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Clitoria ternatea L.

NMNH - Botany Dept.
Creeper; leaves dull green; corolla blue and white.

Festival Photo Daily Dozen: July 4, 2013

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Dusan Grante, creative director of Arthur Christine Salon, describes the cut he is giving to Mr. Diggs, a Baltimore Arabber whose family has been participating in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for since 1967. Photo by Pruitt Allen, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Dusan Grante, creative director of Arthur Christine Salon, describes the cut he is giving to Mr. Diggs, a Baltimore Arabber whose family has been participating in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for since 1967.
Photo by Pruitt Allen, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Happy Fourth of July!

We enjoyed a great, lively day of big crowds, fabulous performances, and blue sky.

Click on images to enlarge and view captions.

The Mysterious Powers of American Ginseng

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Editor’s note: The fascinating history of American ginseng and the many people involved in its current cultivation, harvest, trade, medicinal use, and conservation are the subject of a proposed program for the 2020 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Watch for more articles shedding light on this native plant in the coming months.

*****

In passing through the mountains, I met a number of persons
and pack horses going over the mountain with ginseng.

—George Washington, 1784

Was the United States founded on ginseng money? Quite possibly.

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a plant native to the deciduous forests of North America whose root is a treasured medicinal in East Asia. The harvest and trade of American ginseng has been a booming business for centuries. Even today its dried roots can fetch as much as $600 a pound. Without income provided from the ginseng harvest, the early history of the United States may not have turned out the same way.

The history of American ginseng use and trade stretches back much further than the Declaration of Independence. Long before North America was colonized, various Native American peoples used ginseng in medicine. Ojibwe Midewiwin, spiritual leaders skilled in medicine, used the root for digestive troubles and pain relief. Muscogee people used a poultice of the root to staunch bleeding and a tea to treat respiratory conditions and fevers. The Meskwaki people of the Great Lakes region have used it as both an aphrodisiac and as a panacea, a “universal remedy for children and adults,” Daniel Moerman writes in Native American Medicinal Plants.

Many other native groups incorporated ginseng into their medicinal traditions after learning of its value and use in Asia. For more than 5,000 years, Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) has been one of the most important herbs in the traditional medicine of China. There it is also used as a panacea, known as a life-prolonging cure-all for everything from impotence and fatigue to diabetes and cancer.

The connection between Asian and American ginseng was first discovered though the work of two French Jesuits. Father Jartoux worked in China and published a text on medicinal plants which included Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng). Upon reading that text, Father Lafitau realized that the environment where ginseng grew in China was remarkably similar to that of the area of Canada where he was based. He began searching for a related species, and in 1716 he found a specimen with the help of Mohawk people from the Caughnawaga area.

Father Lafitau wrote of his finding:

After spending three months looking for the ginseng, by accident I found it. It was ripe, and the color of the fruit attracted my attention. I pulled it up, and with joy took it to an Indian I had engaged to help me hunt for it. She recognized it at once as one of the plants the Indians used.

Father Lafitau
Father Joseph-François Lafitau
Engraving by Walker, Wikimedia Commons
Ginseng drawing
A drawing of ginseng roots and foliage, presented to the Duke of Orleans after Father Lafitau found a specimen in Canada, 1718
Drawing by Louis Boudan, Wikimedia Commons

In the early days of the North American colonies, ginseng digging went hand in hand with the fur trade, as Native Americans and colonial hunters used every resource available. While the plant is now in varying states of endangerment across the Appalachian region, it existed in a much wider range in the early colonial period. Naturalist L.W. Dudgeon claimed, “It was found in abundance in Vermont at the time of the settlement of that State and the parties who dug it sold it for about 34 cents per pound.”

Following U.S. independence, ginseng continued to hold enormous value, playing an integral part in one of the most monumental events in American international trade. It was collected throughout the eastern half of North America and eventually sold to dealers on the East Coast, often based in New York City. With the funding of several prominent gentlemen of the day—chief among them Robert Morris, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence—the first international trade vessel to sail under the U.S. flag left from New York Harbor in 1784.

Its destination was China, and its cargo was over thirty tons of American ginseng.

An Eastern Medicine in the West

Ginseng for medicinal use
Ginseng roots and other products at the herbal dispensary portion of Da Hsin Trading in Chinatown, Washington, D.C.
Photo by Betty Belanus

Since the eighteenth century, the wild “hunting,” cultivation, and sale of American ginseng root has been a booming industry in the United States, with nearly all product exported to China and other East Asian nations. Only a small portion of American ginseng stays in the United States, where it has never gained the same popularity.

In Appalachia, ginseng hunters and growers have their own medical opinions. In an issue of Foxfire Magazine, a biannual publication documenting Southern Appalachian culture, Wallace Moore shares his favorite use of ginseng:

I’ll tell you one thing. You can be in the woods and take a stomach ache or the hungry old colic, and you can just chew up some of the fine roots and swallow the juice of it and it won’t be five or ten minutes [before] your stomach’ll be just as easy as you please. I’ve had that to happen different times.

Western medicine remains largely suspicious of American ginseng’s health benefits. It only appeared briefly on the U.S. pharmacopoeia from 1840 to 1870 as a mild stimulant and digestion aid. More recently, researchers have tested American ginseng as a cancer treatment, especially its potential application in conjunction with chemotherapy to increase effectiveness and aid in remission.

However, most of ginseng’s use in the United States continues to be through traditional herbal practices. In Western herbal tradition, ginseng has been incorporated much more recently and less extensively. There are, however, a great number of people in the United States who practice traditional Chinese medicine, who are familiar with ginseng’s use and powers whether or not they use it themselves.

As traditional Chinese medicine has gained popularity in the United States, many of its practitioners are not of Chinese decent. Elizabeth Girard is one of them: with an MS in acupuncture and Chinese medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego, California, she now operates a clinic in Northampton, Massachusetts. She explained that American ginseng is considered to be in the category of “nourishing yin,” meaning it is cooling and moistening. Asian ginseng has the dry and warming qualities of “tonifying yang.” For this reason, Girard uses American ginseng in cases where there is excess heat or dryness in the body, such as when a patient suffers from a chronic dry cough or when patients in remission from cancer treatments still feel the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

Ginseng for medicinal use
A jar of dried ginseng root at the Good Fortune Supermarket in Falls Church, Virginia.
Photo by Betty Belanus

In these cases, Girard prescribes American ginseng in complex herbal formulas, which come ready-made in patent pill form. In fact, she rarely stocks pure American ginseng—for two main reasons:

“In Chinese medicine, we never prescribe just one herb,” she explains. The different components in these formulas strengthen and balance the effects of each other. Blending herbs also makes it possible to find medicine more specifically suited to the needs of an individual.

Also, “It’s pricey!” Girard adds. “I have Asian ginseng that I’ll add to things, but with American ginseng, at this point, it’s easier to get people to take patent pill forms.”

Despite the higher price, Girard very rarely chooses to use other herbs when she believes American ginseng is called for.

“It’s just the best herb for your immune system, for really generating fluids in the lungs,” she says. “It’s also really calming. So there’s some cases that you just don’t want to substitute. You can, but it just doesn’t work as well.”

When patients have had chronic conditions where it was the best option, she claims, “It was worth it to them. You just charge them a little bit more, and they understand that. I don’t ever shy away from it if it’s a case that they really need that herb.”

The story of American ginseng tends to be told about the United States harvesting and supplying it to Asia, but the whole story is much more complex. People have many different understandings of the medicinal value of American ginseng, but its monetary value may keep us from fully understanding and benefiting from its powers.

Astrid Stephenson interned at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in the fall of 2018, working on programming for the 2020 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She is an anthropology major at Smith College in Massachusetts.

Works Referenced

Bogue, Cary. “Ginseng.” In Foxfire 3, edited by Eliot Wigginton. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1975.

