The Drum


“The Drum” (people) refers to the individuals who by calling and demonstrated commitment make the “Drum” (physical) alive in ceremony.

The “Drum” is the heartbeat for the Sundance ceremony.

For the first year of Sundance in Aotearoa a drum was lent to the dance from a person in Canada, in the care of a Canadian Head Drummer (Doug Kilian), who taught us the heartbeat and ceremonial songs of the Sundance. Over following years people have come from many places to “sit at the drum” (drum the heartbeat and sing the ceremonial songs).

We believe “The Drum” is about Unity, Focus, Support, Joy and Mystery.

  • Unity in that we all choose to act together – providing a clear, strong and singular heartbeat for dancers
  • Focus in that we pay attention to each other, the energy and our role within the Sundance ceremony
  • Support in that we choose to give to those who are dancing (through the drumming and singing) so that they are nourished, strengthened and held safely during the dance
  • Joy in that we are an expression of the “Earths” (Papatuanuku, Gaia, Mother Earth…) heartbeat
  • Mystery


Any person who hears the call can request to sit at the drum for the Sundance ceremony.

Ideally, the person would make this request to the head drummer prior to or, at the latest, “Tree Day” (the day before dancers start the dance) and be committed to drumming for the next four days. The prerequisite for sitting at the drum is that you know this is where you want to be and have a commitment to respecting where you are. This involves a willingness to work in unity, learning how to be focused and being prepared to share in the powerful joy of the “drum”. Women experiencing their moontime (menstrual flow) or men or women under the influence of alcohol or other mind altering substances do not sit at the drum for the Sundance ceremony.

Our drum (physical) can usually seat eight comfortably. Spaces at the drum go first to those who are experienced with the drum and songs, secondly to those who have sat at the drum before or previously danced and then to those who wish to experience the drum. If the “spaces” are taken up there will be room around the drum for those who wish to learn the songs and sing.

It is not appropriate for people to come and go from the drum in ceremony although it is OK for a person to sit a “round” out.

“ THE DRUM IS AUTONOMOUS “ – The drum in relation to the Sundance Ceremony

“What has been meant when people (originally Uncle Pat) have said the drum is autonomous”


“With Sundance some people are called to the drum and others are called to dance”.

“The drum (and drum group) is a separate entity”

“The drum” can run sweats and hold pipes. It is for the drum to decide – they are a separate entity”

“The only communication between the dancers and the drum at Sundance should be the heartbeat…not faster/slower, this song or that …”

“An elder can approach the drum and speak to the drum – it is good for the drum to consider what they say”.

“ Look after your hearts and kick ass”

The “drum” is evident by “calling” and “commitment

At the dance there must not be coming and going from the drum – a line needs to be drawn


“…some people are called to the drum and others are called to dance.” Patrick Anyewaush (aka Uncle Pat, Chief Whitecloud)

As Uncle Pat taught it, there is not a hierarchical relationship between the dancers and drummers at Sundance. Together, in partnership, there is wholeness and the optimum can be achieved. Only dancers, Intercessor and Sundance Chief can know what happens for the dancers – likewise, it is over to drummers to explore the Mystery and meaning of the drum.

What is the drum …. ?

  • “The Drum”
  • The heartbeat
  • People called and committed to calling in and sending out energy
  • A prayer in rhythm and voice
  • SafetyWhile each drummer is clearly independent and responsible for their own being the “Drum” is about the collective not individualism.The drum is about “we are” (not “I am”). We do not each beat our own rhythm but connect with each other to create a single beat and we each give our own individual voice to create the same song.

    While the songs may have originated from a specific place/person/event and they may have words that convey a meaning, concept or prayer they are “essence and energy”. Some teach that the whole of life is created and maintained by resonance – the songs go deeper and beyond words and sounds. Likewise the singing at the drum can be from the head, heart or spirit. In song we see the principle of unity/collective at work in that how and individual has prepared themselves does not just affect them but the drum as a whole !.

    The drum is deep (personal and primal) and wide (travels dimensions).


SunDance Aotearoa