Indigenous people want Denmark to return a sacred drum from a 17th century witch trial

A scared drum was stolen from the Sámíipeople during the Vardø witch trials in the seventeenth century, one of the first major witch trials in the Scandinavian region. Now, the indigenous people of the area want their artifact back — as the few that still exist are all in the hands of European institutions.

As Aili Keskitalo, the president of the Sám parliament, told The Guardian:

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.

According to court records, the drum belonged to a Sámi shaman named Anders Poulsson, who was arrested and imprisoned in 1691 because of "witchcraft" — in other words, for being an indigenous shaman. As The Guardian details its history:

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 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.

According to the head of research at the National Museum of Denmark, they are trying to consider the request in good faith — but, because of (non-Sámi) bureaucratic standards, it's a complicated process that might take a while. Keskitalo has since appealed directly to the Queen Margrethe of Denmark on the behalf of the Sámi people, hoping that the monarch can take some action and "act as the conscience of the Danish people and the Danish state." But so far, the Queen has not responded.

Sámi people ask Danish queen to return sacred witchcraft trial drum [Helen Russell / The Guardian]

Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons