Snared Drums

Certain Canadian cultural groups make drums that have one or more snares. The Innu construct a one- or two-headed drum, the teueikan, which helps bring a hunter a dream about where game can be found.  The Innu attach a snare on the outside of each head.  On this, they fasten small pieces of bone or wood to make a unique rattling sound.  Usually the drum makers fasten another snare under the skinhead at right angles to the exposed snare.  These snares assist the sound in going out to the four directions.

The performer-hunter listens carefully to the sound while using a beater made of birch wood, a disc rattle, or, in earlier times, possibly an animal’s femur bone.  During this time, the hunter hopes that his dream will come with the song.

Many Athapaskan-speaking communities in the Northwest Territories and the Prairies have single-headed frame drums with one to four snares over or under the membranophone head (Keillor 1985-86: 46).

Antonia Curtze Mills described a Dunne-za (Beaver) frame drum with snares under the head:

Often the period of preparation for the dance includes the refitting or repair of the hand drums which are used by each singer.  A hand adzed plank of wood is made approximately one-half inch by approximately three inches by 24 inches.  Holes are drilled in the ends, the wood is steamed and bent in a circle and the holes tied together.  The frame is fitted with thongs with bird quills in them which act as snares against the drum head.  The drum head itself is made of the wet hide stretched over the frame and secured, dried and tempered by holding near the fire.  A good drum form is passed from generation to generation, but new ones are made if one is damaged or by a new singer, a youth who has not inherited a drum (Mills 1981: 77).

The communities have always considered this kind of drum to be very important.

The peoples’ [Dunne-za] dancing . . . is a form of praying. . . . Each time a person dances once around the fire, they say he shortens the route to heaven by that much. . . . The dancing is a prayer because the songs themselves, the Prophet Songs, are symbolic chants depicting the path to heaven, sent from the ‘seven grandfathers in heaven’ who look after the spiritual welfare of the Beaver, so that they may find their way to heaven after death” (Mills 1981: 80).

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