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June 18, 2013

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe: Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock

Part 1: Introduction and author bio
Part 2: Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood 
Part 3: Roughing out the hull 

Except for large continental chunks that make up Aotearoa (New Zealand), the island of New Guinea, and adjacent chunks of Melanesia, most of the Pacific Islands are purely volcanic in origin. Hence there are no usable metals. Just rock—lava rock. And on coral atolls where the volcanic part has sunk beneath the sea and the coral reef has kept growing at the surface, there isn’t even lava rock. So what do you make tools out of?

First of all, lava rock is not all created equal. Depending on the mineral content of the eruption and how fast the lava cooled, there are a wide range of densities and textures of lava rock. The stuff on the surface and outer edges cools fairly quickly and loses a lot of dissolved gases in the process, making that very porous, light and crumbly stuff. But down deep inside the lava flow, where it cools slowly and gases can’t escape, the resulting rock can be quite hard and dense. Different stages of mountain-building also produce different qualities of lava, the earlier stuff being very runny and the later stuff being, at times, quite thick and pasty. On the top of Mauna Kea, a mountain on the island of Hawai’i that rises close to 14,000 feet high, a late-stage eruption came out under a glacier that capped the mountain in the last ice age. This stuff cooled super-hard and is the best tool-making rock in the Pacific. Hawaiians of old probably found samples of it washed down in the streams and traced it back up to the top of this mountain. Today there are numerous shrines and workshops visible, a testament to the extensive tool-making that took place up here until westerners arrived with iron.

In much of the Pacific the main tool was the adze. Adzes are not so much chopping tools as planing tools, shaving off chips a bit at a time to shape wood. But there were several types of adzes, including a set for chopping down trees. And Hawaiian adzes are, to me at least, particularly lovely and amazing. There is a beautiful collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Here is a selection collected in the islands in the early 1840s by the U.S. Exploring Expedition and accessioned by the Smithsonian in 1858. 

Adzes 1a

Stone adze blades collected in Hawai’i in the early 1840s by the U.S. Exploring Expedition and accessioned by the Smithsonian in 1858. Note that the blades are rectangular, the hafted end (where it is attached to the handle) left rough but the cutting edge and sides very smooth and even. Some are fairly flat, others quite thick, and these have different purposes.

Adzes 2a

Adzes 3a

 In this image you can see a nice blade as well as a small round chisel. The chisel would be used for cutting holes to lash the canoe together. (Lower) This is a lovely hafted adze. The blade is fasted to the handle with coconut sennit. That piece of fabric beneath the twining is kapa (bark cloth). This helps absorb shock, keeps the bindings tight, and prevents the rope from being gnawed away by the rough stone of the blade. These tools were collected by Nathaniel Emerson and purchased by the Smithsonian  in 1909 following the close of the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition in Seattle.

Making these blades is an incredible test of patience and perseverence. Once you’ve found the rock you think is suitable, you start chipping away at it with another piece of hard rock. Now every blow with this “hammer stone” creates a cone-shaped shock in the potential blade rock, like those shatter cones you sometimes see in car windshields. So you have to plan your blows to flake off bits of cone in the right direction. One wrong blow and the piece is ruined. There are piles of discarded attempts atop Mauna Kea. Or perhaps the stone had a flaw and just cracked. And you might be almost all the way done when this happens!

I’ve been to the top of Mauna Kea. Mind you, in Hawai’i that means starting at sea level. At over 13,000 feet, the air is really thin and just walking can be strenuous. And it’s cold, and Hawaiians didn’t have much in the way of cold-weather gear. So my hat is off to those who went up there and worked.

Dr. Peter Mills, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii Hilo Campus and a flint-knapper (a similar stone-on-stone process, but for making flat blades like arrowheads and spear points), postulated to me that probably apprentice adze-makers—younger guys, in other words—did the arduous work atop Mauna Kea, and brought down roughed-out blades to the master adze maker to finish. It makes sense to me. Still, I can’t imagine how these guys could walk down from 13,000+ feet carrying big chunks of rock.

Tom Pico, a contemporary adze-maker at Volcano, Hawai’i, showed me how the blades would then be ground on a flat lava rock using sand and water. Green sand high in olivine content makes the best, he says. And these blades would have to be sharpened constantly on a flat stone. Perhaps the master canoe carver had an apprentice next to him sharpening his blades for him. And on the canoe itself, you’d need the adzes, the sharpening stone, and the sand, because as Tom pointed out, this was your “fix a flat” kit aboard the canoe. 

