In a water drum, some water has been placed in the drum chamber to achieve a special resonant sound. Water drums are found in many different cultures in various parts of the world.

Native American water drums

Water drums are widespread in Native American music in both North America and South America.

Examples of Native American peoples and groups who use water drums ceremonially and socially are the Navajo, Cherokee, Iroquois (including Huron-Wendat), Creek, Ojibwa, Odawa, Pottawatomii, Yaqui, and Apache.


The water drum of the Ojibwa, Odawa and Pottawatomii is called midegwakikoon. In this context, “mide-” is a reference to Midewinini, a religion practised by some indigenous peoples of the Maritime, New England and Great Lakes regions. A practitioner of Midewinini is known as a Midew.

Yaqui deer dance music

The water drum is an integral part of the Yaqui deer songs (maso bwikam), as the drumming represents the deer´s heartbeat.

The Yaqui is a Native American people associated with Arizona and Sonora, and their contemporary dominant religion is a mixture or Native American and Catholic elements.

The Yaqui deer song and dance rituals are related to those of other Uto-Aztecan groups.

The Yaqui deer dance is usually held at night and is a way of thanking and honouring the deer for coming to this world and allowing itself to be killed so that people may live.

While the water drum represents the deer´s heartbeat, the rasp represents the deer´s breathing and the gourd rattles honour the plant world. Dancers wear butterfly cocoon rattles around their ankles to honour the insect world and rattles made from deer hoves to honour the deer.

The deer singers, known as masobwikamem, sing songs about nature from a deer´s perspective.

Water drum skin

Traditional Native American water drums have been made using various available skins, including deerskin. The Wyandot and Seneca (Cayuga) peoples have traditionally used the skin of a groundhog (Marmota monax) for their water drums.

Water drum stick

The Wyandot people has traditionally used a carved hardwood drum stick with a small rounded tip.

Contemporary metal water drums

Today, several Native American peoples and congregations in North America use metal water drums, e.g. drums made from a brass, copper or iron kettle. This is especially common in the Native American Church (NAC) – also known as Peyotism – which teaches a combination of Native American beliefs and Christianity, with a strong emphasis on the sacramental use of peyote.

This article was last updated on: September 2, 2020