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Object: Tamtam (slit drum)

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Title Tamtam (slit drum)
Production Unknown, circa 1900, Vanuatu
Materials wood
Classification musical instruments, slit drums, gong drums
Technique woodcarving
Dimensions Overall: 3150mm (Height)
Registration number FE010556

This type of wooden slit drum is found on the central and southern islands of Vanuatu, particularly on Malekula and Ambrym. This slit drum was probably made in the early twentieth century, when such drums were individually owned by men of high rank. The drum was acquired by Reverend WV Milne and became part of the Dominion Museum's collection in 1914.

Material and techniques
As well as being musical instruments, slit drums are interesting showpieces for wood carving, with the best examples coming from the island of Ambrym. Huge and finely carved, they are made from hollowed-out tree trunks, and range in height from three to six metres. This drum is over three metres high.

Significance
Photographs from the early twentieth century show small forests of drums along the edges of ceremonial dance grounds. At these special gathering places, the drums were used for beating out dance rhythms and for signalling. They were usually played by drumming the right-hand lip of the slit with the trimmed stalk of a coconut leaf. The sound from the hardwood cavities could travel for several kilometres. The large scale and visual appeal of slit drums has made them popular with collectors, and many have found their way into museums around the world. Today, the monumental presence of slit drums sees them retain a value as significant icons of Vanuatu culture and society.

Related information

Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.