Adzes 5a

Tom Pico demonstrates sharpening a stone blade.

But what if you live on a coral atoll with no volcanic rock? Then your hardest substance is shell, and the best shell comes from the giant clam. If you’ve never seen a giant clam except in cartoons and movies, you should know that these beautiful, shy creatures are truly magnificent. There are different species, with the largest getting up to four feet long and 500 pounds in weight, living over 100 years. It’s the base of the shell where the hard stuff is. What it would take to begin with a big chunk of shell and get a blade out of it I do not know. Also the inner core of species of conch can be used for adze blades, though I imagine they are not as good as giant clam. Below right is a picture of a lovely giant clam blade given to me by my friend Mariano Laimoh on Ulithi Atoll, and an adze with a spider-conch blade made for me by Steve Tilwemal of Ifalik, using an old blade he said he found lying around. 

Two adzesa

(Left) Spider-conch adze made by Steve Tilwemal. (Right) Giant clam blade. Both blades are old artifacts from Ulithi Atoll, Yap State, Micronesia. Photos by RDK Herman, Pacific Worlds

Stone blades were largely abandoned soon after Western contact and the introduction of iron blades. Mau and Tava used iron adzes for most of the work on the hull of their canoe, but also stone adzes. Why stone? Well, a stone adze with its planing action takes off very fine shavings of wood. For fine finishing work, this is preferable, for at that stage, one wrong swing with an iron adze could cut too deeply into the hull and ruin it. Sometimes these old technologies are the best.

Further reading:

Plants and Tools Used for Building Canoes in Hawaii, courtesy of Hawaiian Voyaging Traditions, the Polynesian Voyaging Society

Canoe carving in Micronesia, from Pacific Worlds

Next post: Stitch and glue

—Douglas Herman, NMAI 

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June 14, 2013

Alanis Obomsawin: Documenting Native Canada

Interview by Patrick Watson, NMAI

Alanis Obomsawin is very passionate about her work.
Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin has been directing and producing documentaries for the past 46 years. In that time, she has made more than 40 films on the Indigenous peoples of Canada. From the Oka Crisis, during which a group of Mohawk engaged in a 78-day standoff with Canadian police and military in defense of their land, to the story of First Nations Vietnam War veteran Eugene Benedict, Obomsawin has been there documenting, educating, and fighting for the rights of her people. Her latest film, The People of the Kattawapiskak River, is about the 2011 housing crisis at Attawapiskat, a remote First Nation community in northern Ontario. Since the film's initial release, Obomsawin has added two epilogues dealing with fresh aid sent to Attawapiskat and a hearing on the handling of the crisis by the minister of aboriginal affairs.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian is hosting a free screening of the film tomorrow—Saturday, June 15—at 7 p.m. Obomsawin will be available for a question-and-answer session after the screening. This event is part of our ongoing series, Dinner and a Movie, and our Zagat-rated Mitsitam Cafe will stay open from 5 to 6:30 p.m. for visitors who would like to purchase contemporary and traditional Native American cuisine before the film.

Can you explain what made the housing situation at Attawapiskat so awful?

Alanis Obomsawin: Well, I think it's been going on for a very long time. The housing situation is not only very poor, but the houses coming in are multi-houses, and obviously they are not built for the northern weather. These are prefabricated houses, and they are good at first, but after five or ten years, it's finished. They're not strong enough to weather the kind of weather that there is over there, and a lot of them were in very poor condition and needed repairs.

They have a thousand people who are waiting for a house, a decent house, so you can imagine. It's a population that's growing very rapidly, so the houses are overcrowded. It's been like this for many years, and the system of housing and help, monetary help to be able to service the need, hasn't been adequate for many years.

When you were at Attawapiskat, was it difficult to visit the people and see how poor their housing conditions were?

It's always heartbreaking to see that and to see large families with all the children living in those kinds of conditions. I was there making another film, and the situation was so bad—I could see the young people and everybody getting so down with a lot of bad publicity and accusations of all sorts of things. So I put that film aside and made The People of the Kattawapiskak River. It proved to be very helpful because it sort of told it like it is.

Do you stay in touch with any of the people you film?

