Music plays a very important role in the life of Native Americans. While many different instruments such as the flute are played in most Indian ceremonies and rituals, it’s the drum beats that really set the pace of the event. Most music performed by Native Americans is actually religious in nature, reflecting a sort of prayer to the Gods in hopes of rain, healing, and protection, as well as prosperity. The tempo and pattern of the drum beats can reflect what type of prayer is being said and performed.
Most drums were made of a hollowed out log or other wooden frame, with deer or elk skin stretched across the top. The top of the drum was secured by sinew, or animal tendon to hold it securely in place. Most Indians would decorate their drums with colorful paint, rocks, and feathers, because the performance of the drum is a very important part of culture. The powwow was a time for the tribes to gather everyone together, tell stories, sing, eat, and dance. Drums were used to create the mood, and to help tell old tales.
There are various types of Native American drums and each produces a different sound and is used for different things. The most common drums were the hand drums which could be carried and moved about easily during a powwow or other ceremony. Larger drums usually were used to signal war, and these produce deep, thunderous drum beats used to intimidate the enemy, and warn them of a potential battle. Some drums used even contained water to give the drum beats a deeper, fuller sound. Each drum type used, and each beat pattern executed has a very distinct meaning from the other, making drum beats a very powerful part of Native American life.
Joseph Paige © 2006