Dudgeon, Leicester W. A Brief Historical Sketch of the American Ginseng Industry, 1716-1940. Cane Valley, KY: Elite Ginseng Nurseries, 1940.

Elliott, Douglas B. Roots: An Underground Botany and Forager’s Guide. Chatham Press, 1976.

Harriman, Sarah. The Book of Ginseng. Pyramid Books, 1973.

Hoyt, Edward P. The Damndest Yankees: Ethan Allen and His Clan. Brattleboro, VT: The Stephen Green Press, 1976.

Johannsen, Kristen. Ginseng Dreams: The Secret World of America’s Most Valuable Plant. University Press of Kentucky, 2006.

Moerman, Daniel E. “‘Panax Quinquefolius,’ American Ginseng.” In Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Timber Press, Inc., 2009.

Schmidt, Nathan. “Voyage of the Empress of China: Private and National Interests toward Foreign Policy in the Early United States.” Western Illinois Historical Review, Volume VIII, 2017.

Taylor, David. Ginseng, the Divine Root: The Curious History of the Plant That Captivated the World. Algonquin Books, 2006.

Thornton, Robert John. A New Family Herbal, or, Popular Account of the Natures and Properties of the Various Plants Used in Medicine, Diet, and the Arts. London: Richard Taylor and Co., 1810.

Barracks and Boy Scouts: Norman Mineta's story

National Museum of American History

Here at the museum, we're busy preparing for this year's National Youth Summit. The program is an interactive webcast event bringing together students, scholars, teachers, policy experts, and activists in a national conversation about important events in America's past that have relevance to the nation's present and future. This year, we'll examine Japanese American incarceration in World War II. Many people don't know enough about this chapter in our national history, and I wanted to share one story I find particularly moving: that of Boy Scout turned political leader and civil rights activist, Norman Mineta.

Mineta spent part of his childhood in Japanese American incarceration camps and went on to become the first Asian Pacific American to serve in a presidential cabinet and the longest-serving secretary of transportation. Today, he shares his story of surviving the incarceration camps and will be speaking at the museum on May 17, 2016.

Painting of man wearing suit, tie, and glasses. He smiles and looks at viewer.

Mineta was born in San Jose, California, to a first-generation immigrant Japanese family. His father, a successful businessman, owned an insurance company, which provided a comfortable life for his family. The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, changed life as they knew it forever. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, granting the government the authority to incarcerate any and all persons who could be collaborating with the enemy. Construction began on the crudely built camps, placed in the deserts throughout the mountain west and interior of the West Coast. With little preparation, many families were forced to sell off items they could not carry with them, including cars, radios, homes, and businesses.

On May 29, 1942, the Minetas and many of their neighbors boarded a train from San Jose south to the Santa Anita racetrack in Los Angeles. He told an interviewer, "That day I was wearing my Cub Scout uniform, had a baseball, baseball glove, baseball bat, and so as I got on the train, then the MPs [military police] confiscated my bat on the basis it could be used as a lethal weapon. So they confiscated the bat, and I got on the train with my baseball and baseball glove."

As hard as the experience was for Mineta as a young man, his father also struggled with leaving home. "There were only three times when I'd seen my dad cry," Mineta told an interviewer with the Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program at California State University. "Once on the seventh of December, 1941; the second time was when we left on the train to go to camp; and the third time was when my mother passed away. I remember on the seventh of December, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was in the little office at home, crying, and saying, 'Why did they do it? Why? Why?'"

As the camps neared their final stages of completion, the Mineta family moved to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming.

Black and white photograph of desolate scene with cabins/buildings on right, boys walking, and a mountain in the distance.

Many parents strove to maintain a sense of normal life for their children in the camps. Although they were able to attend makeshift schools, there was a lack of resources as well as activities for children and students. Some parents were able to organize Boy Scout troops within the camps. Mineta recalled, "Somebody had written to the Boy Scouts of America and said, 'Please send organizers to come and help us organize the Boy Scout troops.' So we all became Boy Scouts." Scout troops eventually sprung up in each of the 10 incarceration camps.

Despite their limited ability to attain some scouting achievements—such as working toward badges that required hiking, swimming, or cooking lessons—the boys were able to maintain a sense of community and were very active. They played sports together, camped nearby, and were even given the opportunity to travel to Yellowstone National Park. During a time of questioned allegiance, the Boy Scouts faithfully raised and lowered the American flag every day and continued to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Some scouts went on to serve with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team that consisted of only Nisei soldiers (children born in the U.S. to Japanese-born parents), which became one of the most decorated units for their bravery in battle during World War II.

Black and white photo of gathering in center of camp with buildings in background. Boy Scouts line up while community watches. In background, high mountains with snow on top.

Envelope with six orange stamps and five cancellation marks stamped on them. Illustration on left includes two Boy Scouts, three planes, and a pile of scrap metal.

Eventually, the Scouts wanted to extend an invitation to their neighbors from outside the camps to join them in a jamboree. Neighboring troops were reluctant, intimidated by the barbed wire, search towers, and propaganda they had heard about the Japanese American prisoners of war. Eventually, Mineta recalled, "[S]omeone finally said, 'Hey, hold it. These are Boy Scouts of America. They read the same manual you do, they wear the same uniform, they go after the same merit badges you do,' and so finally, the Boy Scouts from Cody came in." After their arrival, Mineta was paired up with young Cody, Wyoming, resident Alan Simpson, who became a lifelong friend. This short video introduces their story.

The two initially grew close during Mineta's time at Heart Mountain, and they continued corresponding into their young adulthood. They were reconnected as their political careers developed. Simpson went on to become a senator, representing Wyoming for 18 years; he assisted Mineta, then a congressman from California, in attaining reparations for the incarcerated Japanese Americans through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

Photograph of Pres. Reagan at a desk signing document. Around him, about nine men and one woman.

After the successful passage of the Civil Liberties Act, Mineta continued his career in politics. He served in President Bill Clinton's cabinet, then was offered the position of secretary of transportation in incoming President George W. Bush's administration. He was appointed in early 2001. On September 11, 2001, he was involved in the grounding of aircraft in the air following that day's terrorist attacks. He also acted as an example to those blinded by fear after the attacks. After his experiences in the camps, he knew all too well the effects of racial profiling and hate crimes, and how easily America could slip into crisis once more. He strove to ensure that the same atrocities committed to his and many other American families did not occur again in the wake of such a tragedy.

Today, Mineta has formally retired from politics but continues to share his story—and we are thrilled that he'll be part of our local National Youth Summit on May 17, 2016, at 11 a.m. EDT. The program is free and open to the public, and high school classes are encouraged to attend. For those who live beyond the Washington, D.C., area, please join us on the National Youth Summit webcast at 1 p.m. EDT, where speakers will include Karen Korematsu, daughter of Fred Korematsu, who refused to report to an incarceration camp at age 23.

Mia Calabretta is an intern for the Youth Civic Engagement Program and an American Studies major at California State University, Fullerton.

Author(s): 
Intern Mia Calabretta
Posted Date: 
Friday, May 6, 2016 - 10:00
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Jogbra: Providing essential support for Title Nine and women athletes

National Museum of American History

"Health corsets" and ready-to-wear clothing will be a part of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation Object Project, opening July 2015. The exhibition will explore how women pushed for greater independence through increasingly active lifestyles and the freedom to choose what they wore.

 

What's this? It's a gauge developed by Jogbra, Inc., in the mid-1990s, to help women determine their ideal sized sports bra, based upon the size of their everyday brassiere and their sport. The customer would rotate the wheel to select her size, line it up to the column containing her sport (the columns were divided into high, medium, or low motion control requirements), consult the images of the various models offered to find her preference, and then go to the slot at the bottom of the gauge to see what size she should buy.

