Water Drums!


Gold Member
Water and Music


I've been interested in North American Native traditional music. Much of this music is shrouded in mystery(and ignorance or worse). One particular aspect that I find fascinating, is the water drum. I've read some of the early accounts which are a sorry excuse for history. "Dished out platter fastened with walnuts"... subsequently erased by smallpox, then typhus, salmonella, Oh yeah and there were settlers there too, who proceeded to genocide the remnants, and indoctrinate the natives with European traditions.

No one tells you that these traditions are alive and well, and the early accounts are so rudimentary and vague it's difficult to piece together that the drums you see on YouTube used in Native American Church(NAC) are in fact some of the same style of drums in these accounts with little or no change over the years.

Furthermore, the NAC water drum is I'm guessing the most popular style of drum(you can get bright and shiny ones on eBay), however there are at least three other styles of water drum. There are very small water drums about the size of the cup (https://youtu.be/mhe1VmsniSE), which evidently are used in the Eastern parts, for social dances. There are larger ones gallon sizes that are used in ceremonial dances. I've seen here are an Apache ceremonial dance (https://youtu.be/OTLPJngPFfU). At first I mistook these for ceremonies for the powwow dancing, they are actually doing something quite different. There are even larger keg sized water drums used, I gather, more or less like a rawhide powwow drum. I've seen videos, which I can't track down the source now, with water spraying from the top. There are a number of accounts of the larger water drums, Shawnee used water drums three feet in diameter (https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1525/aa.1942.44.3.02a00110)

In addition to the water drums used in the North, Mayans also had water based drums, using turned over guords ( https://youtu.be/GlvX3A-P-k0 )There are also certain styles of music actually based on splashing (https://youtu.be/pEgJhfWKq4A), aero phones like the bird whistle, and singing bowls or bells that can have water placed in them.

As per the aesthetic, why go to the trouble of tying this wet thing, when there perfectly fine hide drums? I think the Iroquois singer really explained it well, "The water drum is the first sound you hear in the womb". Humans are water based creatures, the water dampens the sound and gives a more human sound. Another interesting aspect, is that the wet heads in NAC change pitch to match the singers by pressing their thumb into the drum head, which to my ears sound like harmony, evidently the drum is capable of intervals of up to a fourth or fifth. I would be interested if anyone else had some conjecture as to why they would want to play them wet.

paradiddle pete

Platinum Member
Connection Honour Bravery Sympathy , These are the first four things that came to my mind.. good stuff..The real reasons to play drums..


Gold Member
Since this thread was relocated to the gear section. Does are there any thoughts on how to incorporate such an instrument into a set? I think it would make a nice ride tom in my collection of traditional percussion next to the wood tongue drum. One thing I wonder about is how often one needs to re-tie the drum? The official ceremonies talk about pooring the water out after or drinking the liquid ( possibly a joke ). The tanned hide has to have a much different property than raw hide, which would surely split. I think I've seen some with dirty old hides on water drums, and kids just jamming outside the context of specific rituals.