Yes, I went back. I'm just now finishing the first film I went there for, concerning the educational system and the school, and this is going to come out in the fall sometime. It's a different film, so I'm working with people from there all the time these days.

They're lucky to have you representing them.

Well, they're very special people. I'm very fond of them.

The last line of the original film was especially moving. When you're working on your films, do you recognize important things like that as you're filming, or do the poetics really emerge in the editing process?

I listen to people for many hours and visit them time and time again, so by the time I'm in the cutting room, I have to feel that the story is there and I understand what it is they're talking about. And they're poets themselves. I don't tell them what to say. It comes from them directly. It's a gift, really.

Do you think there's a bright future for Attawapiskat, or are they going to be facing housing crises like this in the future as well?

It's not going to be resolved overnight, but I am very hopeful, and I know that things are going to get better. There's such a strong movement going on now all over the country in terms of changes that people are going to make happen, and it really concerns a lot of our people.

A major theme in a lot of your films is the deceit and misdirection on the part of the national government that keeps Indigenous peoples at a disadvantage. How do you think First Nations might be able to combat those sorts of tactics?

We have a lot of very strong leadership, and the young people are just incredible. There's a very strong movement going on now about changes that are going to have to happen, so it's a very different time, I can tell you this. So I don't even call it hope. It's another word that I cannot find yet. It's so strong that it's very encouraging.

Why documentaries? There are lots of ways to present events and people, but what was it that drew you to documentary film in particular?

Documentary film, for me, is my world. I love documentary film because the voice comes directly from the people. I don't have to do drama. The drama is naturally there in their lives, and I never get tired of listening to them. Everywhere I go, I'm always amazed by how people have survived through so much, and I am very passionate about this kind of work.


The film will screen this Saturday at NMAI.


Patrick Watson is a member of the Chickasaw Nation and an intern with the National Museum of the American Indian's Office of Public Affairs. He is pursuing a BA in Plan II Honors and English from the University of Texas at Austin and expects to graduate May 2015.

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Hi, we love documentary too. It enrichs perception of the world and specificly background like the people of the kattawapiskak river.

thank you for the post

good article and this site has a high pagerank, salute to this website.

June 13, 2013

Artist Aymar Ccopacatty uses plastic trash to create awareness and beauty


Aymar 5Aymar Ccopacatty, worked with young people at the Union Nacional de Communidades Aymara (UNCA), Puno, Peru, to knit recycled plastic trash into a wiphala flag—a symbol of history and pride among Andean peoples.  

“My creations address the issues of our human imprint in daily life, using a balance of bright colors and cultural symbolism to create environmental awareness and creative potentials of modern refuse as art material amongst the Aymara and beyond." 

 —Aymar Ccopacatty

Aymar Ccopacatty, an Aymara artist who combines modern materials with the ancient traditions of his people, has built looms, spun yarn, knitted, woven, and made collage-paintings, all using plastic refuse. The trash, rescued for its attractive texture or color, comes from his daily life at Lake Titicaca, an ancient and ecologically sensitive environment on the border of Bolivia and southern Peru. 

In 2012, Aymar was chosen for the Artist Leadership Program of the National Museum of the American Indian. The first part of the program, in Washington, D.C., centers on doing research in the museum's collections and exchanging ideas with fellow artists. The second part requires each artist to return home to conduct a Youth Public Art Project or Community Artists Workshop. Aymar chose to work with young people in Puno, Peru. What follows is the project he envisioned when he applied to the program and a photo essay of the actual experience this spring. 

Union Nacional de Comunidades Aymaras (UNCA), based in the city of Puno (pop. 119,116), is the main organization representing the Aymara of Peru since the 1980s.  The organization has been a uniting force in many different manifestations to protect our cultural identity, territory, and way of life. The Aymara in the post-colonial context have often put an emphasis on education, especially in the urban context; this to defend ourselves first under Spanish colonial rule and now under a corrupt and often racist national government. Many educated Aymara youth feel shame or pressure to abandon their identities; UNCA is a uniting force, which has been able to pull these youths together from many different Aymara communities around Lake Titicaca. The Public Art Project would involve urban Aymara youth hand-selected for their creative promise; the workshop would be given in our Aymara language as the textile process has many technical and important names that should be re-learned. The final product would be inaugurated for our winter solstice of June 212013, and exhibited publicly before being permanently shown in UNCA’s cultural center.

