsuccessful. Last year, Norway's Sámi president pleaded with Queen Margrethe of Denmark to act as "the conscience of the Danish people" on the subject.
Shaman drum confiscated by Denmark given back to the Sámi people. On 1691, a rune drum for a noaidi –shaman– to enter a trance and walk among spirits, was seized by the authorities. Its owner, Poala-Ánde –Anders Poulsson in Danish– was tried for witchcrafthttps://t.co/XiiWdFzYDf pic.twitter.com/TybWy1QzPa— Alfons López Tena (@alfonslopeztena) March 13, 2022
“For us, these objects are not about collections, or representing a historical period,” said Porsanger. “They are not material objects. We think of them as humans, as persons.”
It is the first Sámi drum to be repatriated from overseas and the only one in Karasjok's collection. The drum, which is now being conserved, will be on display as the centerpiece of a new exhibition on April 12.
According to Sámi film-maker Silja Somby, who is preparing a film on rune drums for the Venice Biennale in August, the formal surrender of the object is a significant event.
"They're like bibles for us," she explained. "Each has its own unique set of meanings and symbolisms."