Micronesian (Marshall Islands)

Not on view

In the past drums were extremely rare in Micronesia (the islands of the tropical northwestern Pacific) and were made only in the eastern Caroline Islands, the Micronesian outliers of Wuvulu and Aua, and the Marshall Islands. With its clean lines, graceful form, and lack of surface ornamentation this example from the Marshall Islands embodies the spare, minimalist aesthetic and emphasis on form characteristic of Micronesian art. In contrast to many areas of the Pacific, where drumming is often a wholly or primarily male activity, drums in the Marshall Islands formerly were used almost exclusively by women.
Marshallese drums, known as aje, were played as part of ensembles of female singers and drummers, who accompanied men's dances as well as dramatic song and dance performances similar in some respects to Western opera. Among the most important of these was the jebwa, a dance in which men carry staffs, which are struck together periodically as part of the choreography. Aje were also used in times of war when groups of women beat drums and sang to encourage their men in battle. The women also served as a second line of defense and afterwards assisted in negotiating peace. Because the sound could carry considerable distances, drums were also played on voyages to keep canoes together during nights at sea. Today, the Marshallese continue to make a modified form of aje, which is now played by men to accompany contemporary jebwa performances.

Aje, Wood, cord, skin, Micronesian (Marshall Islands)

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