Hand Drum

Artist: Unknown
Culture/People: Iatmul
Place: Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
Media: Wood and pigment
Dims: 22.5 x 6.25 in. (57.9 x 15.8 cm).
Date: early 20th century
RTC No: OC0079


Hand drums are an essential accompaniment to singing. Drums commonly used in dancing were formed in an hourglass shape and could be held or placed on the ground. This drum is missing its drumming surface, usually made of snakeskin. The carved designs represent the waves of the Sepik River. While we might think of these designs as aesthetic, they were more likely to have been applied to enhance the drum’s ritual efficacy.

It is easy enough to say that an object evokes…, but consider too that they also may talk, and may do so loudly and demonstratively—telling us things we may or may not want to always hear or acknowledge

This piece creates an indispensable entrance or portal to other worlds, worlds that we as outsiders might mistakenly believe are simplistic, unchanging, or even diminished by contact with the outside world. But every community represented by the Coe collections is full and enriching and as complicated and inclusive with good, as well as bad, as our own Euro-American lives and societies.

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