Detail images of the Jogbra gauge 

It's easy for women athletes today to take the sports bra for granted, with so many brands and styles available at numerous retailers. The iconic image of soccer player Brandi Chastain ripping her shirt off at the 1999 Women's World Cup solidified the sports bra as an acceptable standalone piece of clothing—and fashion statement. But until the Jogbra's appearance in 1977, incalculable numbers of women were too discouraged to participate in impact sports such as running or aerobics because of the discomfort or embarrassment. In 2013, the museum acquired the Jogbra, Inc., collection, a set of archival materials and artifacts relating to the development of the first sports bra.

Jogbra founders and their prototype

Jogbra co-designers with their prototype bra, ca. 1980. Jogbra, Inc. Records, 1977-1990, Archives Center.

Object Project, opening July 2015, will give visitors a closer look at things we use regularly—even daily—but might not think about as major innovations. The Jogbra and its predecessors, like the "health corset," are such objects.

Ferris' Good Sense Corset Waists, NYPL

Ferris' Good Sense Corset Waists advertisement, 1894. Via New York Public Library Digital Gallery, originally published in Monthly Illustrator. Digital ID: 818165.

Popular starting in the 1890s, health corsets not only provided women with more comfort and flexibility in their increasingly active lives, but they also represented evolving attitudes towards women as athletes, a hard-fought battle for social change that continues today. Object Project will examine both the social demands and the technological advances that affected how women dress, as well as how one physical activity in particular—bicycling—offered new freedoms.

Health corsets, like Ferris' Good Sense Corset Waists, were made to be more comfortable than previous, more rigid corsets. With the growing use of bicycles, a nationwide craze that started in the 1880s, these less restrictive corsets were meant to give women greater freedom and mobility whenever they took to "the wheel." Bicycles not only offered a means of transportation and leisure; they also gave women independence. The new type of corset, often called "health," "reform," or "corded" corsets, also promised freedom of movement for women as they engaged in the physical activities of daily life.

Fashions for Cycling

"Fashions for Cycling." The Ladies Standard Magazine, Vol. XVII, No. 4 (June 1897). Library of Congress.

Clearly, sportswear has changed dramatically from the health corsets of the 1890s. Nearly a century later, the Jogbra became the first modern sports bra, designed for any active, impact sport. This innovation came on the heels of an important piece of legislation in women's sports history. The Title IX portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 Public Law No. 92-318, 86 Stat. 235 (generally referred to as "Title Nine") likely had a greater impact on American women's sports than any other development in American history—and not only on collegiate sports, although the legislation was primarily aimed at colleges and universities. This legislation, introduced by Indiana senator Birch Bayh, stated that, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

Congresswoman Patsy Mink

Congresswoman Patsy Mink, who fought for Title IX and equal education access for women. Title IX was given the name "Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act" after Mink's death in 2002. Image via the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and courtesy Wendy Mink.

The law didn't even mention sports, but it was a game changer in women's athletics. A 2006 study reported that, in the years since its passage, the number of women athletes in colleges and universities had increased 450%. Title Nine has often been a controversial law, with opponents suggesting that it adversely affects male collegiate athletes.

A few years after Title Nine, in 1977, James Fixx wrote a phenomenally popular book, The Complete Book of Running. It spurred a running and fitness craze among both men and women, and the increased popularity of sports among women exposed the inadequacies of conventional brassieres for athletic use: movement required in athletic activities caused straps to slip off the shoulder, excessive motion caused chafed skin and soreness, and hooks or other metallic elements tended to poke into the skin.

Jogbra late 1970s advertisement

A late 1970s Jogbra ad featuring two co-designers as models. It boasts that the product was invented by women and compares the sports bra to running shoes as necessary protective sports equipment. Jogbra, Inc. Records, 1977-1990, Archives Center.

It may seem as though the invention of the sports bra was inevitable, considering how popular running, jogging, and other sports were becoming at the time, but its introduction did not follow an easy path. The Jogbra's co-inventors were Hinda Miller (who later became a Vermont senator), Lisa Lindahl, and Polly Palmer-Smith. Miller and Palmer-Smith were costume designers.

The story, according to Miller, is that Lindahl's sister, Victoria Woodrow, was frustrated by the inadequacy of her everyday brassiere when she became one of the many women to take up jogging in the 1970s. Unable to find anything in stores that worked for them, the designers worked on a few prototype sports bras. At the suggestion of Lindahl's husband, they sewed together two men's athletic supporters and found the result to be better than any of their prototypes (this first bra was called the "Jockbra" before it became known as the Jogbra).

Marketing their new product turned out to be a challenge. According to Lindahl, buyers for sporting goods stores were "squeamish" about displaying bras, which she described as not looking anything like lingerie. Stores that did feature the Jogbra were pleased by how well it sold. Soon, a number of makers, including Vanity Fair, Olga, and Warner were getting into the sports bra market.

1980s Jogbra advertisement

1980s advertisement for Jogbra sports bras in multiple colors. Jogbra, Inc. Records, 1977-1990, Archives Center.

The introduction of the sports bra did more than improve athletes' performances. It represented a revolution in ready-to-wear clothing, and for many women athletes, past, present, and future, it actually made sports possible.

Cathy Keen is an archivist in the museum's Archives Center. Previously, she has blogged about Object Project and ready-to-wear fashions. An avid baseball fan, she has also blogged about baseball history in Washington, D.C. Intern Caitlin Kearney also contributed to this post.

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For Four Years, This Polynesian Canoe Will Sail Around the World Raising Awareness of Global Climate Change

Smithsonian Magazine

She’s 62-feet-long, 20-feet-wide, and when fully loaded, 12 elegant tons of pure aloha. And she has just departed on a four-year journey to circumnavigate the globe. Built in 1975 for a one-time voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti, the Hōkūleʻa is a replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe. She was originally endowed with two transformative purposes—to prove once and for all that Polynesians settled the Pacific islands through intentional voyaging; and to restore for modern Native Hawaiians the foundational object of their traditional culture—the voyaging canoe. To her people, she is the physical embodiment of a legend that has reappeared on Earth for the first time in 600 years.

So when she completed her journey to Tahiti on June 4, 1976, after 34 days at sea, the outpouring of joy was overwhelming. For Pacific Islanders as a whole, the response was tremendous. The Polynesians were colonized by various European (and later, Japanese and American) powers, and sometimes relegated to marginal status in their own ancestral lands. Now, they could now look with pride to this craft and its accomplishments and say, “We are truly the descendants of great navigators.”

Polynesian migration resides among the greatest single human adventures of all time, comparable to Columbus’ 1492 voyage across the Atlantic and the Apollo 11 crew’s landing on the moon. Here were small-island peoples using stone tools, crafting rope from coconut husks and stitching pandanus leaves into sails to build an ocean-going craft that could journey 2,500 miles and back again. But they also ingeniously developed a complex science of star and sea knowledge that enabled them to track their journeys, find islands beyond the horizon, mark them on mental maps and voyage back and forth across great distances. When we compare this to the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus, the contrast is impressive. Five hundred years after the Polynesians began fanning out across the Pacific, they managed to locate tiny dots of land in a vast ocean that covers a third of the planet, Columbus sailed across a relatively narrow Atlantic Ocean. His target was, by comparison, easy; he could have hardly missed the Americas, with 10,000 miles of coastline stretching nearly from pole to pole.

Both Hōkūleʻa's story and the revival of traditional Oceanic navigation have been well-documented. Those whose vision and determination gave birth to this canoe and to the Polynesian Voyaging Society include Hawaiian artist Herb Kawainui Kane, anthropologist Ben Finney and canoe enthusiast Tommy Holmes. And then there is Pius Mau Piailug, the soft-spoken navigator from the tiny island of Satawal in Micronesia, who agreed to steer the canoe and, later, to teach the art of navigation to a cadre of new Polynesian voyagers. There are countless others–those who helped build and maintain the canoe; provisioned and sailed it; and the family members who supported them.