The national social pressure to assimilate has caused much cultural erosion over the last few decades as the Aymara find our way into the 21st century; the youth are exposed to all the modern pressures—alcohol, poverty, lack of opportunities—and tempted into alienating foreign religions. Our millennial textile knowledge is on the verge of extinction. Youths of today have much less chance or reason to appreciate our traditional textiles and the spiritual-metaphysical knowledge written in them. This project looks to increase our self-esteem while giving youths a deeper knowledge of our textile tradition and having them practice aspects of this tradition with recycled plastics cleaned from our Mother Earth.

The Public Art Project is based upon the textile techniques and materials employed in my contemporary art practice: exclusive use of recycled plastic trash into textile work of all kinds.  Utilizing traditional Aymara techniques such as spinning, knitting, and loom weaving, community Aymaras will create a large-scale wiphala from recycled plastic bags. The wiphala is our traditional flag and a symbol of our agricultural cycle marking the solstices and equinoxes based on astrological observation of the Southern Cross, also known in Aymara as La Chacana. The wiphala would measure 12 x 12 feet or larger, if possible, and would be made in a square proportion; It would be knitted, crocheted, and or woven. The colors of the wiphala are the colors of the rainbow, so we would take full advantage of the colors donated to our Mother Earth by the plastics industry. The re-collecting of discarded plastic bags would be part of the program; the community would be instructed to keep an eye out for certain colors, and the work would be made from our daily footprint of plastic use in modern life. 

The city of Puno, Peru, seen from Lake Titicaca.

Irma 3
Aymar and his assistant, Irma, cutting strips of plastic trash to be used to make the flag. 


Flag plastic 5
Plastic trash in the flag's colors. 





Materials and tool 5
Materials, tools, and the flag in progress.






Workshop participants knit the wiphala in sections, then joined them to make a large flag. 


In addition to leading the workshop at UNCA, Aymar worked with the San Juan Children's Center in Puno to show young people how to knit keychains in the form of miniature ch'ullu, Andean caps with earflaps. Teaching traditional arts doubles as a way to teach Andean history and, especially, Aymara language. Aymar also hopes that by selling the keychains they make, the children at the center can earn a little money to help their families.
San Juan Center 1
Aymar offering a hand to one of the students at the San Juan Children's Center. 
San Juan 2
Preparing materials for the keychains.








Keychain plastic 6
Plastic trash can be found in any shade imaginable. 










Wiphala flag on display
People stop to examine and touch the wiphala on display at the Terminal Terrestre in Puno.


A woman offers coca leaves to the wiphala.

All photos by Keevin Lewis, NMAI, Puno, Peru, May 2013

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Aymar Ccopacatty deserves widespread recognition. He is a high example of the artist as social activist -- social heart.

This is fabulous. Truly fabulous in all aspects.

We should have more people like these, caring for the environment, beautifying and raising awareness that Mother Nature needs us to take care of her; all at the same time. I always recycle and re-purpose the boxes and plastic packaging I get, but not to an artistic extent and to raise awareness for the need to recycle.

Ben Shelly, President of the Navajo Nation

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation.

Can you give us your Native name, its English translation and/or nickname?

In the Diné way of life, we share our Navajo name only with medicine in times of ceremony.

Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, with the Navajo flag and seal. Photo by Erny Zah, Navajo Nation; used with permission.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

I am the elected leader of the largest Indian tribal nation in the United States. Our nation is 27,000 square miles, and we have about 320,000 tribal citizens.

My role is to lead our people and guide our government to become more efficient and focused on fulfilling the needs of the Navajo people.

Government is an ever-evolving entity that can always be bettered. I hope that in my time, I have made improvements so the next generation of leaders can guide our government to become even more efficient. We must always keep in mind our children and grandchildren. Much of what we do today will be what they will benefit from, or what they have to overcome. We must be wise with all our decisions. 

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your nation?

I have had many different experiences from childhood through becoming president. My grandmother cared for me when I was a child. When I became an adult, I worked in Chicago and eventually came back to my hometown of Thoreau, New Mexico, where I owned an auto repair shop.

I started running for office after my business lost its contract with the Navajo Nation. I started as a county commissioner for McKinley County and would serve 16 years as a Navajo Council delegate. Six years ago, I was asked to serve as vice president and four years later, I was the first sitting vice president to be elected president of the Navajo Nation.

