Norway’s indigenous people are asking for a sacred drum confiscated by Denmark after a witchcraft trial in 1691 to be returned to them permanently, and they have asked the Danish queen for help.
The drum belonged to a Sámi shaman, Anders Poulsson, who was arrested and imprisoned, according to court records. It was confiscated and became part of the Danish royal family’s art collection before being transferred to Denmark’s National Museum in 1849.
Since 1979, the drum has been on loan from the Danes to the Sámi museum in Karasjok, Norway. The loan agreement expires on 1 December and the drum is expected to return to Denmark. But the Sámi people want it back.
The Sámi Museum in Karasjok sent a request to the Danish National Museum earlier this year to formally take over ownership of the drum and the president of the Sámi parliament, Aili Keskitalo, has issued a statement to Norwegian and Danish press demanding the drum’s return.
Keskitalo said: “This is a ceremonial, sacred object of high cultural value – used to predict the future and get in touch with the spirit world by Sámi shamans throughout history.”
Only a few such drums still exist, with most in European hands – including one held by the British Museum.
“This is a big issue for us,” said Keskitalo. “That such important objects are stored in museum cellars where Sámi people cannot see or study them.’
The National Museum of Denmark’s head of research, Christian Sune Pedersen told the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang that his team was considering the claim.
He added that repatriation cases took longer than lending cases since they had to be decided by the Danish minister of culture. Neither the Danish National Museum nor the Ministry of Culture were available to comment.
Keskitalo said: “We’ve been asking for years – it’s unacceptable.”
Because the drum was part of the royal collection in Denmark before it was part of the National Museum, Keskitalo hopes the Queen of Denmark “may act as the conscience of the Danish people and the Danish state”.
“I am hopeful that if she says the ownership should be transferred, it will be transferred,” said Keskitalo.
Queen Margrethe has yet to respond.
The Sámi parliament also points to the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, adopted by Denmark and Norway, it says gives it the right to own the historic artefact.
“Through this drum, we will be able to explain so much about Sámi history. It tells a story about emancipation and the Sámi struggle to own our culture,’ added Keskitalo. “The drum is the key to explaining our heritage.”