I first learned of the Hōkūleʻa around 1986 when, as a geography graduate student at the University of Hawaii, I attended a Ben Finney lecture on the canoe’s inaugural voyage. Captivated, I went on to teach a summer-session there on the geography of Hawaii, lecturing on Polynesian migrations and navigation. Much of what I taught came from the powerful documentary “Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific,” produced by the Harvard-trained anthropologist Sam Low. But I also recounted stories and testimonies from my mentor, the late Abraham Pi‘ianai‘a. He had given decades of study and thought to this topic, and two of his sons sailed on the Hōkūleʻa. It was Low who pointed out that the channel between two Hawaiian Islands is called Kealaikahiki—“The Path to Tahiti.”

I went on to teach at Towson University in Baltimore, where I developed a web-based cultural-geography education project for Hawaii and Micronesia called Pacific Worlds. I interviewed navigators, canoe builders and seafarers on some remote islands not too far from Mau Piailug’s tiny coral atoll, Satawal, in the Western Pacific. Later, while working on a proposed exhibition for the National Museum of the American Indian, I was privileged to interview many former and current crewmembers of the Hōkūleʻa and other Hawaiian voyaging canoes. I also spoke with canoe builders, artisans and culture keepers, creating a record of oral histories. Now a member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society myself, I trained this past March for the “World Wide Voyage.” I hope that I may be among those selected to crew the canoe for some small part of that journey.

Since her birth, Hōkūleʻa has spawned a growing fleet of voyaging canoes all across the Pacific, as well as new generations of seafarers learning the ancient arts of traditional navigation. Now 40 years later and after more than 150,000 miles of journey, the Hōkūleʻa has set out once again on her greatest quest. Her circumnavigation of the globe intends to emphasize a shared journey that we all crew together and which concerns the fate of our planet.  

For as navigator Nainoa Thompson has said, “The sail plan we are on is not sustainable.” Climate change and a host of human-induced environmental crises are imposing themselves more acutely into our lives and the lives of all living beings on Earth. It is up to us to change our ways. As a symbol of sophisticated traditional knowledge and values, the Hōkūleʻa will serve as an ambassador to the world, bearing the message that the time has come to invoke the wisdom of our ancestors—all our ancestors—about how to live more harmoniously on land and sea.  

There is a Hawaiian proverb, “He wa‘a he moku; He moku he wa‘a." It translates into, “The canoe is an island, the island is a canoe.” It means that the lessons of surviving on a voyaging canoe across the deep ocean are the same lessons for surviving on small, isolated islands. Now with globalization and global environmental crises, the Earth is the island, and the Earth is the canoe. We are literally all in the same boat.

In the course of my research, I distilled five values that the voyaging canoe teaches us, which I will expand on further in future articles: 

‘Ike (knowledge):  knowledge is essential, and it comes from many sources: observation, study, experience, intuition and experimentation and scientific method. The World Wide Voyage brings together millennia-old knowledge of voyaging, navigation and land-finding with modern scientific knowledge about the environment.  

Po‘okela (pursuit of excellence): In traditional times, voyaging canoes were made with neolithic implements and technology. To build a large craft that could travel 2,500 miles and back, “good enough” was not good enough. It required excellence. So, too, in modern society do we seek ever better technologies and methods. But how do we apply them, and toward what ends?

Kuleana (rights and responsibilities): Kuleana means something similar to one’s “turf.” It is the area over which you have responsibility, but you also have the rights that go with it. Rights and responsibility go together. Today, nearly all the emphasis is on rights—“freedom”—but very little on responsibility. On the canoe, all must attend to their areas of responsibility. There is no one to take up the slack if you fail to do your duty. When all of us do our parts, it all gets done and we all survive.

Pono (balance, harmony, proper action): Pono means to act in a way that is appropriate and proper for the situation, thereby maintaining order, balance and harmony. It means to “do the right thing”—not just situationally, but in harmony with all of creation. It is as much a spiritual sense of rightness as a social one.

Mālama (to nurture, take care of): On the canoe, the navigator is the father and the canoe is the mother. Obey the father and look after the mother—both of them take care of you to make sure you survive and the journey is successful. This also applies to the supplies aboard the canoe: look after them, make them last, add to them when you can. Because what you have is all you have.

Aloha (compassion, loving-kindness): often translated as “love” or “hello” and “goodbye,” aloha bears more similarity to namaste in the Hindu tradition—representing the acknowledgement that there is a divine spark within each of us. It is an open-hearted, compassion and deep love that acknowledges the fellow humanity of other persons. Aloha is the base that connects all the other five values above.  

These values, or ones like them, can be found in any culture if we look closely. All of our ancestors understood that we depend on the Earth, and we depend on one another, to survive and flourish.

To participate in the telling this new story of Hōkūleʻa, I intend to share some of the stories and lessons of its past, which will compliment the offerings— blogs and videos fresh off the canoe, and other information about the voyage from the participants themselves— that are presented in detail on the voyage’s wonderful website. I look forward to enriching this conversation with stories and facts about voyaging, navigation and canoe building; about the peoples and cultures visited along the way; environmental issues relating to land and sea; and about the histories and cultural values these peoples offer to teach us about living sustainably on the planet.

The Hōkūleʻa arrives in the Washington, D.C. area on Sunday, May 15, to the Old Town Waterfront Park Pier, 1A on Prince Street, in Alexandria, Virginia, from noon to 5:00 p.m. The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian celebrates the arrival with a number of programs and film screenings.

Ted’s Talk: A Conversation on Chinese Immigration History

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Ted Gong is a modest man who emits a kindness reminiscent of my own Chinese father. He’s also the executive director of the 1882 Foundation and retired Foreign Service officer. On this particular afternoon, he was dressed in comfortable blue flannel—an attempt, I’m sure, to maintain some dignity in Washington, D.C.’s boiling summer heat.

Earlier in the day, Ted had contributed some particularly compelling arguments during “Where Policy Meets Personal,” a panel that examined issues of immigration and legal protocols at the 2017 Folklife Festival.

We moved into the shade of an elm tree. I had some questions for him about the oddly specific name of the foundation, current East Asian immigration policies, and the complex sectors of the Chinese American community.

Ted explained in a steady baritone that the 1882 Foundation is committed to issues of civil rights, race relations, and immigration reform for the Asian Pacific American community. The organization also records the stories of Chinese immigrants to pass down throughout the generations and preserve Chinese American oral history.

The organization draws its name from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the only American law ever passed that prevented immigration and naturalization on the basis of race. Ted’s mother was affected by this law when she tried to immigrate to the United States.

“My mother tried to come here when she was sixteen years old,” he said. “She was held at Angel Island, an immigration detention center on San Francisco Bay. They say it’s the Ellis Island of the West, but it was designed to detain and hold Chinese people to ban them under the 1882 act. She stayed there for eleven months before she was deported back to China.”

Ted Gong family photo
Ted Gong’s family portrait. He points out, “I am the guy with the monk’s haircut looking down.”
Photo courtesy of Ted Gong

After the Gold Rush in 1849, Chinese workers were drawn to the West Coast in pursuit of economic opportunities, such as the railroad industry. Other laborers would not work for the low wages the railroad companies offered, but Chinese workers would. As a result, they were blamed for stealing jobs. Ted explains that the Chinese workers, deemed racially inferior by many Americans, became the scapegoat for declining wages and unemployment that infested the country.

In 1882, President Chester Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into effect. The act halted Chinese immigration for ten years and precluded Chinese living in America from becoming U.S. citizens. The law was only repealed during World War II when the United States relied on China as an ally against Japan.

“The original act was meant to be a temporary exclusion,” Ted explained. “It then was renewed ten years later in 1892, upheld in 1902, and then made permanent,” Ted explains. “So when people talk today about temporary revisions of law, we need to be cautious of what that actually means.”

