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General comments: drums and drum making

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  • General comments: drums and drum making

    Just sitting here not googling anything, and wondering how the hethuska and like organizations have changed over the years. I see in Fletcher & LaFlesche that the drum used to be at the periphery of the dance circle, to the right of the door maybe 150 years ago. I wonder what that drum looked like. I think that there were fewer singers at the drum in the early days. Sylvester Warrior said that 7 singers could loudly carry the dance or ceremony. I was raving one time about how good the singing was on Indian House Ponca War Dance I & II. Clyde Warrior said to me, "These old Ponca men tell me that these singers are nothing compared to The Nighthawks." He told me that The Nighthawks was a Ponca drum from maybe 1910-1915, and they were superb.

    In the early 1960's, I watched Bill Collins, Sr., make a drum. The family drove north from Ponca City to Arkansas City, Kansas, where they met with a distributor of grocery products, including detergent. For some reason, the detergent was shipped in thick-walled cardboard barrels, about 55 gallon size. They had saved a couple of barrels for G'pa Bill. At home, he cut the barrel to a proper drum size. The Ponca had a place called 'the shelter belt' where a drum maker could 'bark the trees.' The men would really de-bark the trees removing the bark in large sections. This bark was put around the circumference of the drum shape making it into a faux log. G'pa Bill had a rain barrel at the corner of the house, and he cured his cowhides using water and lime. With the hair slipped and the hide defleshed, the wet rawhide was cut to size and laced on criss-cross fashion to make two drum heads on one shell.

    Years ago, I forged some large wood chisels out of car axle half-shafts for Mike Reyna of Taos Pueblo. I'm pretty sure that Mike chipped the center out of a cottonwood log with these chisels. This would leave the shell for the drum. I suspect that most Pueblo drums are made this way, although electric or air tools may be used nowadays. I'm guessing.

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