My experience in life and in government has served me with the knowledge to serve the needs of our Navajo people.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

When it comes to being a leader, I look at the past chiefs, chairmen, and presidents as inspiration.

Our earliest leaders kept future generations in mind as they negotiated treaties. As our government evolved, each set of leaders had their own ideas, but all had the future in mind.

We can’t lose focus on what is important to us as Navajo people. Our language, our culture, our traditions all make us distinct from every other tribe in the world. Our leaders before me understood that, and I hope the future generations will embrace their Diné teachings.

Where is the Navajo Nation located?

The capital of our nation is Window Rock, Arizona. Our nation spans through Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

Where was your nation originally from?

In our traditional stories, we emerged from the third underworld to this world near Dzithlnaodithle, New Mexico. We entered this new world from the third world by rainbow.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

In 2002, the Navajo Nation adopted the Fundamental Laws of the Diné, which formally placed our unwritten Navajo law into Navajo codes. Though the Fundamental Laws can be vague at times, they remind our government of our traditional laws and societal practices.

We also have medicine men associations who will offer advice regarding traditional views of contemporary issues.

What is a significant point in history from your nation that you would like to share?

The Navajo Nation is a treaty tribe. The Treaty of 1868 established our reservation and released the Navajo people from captivity in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

Our people cried tears of joy upon their return to Dinetah, and here we continue to flourish as a tribal nation.

Approximately how many members are in your nation?

According to our Vital Statistics Office, we have about 320,000 members and about 175,000 live on the Navajo Nation.

What are the criteria to become a member?

Our citizenship is distinguished by blood quantum. A person has to be at least one-quarter Navajo descent to be enrolled as a Navajo citizen.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

We have many communities that still speak our language, though the percentages of fluent speakers have decreased over the years. Nonetheless, about 30 to 40 percent of households speak Navajo fluently. We are actively teaching the Navajo language in classes from preschool through college.

What economic enterprises does your nation own?

We have a few enterprises. We have our Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company, which is charged with oil and gas development on the Navajo Nation. We have Navajo Arts and Craft, which helps market and sell our Navajo crafts. We have the Navajo Times, our tribal newspaper.

Our newest possible enterprise, Navajo Transitional Energy Company, is working to acquire a coalmine that is on the Navajo Nation. The acquisition would open many opportunities for the Navajo Nation and put the Navajo Nation in a global market for coal.

What annual events does your nation sponsor?

We have several events that our tribal offices sponsor throughout the year. We have our Navajo Nation Fair in September; we average about 15,000 attendees per day during the five-day fair. And we have a Fourth of July Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo in Window Rock.

We also have smaller events and fairs that communities sponsor, including the Northern Agency Navajo Fair. Although it has been recognized as a fair for 103 years, the Northern Agency Navajo Fair has served as a gateway for harvest-time trading and the beginning of the season for one of our most sacred ceremonies—the Ye’ii Bi Cheii Ceremony.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Navajo Nation has been blessed with some of the most scenic lands in the world. Our nation encompasses the most eastern gorges of the Grand Canyon. We have Antelope Canyon Tribal Park, which has some of the most incredible natural sandstone colors anywhere in the world.

We also have Canyon de Chelly, a U.S. National Monument. People have lived in the canyon for more than 5,000 years, including Navajo families who still use the canyon floors for livestock and crops.

Then we have Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which is our most famous tribal park and has visitors from around the world. Countless westerns have used the backdrop of the park to set majestic, wide-open scenes. And most recently movies like The Lone Ranger and Transformers 4 have filmed scenes at the tribal park.

How is your government set up?

The Navajo Nation has a three-branch government similar to that of the United States. I serve as the president of the Navajo Nation, our legislative branch has 24 council delegates, and our Navajo Nation Supreme Court has a three-member body. We also have local governments called chapters. Each chapter has officers the local voters elect every four years.

How often are national elected leaders chosen?

The Navajo people vote for the president and council delegates every four years.

How often does your national council meet?

The Navajo Nation Council meets at least four times a year, every three months. They may also call special sessions to deal with pertinent issues. We have standing committees that meet throughout the year as well.

How does the Navajo Nation deal with the U.S./Canada as a sovereign nation?