A thought popped into my head: history repeats itself.

On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court allowed portions of President Trump’s travel bans via executive order to go into effect. The decision means that people and refugees from six mainly Muslim nations will be temporarily banned from entering the United States. The only exception is for those with a narrowly defined “bona fide” relationship, such as a close familial tie, with an entity in the country.

Ted Gong family photo
Ted Gong’s father in the family store, the Midway Market, in Orosi, California.
Photo courtesy of Ted Gong
Ted Gong family photo
Ted Gong in front of the Midway Market in Orosi, California.
Photo courtesy of Ted Gong

“We’ve had executive orders that expanded background checks—although not the Chinese Exclusion policy, because that was just plain racist,” Ted said. “Executive orders come and go, and there are good ones and bad ones. America isn’t obligated to take refugees; we set our immigration policies every year. The idea that the current executive order has done something new to exclude refugees is not true.”

Ted paused. He looked past my left shoulder at the crowds dancing to the drumbeats from another session. He then peers at me through his thin-rimmed glasses and asks me about my own immigrant background.

I was born in Fuzhou, Fujian, my mom’s hometown in China. A month after I was born, my dad left for America to begin graduate school in Texas. My mom and I followed him to America three and a half years later. For me, America is the only home I have ever really known.

As I unraveled the concise version of my life story, I admitted to Ted one of my most shameful secrets: I grew up embarrassed to be Chinese. Until sophomore year of college, I remained willfully ignorant of my Chinese heritage.

I leaned forward, gesturing more than usual and avoiding prolonged eye contact, something I tend to do when I feel highly self-conscious. As I verbalized these insecurities, all I saw was understanding and sadness compounded on Ted’s face. I imagine he has heard similar sentiments shared from the Chinese American youth he has spoken to. In an eerie way, it felt like I was confiding all my worst secrets to my own father, though I never have before.

Laura Zhang family photo
Author Laura Zhang with her parents as a newborn.
Photo courtesy of Laura Zhang

I paused. I noticed the sounds of children playing tag in the background. Strange that I hadn’t heard them earlier. Ted sat patiently, observing me. His silence created a space absent of judgement. It comforted me. I imagine him doing this every day when he gathers his oral histories at the 1882 Foundation. I told him that only recently have I begun attempting to uncover more of my Chinese American history, from policies to current social issues affecting our community in the United States.

Ted proceeded to delve into the history and contemporary groups of Chinese immigrants.

“Fujian people do not traditionally migrate to America like the Cantonese or the Taiwanese, so they didn’t have those people to draw them here,” Ted said. “The time I was in Hong Kong doing anti-trafficking stuff, the Chinese trafficking tended to be Fujianese. You get people caught in vans and trucks through Europe who were trying to embark on something to the United States.”

As a former senior advisor at the Department of Homeland Security, Ted has seen how different immigration tactics have manufactured severe current divisions within the current Chinese American community.

Some Chinese move to the United States as professionals or students—my father is under this group. Another faction consists of unskilled, agricultural workers who came to work in restaurants or back rooms. Ted explained that the current sector of the educated and upper-class Chinese immigrants constitutes the more politically conservative groups.

“They’re pro-business—most probably voted Trump,” he said. “In Austin, Texas’s case, they’re very anti-affirmative action. For example, with the recent Abby Fisher case, in which a white female student argued that she was denied admission to The University of Texas at Austin based on race, this Chinese community strongly supported anti-affirmative action.”

Ted Gong family photo
Ted Gong’s father poses with his mother and two brothers.
Photo courtesy of Ted Gong

Ted’s own generation differs from this recent group of upper-class, more conservative, immigrants. His group that grew up with the civil rights movement tends to be more progressive on social issues.

“For example, we generally gravitate toward Black Lives Matter, whereas this other group gravitates toward stricter policing,” Ted said. “And they’re very strong and vocal about it.”

Throughout our discussion, I kept thinking: history repeats itself.

In America, we erect memorials and museums to remind ourselves of the past: to celebrate and to contemplate. But I also see them as reminders of what happens when people become complacent with the status quo. Time and time again, immigration bans and racial prejudices repeat due to situational politics, economics, and opportunism. Demographics of people emerge as dehumanized chess pieces in a larger power struggle.

Laura Zhang family photo
Author Laura Zhang atop her father’s shoulders.
Photo courtesy of Laura Zhang

Every day, I think about how different my life would have been if I had never immigrated to America. The United States has become home for so many immigrants like my parents, and the only home for children of immigrants like me.

After the conversation with Ted, I walked out on the National Mall to see a young Chinese girl chasing her father on the lawn. She was probably around six or seven years old, dressed in a sun dress and pigtails. I felt like I was looking at a younger version of myself. For me, growing up as a Chinese American girl meant being attacked with various racist or micro-aggressive remarks, cringing every time I heard my parent’s broken English, and silently despising my own heritage.

As I watched her dad carry her on his shoulders and dance across the Mall, the little girl looked like Supergirl in flight. Hoisted on her father’s shoulders, she must have felt invincible in that moment. I hope she won’t feel what I felt growing up.

I firmly believe empathy is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate in ourselves. Equipped with empathy, we can connect to a specific story from a stranger, harness the anger from the injustices that permeate our society, and take action—whatever that may look like for us individually.

Especially with my generation and the younger ones that follow, we need to participate. We need to tune in and revisit history to learn—and relearn—what is at stake for decisions made. Then, we need to take our stand. Otherwise, history will have no choice but to repeat itself.

Laura Zhang is studying neuroscience and Plan II Honors at The University of Texas at Austin. Currently, she is an intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and exudes a passion for social justice, stories, and dogs of all kinds.

Ted’s Talk: A Conversation on Chinese Immigration History

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Ted Gong is a modest man who emits a kindness reminiscent of my own Chinese father. He’s also the executive director of the 1882 Foundation and retired Foreign Service officer. On this particular afternoon, he was dressed in comfortable blue flannel—an attempt, I’m sure, to maintain some dignity in Washington, D.C.’s boiling summer heat.

Earlier in the day, Ted had contributed some particularly compelling arguments during “Where Policy Meets Personal,” a panel that examined issues of immigration and legal protocols at the 2017 Folklife Festival.

We moved into the shade of an elm tree. I had some questions for him about the oddly specific name of the foundation, current East Asian immigration policies, and the complex sectors of the Chinese American community.

Ted explained in a steady baritone that the 1882 Foundation is committed to issues of civil rights, race relations, and immigration reform for the Asian Pacific American community. The organization also records the stories of Chinese immigrants to pass down throughout the generations and preserve Chinese American oral history.

The organization draws its name from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the only American law ever passed that prevented immigration and naturalization on the basis of race. Ted’s mother was affected by this law when she tried to immigrate to the United States.

“My mother tried to come here when she was sixteen years old,” he said. “She was held at Angel Island, an immigration detention center on San Francisco Bay. They say it’s the Ellis Island of the West, but it was designed to detain and hold Chinese people to ban them under the 1882 act. She stayed there for eleven months before she was deported back to China.”

Ted Gong family photo
Ted Gong’s family portrait. He points out, “I am the guy with the monk’s haircut looking down.”
Photo courtesy of Ted Gong

After the Gold Rush in 1849, Chinese workers were drawn to the West Coast in pursuit of economic opportunities, such as the railroad industry. Other laborers would not work for the low wages the railroad companies offered, but Chinese workers would. As a result, they were blamed for stealing jobs. Ted explains that the Chinese workers, deemed racially inferior by many Americans, became the scapegoat for declining wages and unemployment that infested the country.

In 1882, President Chester Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into effect. The act halted Chinese immigration for ten years and precluded Chinese living in America from becoming U.S. citizens. The law was only repealed during World War II when the United States relied on China as an ally against Japan.

