al-Hiba: Mud Drum Makers

Date: Until c. 1990

The Marsh Arabs began making mud drums, known as tabols (Arabic: ṭabl) by kneading coma (made from the hair-like material found on the top of reeds) into the mud, and then using the mud strips (between 4 and 16cm in height) to make a tall shape. The first layer would have five strips laid in a circular pattern. Each time the maker wanted to link the strips together they would massage the joints. The clay is smoothed using damp fingers or muddy coma. The base of the drum is then left in the shade to dry overnight, and is sometimes covered by a basket. A range of leather can be used as the drumhead, but carp and pelican gullet are thought to be preferable. The leather is soaked overnight, stretched into place, and treated with a flour and water paste. By 1990 Edward Ochsenschlager records being unable to find a single mud drum. Baked pottery drums were increasingly used instead. See also: Sculptor with mud; Skin merchant; Tanner; Potter; Maker of Handmade Pottery Vessels.

Citation: Ochsenschlager, Edward. Iraq’s Marsh Arabs in the Garden of Eden (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2004), pp. 74-75.