A frame drum of the kind used by the mountain peoples of the Himalaya during shamanistic rituals is the most important object used in the rituals of the faith healers. Although all drums belong to a single basic type, no one resembles another in all its details. Each drum used in this kind of religious practice is unique. Together with related instruments from Northern Asia, the physical shape of the shaman drums of the Himalaya region display a transcontinental structure of modifications and transformations.
These changes, from item to item, village to village, region to region, and ethnic group to ethnic group are investigated by Michael Oppitz. Do the transformations of this drum from owner to owner and place to place correspond to material contingencies that are unavoidable with a handmade object? Or are these transformations the subject of unknown rules, even intentions, the discovery of which might enable one to predict patterns in the allocation of each newly discovered item beyond the same basic features?
In order to get closer to the secrets behind the transformation of the shaman's drum, the author focuses on myths and narratives that accompany the production of this instrument and elucidates the different functions it fulfils among numerous regional and oral cultures.
Michael Oppitz (born 1942 in Silesia) studied anthropology, sociology and sinology in Berkeley, Bonn and Cologne. He was a visiting professor in New York, Texas and Paris. 1991 to 2006 he was a professor of anthropology at Zurich university and director of the Zurich Museum of Ethnography. Since 1965 he has conducted field research in Nepal (Sherpa and Magar), as well as Naxi and Quiang (Yunnan and Sichuan). He has published several books on Himalaya ethnography, visual ethnography and the history of anthropological theory. In 2013, his book Morphology of the Shaman's Drum was published (Edition Voldermeer Zurich).