“The original act was meant to be a temporary exclusion,” Ted explained. “It then was renewed ten years later in 1892, upheld in 1902, and then made permanent,” Ted explains. “So when people talk today about temporary revisions of law, we need to be cautious of what that actually means.”

A thought popped into my head: history repeats itself.

On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court allowed portions of President Trump’s travel bans via executive order to go into effect. The decision means that people and refugees from six mainly Muslim nations will be temporarily banned from entering the United States. The only exception is for those with a narrowly defined “bona fide” relationship, such as a close familial tie, with an entity in the country.

Ted Gong family photo
Ted Gong’s father in the family store, the Midway Market, in Orosi, California.
Photo courtesy of Ted Gong
Ted Gong family photo
Ted Gong in front of the Midway Market in Orosi, California.
Photo courtesy of Ted Gong

“We’ve had executive orders that expanded background checks—although not the Chinese Exclusion policy, because that was just plain racist,” Ted said. “Executive orders come and go, and there are good ones and bad ones. America isn’t obligated to take refugees; we set our immigration policies every year. The idea that the current executive order has done something new to exclude refugees is not true.”

Ted paused. He looked past my left shoulder at the crowds dancing to the drumbeats from another session. He then peers at me through his thin-rimmed glasses and asks me about my own immigrant background.

I was born in Fuzhou, Fujian, my mom’s hometown in China. A month after I was born, my dad left for America to begin graduate school in Texas. My mom and I followed him to America three and a half years later. For me, America is the only home I have ever really known.

As I unraveled the concise version of my life story, I admitted to Ted one of my most shameful secrets: I grew up embarrassed to be Chinese. Until sophomore year of college, I remained willfully ignorant of my Chinese heritage.

I leaned forward, gesturing more than usual and avoiding prolonged eye contact, something I tend to do when I feel highly self-conscious. As I verbalized these insecurities, all I saw was understanding and sadness compounded on Ted’s face. I imagine he has heard similar sentiments shared from the Chinese American youth he has spoken to. In an eerie way, it felt like I was confiding all my worst secrets to my own father, though I never have before.

Laura Zhang family photo
Author Laura Zhang with her parents as a newborn.
Photo courtesy of Laura Zhang

I paused. I noticed the sounds of children playing tag in the background. Strange that I hadn’t heard them earlier. Ted sat patiently, observing me. His silence created a space absent of judgement. It comforted me. I imagine him doing this every day when he gathers his oral histories at the 1882 Foundation. I told him that only recently have I begun attempting to uncover more of my Chinese American history, from policies to current social issues affecting our community in the United States.

Ted proceeded to delve into the history and contemporary groups of Chinese immigrants.

“Fujian people do not traditionally migrate to America like the Cantonese or the Taiwanese, so they didn’t have those people to draw them here,” Ted said. “The time I was in Hong Kong doing anti-trafficking stuff, the Chinese trafficking tended to be Fujianese. You get people caught in vans and trucks through Europe who were trying to embark on something to the United States.”

As a former senior advisor at the Department of Homeland Security, Ted has seen how different immigration tactics have manufactured severe current divisions within the current Chinese American community.

Some Chinese move to the United States as professionals or students—my father is under this group. Another faction consists of unskilled, agricultural workers who came to work in restaurants or back rooms. Ted explained that the current sector of the educated and upper-class Chinese immigrants constitutes the more politically conservative groups.

“They’re pro-business—most probably voted Trump,” he said. “In Austin, Texas’s case, they’re very anti-affirmative action. For example, with the recent Abby Fisher case, in which a white female student argued that she was denied admission to The University of Texas at Austin based on race, this Chinese community strongly supported anti-affirmative action.”

Ted Gong family photo
Ted Gong’s father poses with his mother and two brothers.
Photo courtesy of Ted Gong

Ted’s own generation differs from this recent group of upper-class, more conservative, immigrants. His group that grew up with the civil rights movement tends to be more progressive on social issues.

“For example, we generally gravitate toward Black Lives Matter, whereas this other group gravitates toward stricter policing,” Ted said. “And they’re very strong and vocal about it.”

Throughout our discussion, I kept thinking: history repeats itself.

In America, we erect memorials and museums to remind ourselves of the past: to celebrate and to contemplate. But I also see them as reminders of what happens when people become complacent with the status quo. Time and time again, immigration bans and racial prejudices repeat due to situational politics, economics, and opportunism. Demographics of people emerge as dehumanized chess pieces in a larger power struggle.

Laura Zhang family photo
Author Laura Zhang atop her father’s shoulders.
Photo courtesy of Laura Zhang

Every day, I think about how different my life would have been if I had never immigrated to America. The United States has become home for so many immigrants like my parents, and the only home for children of immigrants like me.

After the conversation with Ted, I walked out on the National Mall to see a young Chinese girl chasing her father on the lawn. She was probably around six or seven years old, dressed in a sun dress and pigtails. I felt like I was looking at a younger version of myself. For me, growing up as a Chinese American girl meant being attacked with various racist or micro-aggressive remarks, cringing every time I heard my parents’ broken English, and silently despising my own heritage.

As I watched her dad carry her on his shoulders and dance across the Mall, the little girl looked like Supergirl in flight. Hoisted on her father’s shoulders, she must have felt invincible in that moment. I hope she won’t feel what I felt growing up.

I firmly believe empathy is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate in ourselves. Equipped with empathy, we can connect to a specific story from a stranger, harness the anger from the injustices that permeate our society, and take action—whatever that may look like for us individually.

Especially with my generation and the younger ones that follow, we need to participate. We need to tune in and revisit history to learn—and relearn—what is at stake for decisions made. Then, we need to take our stand. Otherwise, history will have no choice but to repeat itself.

Laura Zhang is studying neuroscience and Plan II Honors at The University of Texas at Austin. Currently, she is an intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and exudes a passion for social justice, stories, and dogs of all kinds.

Remembering Photographer Jeff Tinsley

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Jeff Tinsley was larger than life—a warm-hearted, gregarious, and talented photographer at the National Museum of American History for twenty-nine years. Jeff first experienced the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 1976, the year of the Bicentennial. When he got a job as a photographer at the museum a year later, he was thrilled to discover that photographing the Festival would be a part of his job.

He photographed the Festival every year until 2005, when he developed a brain tumor and took a disability retirement. He responded extremely well to treatment, causing Jeff to be a sensation with his doctors. Though he was retired, he returned to shoot photos at the 2006 Festival, and each year thereafter until 2012, when his physical stamina in the heat began to wane. The tumor eventually returned and was the cause of his death earlier this month.

I worked with Jeff from the time I arrived at the Smithsonian as an assistant archivist in 1995. He was then the chief photographer at American History, and at that time the museum’s photographers were in charge of documenting whatever was happening on the National Mall—from inaugurations to the Folklife Festival. I first coordinated still photography at the Festival in 1996, working with Jeff and his team as well as interns and volunteers.

In a 2008 interview, Jeff explained some of his approaches for getting the best shots at the Festival. He got to know the staff, allowing him to move around in places that the public couldn’t go, such as on stages and in green rooms. On the Fourth of July, he liked to scout out significant landmarks of the Festival that he could line up with the Washington Monument and the evening fireworks. In 1998, it was the Philippines Chapel, a tent with beautiful decorations. But one of his favorite techniques was to get up high, sometimes on a ladder, a building roof, or on a cherry picker, and sometimes in a U.S. Park Police helicopter.

Photo Gallery

“I’ve always been a person who decided that, to get up and see the whole scope of things was something that was going to be a unique view that none of those people on the ground would ever get,” he said. “I’ve been known to hang out of the side of the helicopter when they took the door off, just put a belt around me and be able to swoop over the crowd, but also just to show the scene of the whole thing.” The shots of the Festival from above are hallmarks of his work and his excellent eye for the unusual perspective.

