Asmat Art Drums: They are Strange and Beautiful

Posted in History, Other Drums

three asmat drums

Asmat drums are hour glass shaped tribal drums carved from a single piece of wood. They are named after the Asmat tribal group who inhabit Papua New Guinea in Indonesia who regard the drums as sacred. Usually Asmat drum is around 5 feet high, 8 inches wide at the top, 5 inches in the middle, and 7 inches on the bottom. The handles are carved very intricately with designs that are indicative of the Asmat people and their culture. The drum head is made of lizard skin and secured by braided plant fibers. The head is also glued to the shell by using human blood and lime as an adhesive.

The shell is covered in regional river mud and finished in a black coating of ashes and pig grease.The Asmat drum is tuned by being held over hot coals or a fire. While the men usually do the carving, the women weave the plant fibers. The tribe is also known for head hunting and cannibalism which they believe avenges wrongful deaths caused by evil forces.

History of the Asmat Art Drumasmat art

The story goes, the Asmat peoples' ancient god "Fumer-ipits" carved a tree trunk into an hourglass shaped drum and when it was played, the drum became a live man. The first time the Dutch encountered the Asmat tribe was in 1623. Usually no one wanted to come over and say hello to the headhunting cannibalists. I'm not sure WHY. In the 1920's, the Dutch settled into the region bringing Catholic missionaries. As more contact with the modern world has increased, the cannibalism has become less a common practice.  (Whew!)


The drum is played by holding on to a very intricately decorated handle indicative of the tribe and their culture, while striking the drum head with the other hand. However, only singing is considered "music" to the Asmat people. The drum is usually played with other instruments sometimes while in tribal costumes made from various Sago tree fibers and leaves.

tribe people