To celebrate the beginning of Indigenous People’s Month, we want to teach you about the importance of the drum! To help us teach, we spoke with Raymond Sewell, a member of the L’nu people. Raymond is a special advisor at Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia. He has also played the drum since he could crawl and has given many speeches about how important drums are to him.
Raymond says, “our demi-god Klooscap comes to the shores of Mi’kmaki for the first time.” Those in the L’nu culture believe this is the first time a drum sound is ever heard. That first drum heard being created by the ocean rapping on Mi’kmaki’s stone canoe! Since then, the drum has gained a lot of popularity and importance. So much so that the First Nation people don’t ever meet without one!
There are two types of drums, small hand drums and big powwow drums! The smaller drums are used individually, which means one person would play one hand drum. The powwow drums are meant to be played in a group, with everyone sitting around the drum hitting it all at once. Powwow drums and hand drums are played in gatherings called “Powwows.” We’ll talk more about powwows in another Indigenous People’s Month blog. What you need to know are these gatherings are to eat food, and to sing, to dance, and to celebrate! Other percussion used in powwows are dew claw rattles, turtle shell rattles, and sticks used to strike birch bark.
Drums in Indigenous cultures also have a more spiritual side. Raymond told us that each drum has its own heartbeat, and you feel that heartbeat when you drum! When Raymond drums, he is praying to his creator. He told me that part of the process of drumming is making an offering to his creator. Raymond uses tobacco for this offering. He offers the tobacco to the North, the South, the East, the West, up, down, and in the middle. During this prayer Raymond feels very relaxed and connected with his drum. When a drum breaks, its heartbeat stops, and the drums spirit leaves it. The materials of the drum are then returned back to Earth, where they first came from.
Children have an important part in indigenous drums! Raymond told me that, to test the strength of a drum and to make sure it can be played, a child gets to “wake” the drum. Children “wake” drums by handling them, playing with them, and using them as drums. Raymond said, “a well-made drum should be able to stand a child playing with them.”
Do you have a drum at home? If you don’t, that’s okay, you can drum and slap on any surface you have (I’m sure you’ve done that before)! Attached at the bottom of the post is an audio recording of Raymond playing his drum. You can play along with him! Did you come up with any awesome drumbeats?
Please join us next time to learn more about the indigenous ceremony called the “pow wow.”