Aside from the Festival, Jeff developed his skills photographing drag races. He gained a sense of timing, always ready for split-second action, and an ability to switch camera settings manually in a fast-paced environment. With these abilities, he shot many emergent and spontaneous moments at the Festival, capturing the excitement, the colors, textures, and motion on the Mall.

When I asked about his favorite memories of the Festival, Jeff recalled the 2000 Festival when we produced a program called Tibetan Culture Beyond the Land of Snows. “For your whole life to hear about the Dalai Lama who is bigger than life itself, and all of a sudden be sitting or kneeling next to him photographing, and then behind him with the crowd in the background... pretty amazing experience.” The Dalai Lama visited the program site, met the participants, gave a public talk, and performed a Tibetan Buddhist ritual—all of which Jeff captured.

He also recalled attending a 1994 concert in tribute to Ralph Rinzler, co-founder of the Festival, who was ill in a hospital. A tremendous storm hit that evening, with wind and lashing rain. We learned later that Ralph had passed away sometime during the storm. The timing was very eerie, Jeff said, remarking that everyone who worked on the Festival and knew Ralph knows “he’s there with us all the time.”

Photo Gallery

Some of Jeff’s most stunning photographs are of musicians performing, including Smithsonian Folkways Recordings artists Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Ella Jenkins, John Cephas and Phil Wiggins, BeauSoleil, and others. “If you’re on them, you’re focused in and ready, if you can get them to look at you, it really makes the photo,” he explained. He did some work for Smithsonian Folkways, including a 50th Folkways Anniversary Concert at Carnegie Hall in 1998.

In his final years of documenting the Festival, Jeff struggled with double vision and dizziness resulting from the brain tumor, yet he mostly managed to get his shots despite these challenges. He had to give up flying in the Park Police helicopter, but he was a trouper and called me every year to find out about future programs and what he could look forward to photographing.

Jeff’s photography, particularly of the Festival, has very special qualities, demonstrating his ability to connect with people. His subjects responded to him, and it shows. He would walk around the Festival and, every few feet, would see someone he knew. He was a longtime part of the Folklife family, and he is mourned and missed by us and his photographer colleagues at the Smithsonian.

Jeff was always able to find an engaging, visually appealing composition. His photographs have the ability to tell stories and share knowledge without needing an in-depth description. His photos can stand alone and illustrate the iconic moments, or they can be paired together and present an experience. As he so aptly said, “One of the great things about the Festival is it’s not a one-shot deal. Every hour of every day, there’s some story.”

Jeff’s photographs and his unique personal view tell wonderful stories, and his legacy of the Folklife Festival and significant moments in Smithsonian Folkways history will forever be preserved in our archives.

Stephanie Smith is the director of the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

The Arrow-weeds: Environmentalists, Activists, and Artists

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Helena and Preston Arrow-weed teach a traditional dance in the Sounds of California Stage & Plaza. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Helena (center in red shawl) and Preston Arrow-weed (right) teach a traditional dance in the Sounds of California Stage & Plaza. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Gold mines and wind turbines are no match for Helena and Preston Arrow-weed.

Environmentalists, activists, educators—the Arrow-weeds are a force. They protect the sacred sites and desert ecosystem of their ancestral lands, the lower Colorado River region, through successfully protesting the creation of mines and turbines. They also dedicate themselves to the stimulation of tribal culture and increasing understanding of Native American history, culture, and art.

Bonded through their environmental causes, Helena and Preston have dramatically different personalities. Helena is quiet and reserved. She has the patience and grace of a seasoned teacher having  worked in many educational capacities—elementary school teacher, ESL teacher, and assistant professor.

Preston is outgoing and witty, with an irreverent deadpan humor that makes a heritage bearer of his renown approachable. He is a member of the Quechan Tribe of California and only one of a few who sing the sacred songs celebrating the rites of passage from birth to death and can sing them in the correct order. Multi-talented and multifaceted, he was also a Marine, a Hollywood actor, and is now a playwright.

At the 2016 Folklife Festival, Helena and Preston shared their personal stories, their causes, and the significance of the songs that Preston performs as Helena dances. 

Helena Arrow-Weed performing at the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann, Ralph Rinzler Archives
Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

How did you meet?

Preston: Well, there I was minding my own business, and this woman came around with a rope, and she dragged me home.

Helena: Actually, we met at a hearing for environmental issues. We were both talking against it. I was really impressed with his presentation, protecting the desert and the animals—

Preston: It was love at first sight.

Helena: —and he had just such interesting stories and I thought, “Whoa. I am going to ask that guy to come to my classroom.” So I called the tribe and I asked them for Preston Arrow-weed. After a few calls, they finally gave me his number. We became friends after that.

Preston: I stayed over with her after that.

***

Preston Arrow-weed sharing songs and stories along with Kumeyaay tribe members Stan Rodriguez, Hwaa Hawk, and Raymond Martinez. Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Preston Arrow-weed sharing songs and stories along with Kumeyaay tribe members Stan Rodriguez, Hwaa Hawk, and Raymond Martinez. Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Patience and attention truly pay off with Preston’s style of storytelling. The plots wind down twisted paths populated by personified animals and superhuman beings, ending in foreign but ancestral landscapes of deserts, mountains, and oceans. Enraptured by giant talking snakes and frogs, you forget to listen for the moral—until it hits you like a ton of bricks at the end.

***

Why are traditional songs and stories so important?

Preston: They teach history, teach morals. Even though I think it has more to do folklore, it has deep meanings.  For instance, gold. In the creation story, there is a giant snake. This snake was created in anger. The creator was disappointed with his son, and they got in an argument. It was when the world was still wet and he was trying to mark it with a stick. The creator talked with his son, got angry and threw the stick down to the earth.

When the stick fell it became a snake, and because of the creator’s anger it became an angry snake. The snake’s head became poison, and his tail became a rattle from a piece of mud. The snake bit the first man that was created. The man was revived because it wasn’t time for his death, but then they took the snake and threw him to the north. Soon they forgot about him.

Sometime later on they said, “We have to get that snake because he is getting bigger and bigger. He is going to be dangerous.” So they went over there and tricked him. They told him they were going to build him a house, led him into it, and killed him.

But he knew that this was going to happen. He was wise. He knew that this was meant to be. He knew that this was his purpose, that he was a part of the plan of the universe.  He knew that he had to play the role through.

Preston Arrow-Weed presenting at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2016. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann
Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

He showed up at the house. The creator’s son was waiting at the entrance of the house with a big stone obsidian knife. The snake created four heads to scare the creator’s son.  The creator’s son  chopped off all four heads and killed the snake.

The creator’s son took the snake’s body and laid it across the shore so that the ocean couldn’t come up onto it—that is the mountains. Then the head that came off, he smashed it up and the spittle became silver. The snake’s urine went to the ocean—that is what makes the ocean powerful. And his blood was gold.

Today we know the power of the snake, but we also know the power of the snake’s blood. Today people misuse the power of the snake’s blood. And look what it has done to the world. For that snake’s blood, people have killed each other. Wars are going on now because of it. The whole country is fighting over it.

So these songs really have a deep meaning about the belief of my people.  So if everyone knew this story, they would learn that there is no moderation when it comes to power. You ruin everything around you. The snake’s blood is very powerful. It ruins everything.

How did you learn these stories and songs?

Preston: I heard it, I joined in, and I picked it up. It was not like today: “this is the way you sing” and “this is the way you say that.” They would say, “Go ahead and join me.”

For a long time I really didn’t know what I was saying. I had to analyze the words before I understood what it really meant. Today there are many phonetic singers, but they do not know what it means. I don’t sing phonetically.

I think for that reason, I became an environmentalist because—knowing these things and ignoring it, I couldn’t do it. Now, I’ll make the statement. I am involved in environmental issues because of the songs. If every singer knew what their songs meant, they would be right here beside me.

