Drum Circles and Their Place in Seminole History

By Tara Backhouse, Museum Collections Manager

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s mission is simple but broad: to celebrate, preserve, and interpret Seminole Culture and History.  It’s a beautiful mission and it’s a privilege to be able to dedicate so much of my life to its sentiments.  To be able to do it right, and I hope that we are, takes a lot of thought, analysis and action.  It’s not a simple thing, because culture and history are complex and all-encompassing.  Our focus in history covers a relatively small part of the world (the southeastern United States) and a very small part of the time that history has been happening, generally the last few hundred years.  However, the Seminole slice of history is still vast, rich and multifaceted.  We cannot tell the Seminole story quickly or easily.  It cannot be done in one exhibit, one blog, one tour, or through one historic object!  As the Collections Manager, that is my main concern:  the historic objects.  Additional devoted team members head up those other aspects, but we all work together to make sure we do our best with the same mission.

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Unpuzzling the Past

If you’re familiar with Seminole history, there are a lot of things you may recognize immediately as essential to our mission: a piece of patchwork, a doll or basket, and perhaps a historic photograph or postcard.

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We’re happy when we uncover a piece of Seminole history and culture that we haven’t talked about in a public forum. It’s not always obvious if an object that’s offered to us is relevant to Seminole history, and we have to scratch our heads and think outside the box at times like this.  This is what happened in 2017 when we were contacted by a Mr. Sigfried R. Second-Jumper, aka Siggy Jumper. Mr. Jumper told us he had a drum made by Thomas Storm Sr., and that it would be a great addition to our Museum.

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We recognized this object immediately as the type of drum used in western Native American drum circles. But a Seminole drum circle?  We’d never heard of that.  With Mr. Jumper’s help we learned that Cypress Prairie, the drum circle he participated in from 1998-2001, was a collaboration between Seminole and other native people, and that helped us to understand that it was indeed an important part of the Seminole story.

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Cypress Prairie members worked with local schools to teach drumming and share the joy they got from the music.

Totem Poles

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has welcomed the traditions of other tribes for at least 100 years. Around the turn of the 19th century, Seminole people became involved in tourist attractions that featured their own cultural traditions packaged in a way that tourists would appreciate and pay for.  In turn, people working in those camps were exposed to totem poles and other forms of art that weren’t traditionally Seminole.  So, they adapted and took on some of those traditions.

Some people say that things like totem poles need to be thought of differently, that they are not Seminole, because they originated on the west coast of North America. But in my opinion, that’s a very narrow viewpoint.  History doesn’t stop, and culture changes constantly.  And why should Seminole artists have been exclusionary in the early 20th century, when they saw totem poles and admired them?  After all, new skills helped Seminole people make money.  Anything that helped Seminole people gain economic independence after a devastating century needs to be appreciated.  For these reasons, we have totem poles in our collection.

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Collections Officer Robin Kilgo and Conservator Corey Smith prepare a totem pole for storage in 2012.

Showcasing Talent and Traditions

Tribal Fairs and Pow Wows are other venues through which Seminole people have long celebrated native talent from far and wide. Whether it is fancy dancers from the Great Plains or fire dancers from Mexico, all these performance traditions show the pride and resilience of native peoples who were disrespected, persecuted, subjugated, massacred and driven out of their homelands over a 300-hundred-year period.   So, it seems natural to me that native people would want to share the beauty that survived with each other, and that people from one tribe would learn the dances and music of another tribe.

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Drum circles have also been a feature at Seminole events for many decades. Some of the pictures in our historic collection illustrate the healing power of musical traditions like this.

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You can find pictures of the dances at Tribal Fairs and well as thousands of other pieces of Seminole history, by searching our online collections: https://semtribe.pastperfectonline.com/

If you need assistance, give us a call at 863-902-1113 and ask for the Collections Division.

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If you can, come see us at the Museum on Big Cypress! Objects from the Siggy R. Second-Jumper collection are on display until April 4th, 2019.  In the Selections from the Collections gallery you can read about his extraordinary story and you can be inspired by the beautiful music that Cypress Prairie created.  We will continue to collect stories like his that show the wealth and variety of Seminole life, so that we can do the best job possible to celebrate, preserve, and interpret Seminole Culture and History.  We need your help to make it happen.  Please contact us if you’re interested in helping tell the Tribe’s story!

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Author: Collections Division

The Collections Division manages the Museum's collections, produces and maintains exhibits, conducts the oral history program, and staffs the Museum's village.

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