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The Heartbeat of the Drum as Key to the Universe

Audiopaper on the sonic agency of the Inuit frame drum in times of climate change and decolonization

For over 4000 years, the Inuit in Kalaallit Nunaat, as Greenland is called in Greenlandic, have been living in an intimate relationship with nature in the Arctic. Their knowledge of how to survive under such harsh conditions has been preserved and passed on via sound through the millennia and thousands of generations.

Anna Kûitse Thastum with her grand daughter practicing the qilaat, the Inuit frame drum Foto: unkonwn

For the Inuit, storytelling and frame drum singing and dancing have sonic agency. They give them the energy they need to survive and thrive in the cold. The powers of these sounds and their misconception by missionaries and colonizers as addressing pagan or even evil forces led to the ban of the qilaat, the Inuit frame drum, from church and public spaces. After the suppression of these sounds for around 300 years, in December 2021 Inuit drum dancing and singing has been inscribed as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. But despite this huge acknowledgment, the fight for the revitalization of the qilaat is far from over, as the case of the Greenlandic ex-priest Markus E. Olsen shows.

In the German tradition of the O-Ton-Hörspiel (documentary radio play), this audio paper traces the sonic agency of the qilaat: people and sounds tell the story themselves. Thus, this audio paper tries to answer the research question: In what ways does the qilaat still have sonic agency today, in times of climate change and decolonization?

The audio paper was been double blind peer-reviewed by two independent scientific experts and has been published open access within Seismograf Peer #30 What Sound Do. Within this special issue of Seismograf you can find the audio paper here.

The PDF of the manuscript of the audiopaper with translations of the quotes in Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) can be accessed here:

Download PDF • 297KB

You also can listen to the audiopaper and read the English subtitles for the quotes in Kalaallisut here:

The people we hear are in chronological order:

Frame drum singer and dancer Anna Kûitse Thastum (1942 – 2012), who initiated the application of the Inuit frame drum as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.

Randi Sørensen Johansen, curator for the intangible cultural heritage of Kalaallit Nunaat at the Nunatta Katersugaasivia Allagaateqarfialu (National Museum and Archives of Greenland).

Frame drum singer and dancer and suicide prevention activist Anda Poulsen.

Theologian and ex-priest of Nuuk Markus E. Olsen from Sisimiut,

Aleqa Hammond, politician, former member of the Danish parliament Folketing and first female prime minister of Kalaallit Nunaat.

Interviews & Author:

Ania Mauruschat


Leon Fiedler

Drum songs:

Anna Kuîtse Thastum - Ernivip kajane karingama

Anda Poulsen – Drum song of Amandus Petrussen (recorded at the Nuuk cathedral on June 21, 2022)


Kunuunnguaq Fleischer and Aleqa Hammond


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