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Generic term for drums, and specifically the frame drum, of the Tlingit and Haida peoples of Alaska. The circular frame, about 30 to 35 cm in diameter, is made from willow wood. The single head, of elk skin, is wetted and then dried around the frame. The head is tied across the back of the frame with sinew strips crossing at the centre to form a grip. It is struck with a willow stick about 30 cm long with a padded hide tip. The head is usually decorated on the outside in black, red, and green colours depicting crests symbolizing the clan of the owner. Some instruments are also decorated on the inner surface. The term gaaw may be modified with an adjective to denote other objects, for example lákt gaaw is a box drum and gaaw hít a drum house.
The lgheli is a similar instrument of the Dena’ina (Tanaina Athabascan) people of Alaska. It is not decorated and the head is of moose skin. The drumstick is padded with a small piece of sheepskin pelt.
B. Holm: Spirit and Ancestor: a Century of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum (Seattle, 1987).
J. Richard Haefer