Sámi people, once known as the Lapps, live in arctic and sub-arctic Europe. Their homeland, named Sapmi, covers parts of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, as well as the Kola Peninsula in Russia. For almost three thousand years Sámi lived as hunters and gatherers. But from about 1500 they became semi-nomadic, herding reindeer and trapping animals in the north, fishing along the coast and farming in the south. Today there are about 100,000 Sámi. Although most live in towns and cities, rural life is still at the heart of Sámi identity.

The Sámi drum was an important tool for survival. Made of reindeer skin and wood, they were magical weapons that, in the hands of a skilled person, could help to protect the community. Magic drums were used by Sámi for many generations, and this example, acquired by Sir Hans Sloane probably by the 1680s, may be among the oldest surviving examples. In the 1600s Christian missionaries fiercely persecuted Sámi people, associating their traditional beliefs with witchcraft. By around 1700 most surviving Sámi had been converted and almost all Sámi magic drums had been destroyed.

The images on the drum, of reindeer herding, fishing, the sun and the winter solstice, remain important cultural symbols for Sámi people. They represent continuity with the land and their ancestors. Several layers of symbols and drawings have been sketched out by a shaman, or noaidi, to represent his dangerous journey through the different levels of the Sámi universe to communicate with spirits.


  • Title: Sámi drum
  • Date Created: 1500/1700
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 39.00cm; Width: 33.50cm; Depth: 10.00cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: painted; carved
  • Registration number: Eu,SLMisc.1103
  • Production place: Made in Norway. Made in Sweden. Made in Finland. Made in Russia
  • Place: Found/Acquired Europe. Found/Acquired Russia. Found/Acquired Sweden. Found/Acquired Finland. Found/Acquired Norway. Found/Acquired USSR
  • Peoples: Made by Sámi
  • Other information: Cultural rights may apply.
  • Material: wood; skin
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Bequeathed by Sloane, Hans

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