Female shaman with a drum surrounded by villagers, Koryak.
The Koryak drum, yyai, is oval in shape and covered with reindeer-hide on one side only, its diameter being 73 centimetres. The drum-stick is made of thick whalebone, wider at the end with which the drum is struck, and this end is covered with the skin of a wolf’s tail.
Spiritual forces in traditional Koryak religion are associated with a particular geography, like a region, a hill, or even a house. Spirits from one place had to be kept separate from spirits associated with other places, therefore visitors would be “cleansed” by a brief ritual involving smoke and a few words. A spiritually “charged” drum used for shamanic healing was not carried from house to house by an individual shaman, but rather each household had a drum associated with the spirits of that place, which a shaman would use to talk to the spirits and heal a sick person. Thus the Koryak drum belongs not to the shaman but to the family. It is used both as a musical instrument and as a sacred object in the household. Everybody who pleases can beat the drum, but there is usually one competent person who knows how to shamanize with it.