We are fortunate to have a large land base and a large population. That has set the tone for negotiations, meetings, and agreements with county, state, and federal agencies, including other tribal nations. We understand that we have a government-to-government relationship with other governments, and we meet with them accordingly.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your nation?

To our youth, don’t forget who you are and where you came from. Being Navajo is the gift that the Holy Ones has given us. The Holy People gave us the teachings to live in our surroundings. The mountains, bodies of water, and places throughout our homeland have their own names, songs, and prayers, and those prayers and songs serve as the unrelenting strength of our people. We can’t ever forget who we are. 


Other interviews in this series: 
Councilman Jonathan Perry, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) 
John Sirois, Chairman, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation 

Thurman Cournoyer Sr., Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman 


Title banner, from left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All images used with permission.  

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The Navajo Nation is not the largest tribe in the United States. Per, U.S. Census 2010, the Cherokee Nation has the largest enrollment. The Navajo Nation has the largest land-base of any tribal nation, but they are no longer the 'largest tribe.' It is important that we share the facts, especially if one is as esteemed as the NMAI. Thank you.


As so often with statistics, the question of the largest tribe depends on interpretation. The U.S. Census published a brief titled "The American Indian and Alaska
Native Population: 2010"; the table on page 17 ("brief" doesn't mean "short" here) shows 286,731 respondents describing themselves solely as Navajo, 332,129 as Navajo plus at least one other racial, ethnic, or national identity, Native and/or non-Native. The same figures for Cherokees are 284,247 (less than the Navajo) and 819,105 (far more). Enrollment is a third yardstick, and it isn't the term President Shelly used.

Here's the link to the census report: http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-10.pdf

To the greatest extent possible, the museum wants to publish these interviews in each leader's own words. But we very much welcome your comment and the light it sheds on the complexities of nationality.

so how many native tribes are there in the US of A and what makes them work somehow in perfect or near perfect harmony that make US the powerful Nation and what should my fellow Africans learn from this?

June 06, 2013

Come for the festival, stay for the concert: Central American pottery and Maya music—Saturday, June 8, at the museum in Washington

If you love world music and you’re going to be anywhere near Washington, D.C., Saturday, make your way to the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall for Cerámica de los Ancestros: A Central American Pottery Festival, then stay for Ranferí Aguilar and an Indian Summer Showcase concert featuring music inspired by Maya culture.

You may be thinking, “The concert I understand, but what do ceramics have to do with music?” The answer is prehispanic Maya pottery instruments. Between about 10:30 AM and 4 PM Saturday, Aguilar and Carlos Chaclán will show visitors how Maya ceramic instruments were made and how they are played. At 5 PM Saturday, Aguilar and Chaclán will take the stage with bandmates Juan Aguirre and Mynor García.

Carlos Chaclán and Ranferí Aguilar—detail from a poster for their performance at the club TrovaJazz. Guatemala City, 2012. Courtesy of Ranferí Aguilar
Ranferí Aguilar was born in Guatemala City, where he studied classical guitar. In 1979 he and his cousins founded the Central American rock group Alux Nahual. After the band broke up in 1999, Aguilar became interested in the archaeological and musical roots of Mesoamerican culture. His current work has been described as “ancestral Maya music fused with guitars, prehispanic wind instruments, and vocals.”

Born in Totónicapan, Guatemala, Carlos Chaclán began helping his parents make clay bricks and roof tiles while he was still a young boy. When he was 16, he won the first in a series of scholarships to study ceramics, archaeological conservation, and Mesoamerican cultural history. Most recently he received a Sallie R. Wagner Indigenous American Artist/Scholar Fellowship to the Indian Arts Research Center of the School for Advanced Research (SAR) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he exchanged ideas, techniques, and theories with Southwest Pueblo clay artists. His ceramics include both contemporary sculpture and traditional Maya musical instruments— including flutes and whistles in the form of birds, reptiles, plants, and human figures, and a drum that takes the shape of a human heart. 


Cerámica de los Ancestros: A Central American Pottery Festival and Chaclán and Aguilar’s demonstrations of Maya pottery instruments will continue all day Sunday. The festival and the exhibition Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed, on view at the museum on the National Mall through January 2015, are cosponsored by the National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Latino Center. 

Classic period Maya whistle in the form of a seated woman, AD 600–900. Quiché Department, Guatemala. Pottery, paint. From Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed. 12/3599


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