Hennaed Drums in Medieval SpainThe ultimate origin of hennaed drums is probably impossible to find definitively. Wherever people were using henna on skin, and had drums, it would be a logical extension to decorate your drumheads with henna. Drumheads will stain beautifully — they are skin, after all — and the colour will be deep and permanent (since the animal’s skin is no obviously longer growing).
|The decorated drums of the Golden Haggada, Barcelona, ca. 1320.|
The subject of the paintings is often the prophet Miriam dancing and singing with the women after the crossing of the Reed Sea. As is common in medieval art, although the events depicted took place in another time the characters are depicted as if they were living in the contemporary period — the clothes, instruments, and other objects were shown as recognizable to the viewers, as a way of drawing a direct link between the events of the Exodus (for example) and the celebrants at a Passover seder in 14th century Catalonia. “In every generation,” we read in the haggada [Passover servicebook], “one must see themselves as if they had themselves left Egypt.”
The drums shown are handheld frame drums, known as adufes or panderos in Spanish (tympana in Latin, tof in Hebrew, and duff in Arabic). They have a long history in the Iberian peninsula, and are deeply linked with religious ritual and symbolism in local Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities. It is especially associated with women, and in artistic iconography the frame drum is associated with Miriam in particular.
To learn more on the symbolism of the frame drum in medieval Iberia, check out the extensive work of Mauricio Molina (e.g. 2007 and 2010). The frame drum’s importance continues for contemporary women in Spain and Portugal, as well as in the Middle East, as shown by Judith Cohen (2008) and Veronica Doubleday (1999). As Cohen writes, "perhaps [for contemporary Spanish and Portuguese women] playing the adufe and singing is an affirmation — for themselves, for each other, and maybe for the community as a whole — of their strength: physical, emotional and aesthetic."