Helena and Preston Arrow-weed, accompanied by Maricella Rodriguez, present a radio drama that Preston is developing. Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Helena and Preston Arrow-weed, accompanied by Maricella Rodriguez, present a radio drama that Preston is developing. Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

What is it like to share your traditions at the Folklife Festival?

When I was coming down here, I was thinking, I am going to D.C. and I am going to spill my guts about my tribe, my songs, and everything. But why am I doing this? Is it for the money? The attention? For the tribe? But it is not my land. It is those peoples’ land.

I am not talking about Washington, D.C., and what it is today. I am talking about the ancient people who once lived here. They had a belief. They had a religion. They had everything. And here I am going to bring mine onto their land? It is wrong.

So I said, since no one is there from their people, I am going to bring my traditions there and do it for them. I am sharing what is mine and trying to help them. I do align myself with them. I am doing this for those people.

***

Before each performance, Preston made a statement, directing focus to the ancestral inhabitants of the D.C. area and paying respect to their land, their traditions, and their history. He respected the local Native history by acknowledging its existence, his activist and environmentalist nature enacted in every moment of his life.

SarahVictoria Rosemann is a media intern for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She has a degree in ethnomusicology, with a focus in Tibetology, and grew up in Reno, Nevada. 

The 2016 Sounds of California Smithsonian Folklife Festival program was co-produced with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Radio Bilingüe, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Vessel in the form of an elephant with rider

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Vessel in the form of a mythical beast

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Footage of the Falks' travel in Asia, reel 1, 1937

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
The Falks took one of the inaugural Pan Am Clipper flights to China in 1937. Myron S. (Johnny) Falk Jr., and his wife Pauline Baerwald Falk were active philanthropists, prominent Asian art collectors and were both active in the Jewish and Art communities.

0:00 - 0:39: Alameda Airport, boarding the Philippine Clipper (March 24-25); 0:39 - 0:49: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (March 26); 0:49 - 2:49: 1. Pan American Airways Hotel at Midway / Wake Island (March 27-30); 2:49 - 4:34: Military parade of soldiers and children, Guam (March 31); 4:24 - 4:52: Manila (April 1); 4:55 - 5:47: Xiamen (April 5); 5:47 - 6:30: Hong Kong Harbor, on the boat to Kowloon (April 6); 6:30 - 6:38: Ruins of St. Paul's in Macau (April 8); 6:38 - 6:42: ? 6:42 - 7:04: Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, Guangzhou (April 10-11); 7:04 - 7:32: Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall or Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou; 7:32 - 7:36: Hills outside of Guangzhou (April 10-12); 7:36 - 7:41: ? 7:41 - 8:09: Train from Guangzhou to Wubei on Hangkow Railroad (April 12); 8:09 - 8:11: Locals somewhere near train station between Guangzhou and Wubei (April 12); 8:12 - 8:20: Viewing Temple of the Six Banyan Trees from a distance, railroad stations along Hangkow RR (April 12); 8:20 - 8:33: Wuhan, along the Yangtze. Perhaps taken from the Chinese Customs House (April 12); 8:33 - 8:44: Nina & George Blowers, Hankou (April 13); 8:44 - 8:57: Hangkow Country Club (April 14); 8:57 - 9:06: Spectators in Hankou watching plane departure (April 15); 9:06 - 10:43: Pilot Hugh Chen preparing to fly a small Loening, views of Hankou port, Standard Oil Company, men carrying gasoline barrels (April 15); 10:43 - 11:30: Airport in Shasi District of Jingzhou, watching planes land and take off (April 15); 11:30 - 12:30: Crossing Yangtze river at Chongqing, looking out onto the mountains (April 16); 12:30 - 14:52: Taking "chairs" up into Chongqing hillside, looking out onto the hills, visited temple with many graves, looked down at Yangzi and Chongqing industry (April 16); 14:52 - 15:16: "Mr. Hamburger" or "Mr. Reuss" and Falks in Chongqing, home of a K.Z. Yang (April 17); 15:16 - 16:13: Crossing Yangzi in Chongqing on the way to Shanghai (April 17)

Gift of the Falk Family.

One of four reels 16mm motion picture film taken during Johnny and Pauline Falk's 1937 trip to China, Korea and Japan. Kodak had only recently made color film available, so this may be the earliest color footage of many of the locations the Falks visited.

广州 厦门 汉口重庆

George Abe: Ripples of Japanese Internment

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann
Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann

George Abe is an energetic, enigmatic man. A Japanese American born and raised in California, he presented and performed as part of the Sounds of California program.

This was not his first time at the Folklife Festival—he also came in 1986 for the Japan program that was featured alongside Tennessee. When looking at his Festival program book from that year, his personality exudes from the pages filled with personal goodbyes and notes from people he had met.

George Abe's personal program from the 1986 Folklife Festival featuring Japanese culture and Tennessee culture. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann
George Abe’s personal program book from the 1986 Folklife Festival featuring Japanese and Tennesseean culture. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann

“To the pied piper, Great having another L.A. fellow around!
Con mucho carino, Alicia”

“Geo—It was such a pleasure meeting you and we look forward to seeing you again.
Remember—Maryland is for CRABS, Hank”

“A high point of my life was coming to the 1986 Festival,” George reflected. “I felt like I was really in my element because I could speak Japanese, so I could talk to the forty some people here from Japan, but I am also an English speaker, so I was talking to the Grand Ole Opry guys too. The fiddling, mandolining, banjoing, and the parties—the mixing was awesome.”

Thirty years later, he returned as a member of FandangObon, a Mexican-Japanese collaborative performing arts project from Los Angeles. The group combines and connects the participatory music and dance traditions of fandango son jarocho of Veracruz, Mexico, and the Japanese Buddhist ritual of obon.

George Abe performs along with FandangObon. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann
George Abe performs along with FandangObon. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann

Having grown up within a community of Japanese artists and musicians, George was infused with creativity from an early age. Despite the hardships that his family and community faced, he emanates positivity, always playing devil’s advocate—nothing is purely bad or good.

This interview with George was interspersed with poetry, bamboo flute, and meditation gongs. Sitting in the grass, under the canopy on the National Mall, he talked more about his childhood, his music, and his family influences. The poems included here were written by his mother, Satsuki Abe.

What was your childhood like?

I was born in Manzanar, California, about seven miles out of Lone Pine. It was an internment camp, a concentration camp, during World War II. My mother moved from San Pedro. My father was in Los Angeles when he was relocated. They married in camp, and I was born in camp.

***

Apricot flowers in full bloom
We come to this small town
To start a new life together
Mother and child

***

I grew up as kind of a nisei—second generation Japanese American—but kind of unusual in that my mother was born in America, but my father was born in Japan. So I am in between culturally. My first language was Japanese, baby Japanese. Then going to school, and with my friends, I spoke English. But I was rooted in Japanese culture.

Because my parents were both artists, the milieu that I grew up in were poets, musicians, people very connected to the associations. From growing up in that environment, there was a word that kept coming up. Through all of my life, I have been trying to understand this word. Natsukashii. I guess the easiest translation is something like nostalgia for the home country. Children’s songs, poetry, the arts, the aesthetics, all of that—you miss it when you come to the United States. So to keep that connection with the past, with that culture, they did things like shakuhachi or Japanese dance.

Abe demonstrates the Japanese instrument <em srcset=
shakuhachi. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann” width=”700″ height=”777″> Abe demonstrates the Japanese instrument shakuhachi. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann

Audio
George Abe: prayer gong and shakuhachi

What do you remember about the camp?

I was a year and a half old when we left, so I can’t say that I have any memories, but I think—well, for example, my eyesight is bad. We think that is a result of camp: sandstorms and those kind of things. Some women I know, nisei women who were nurses at the time, did some research and found out that a lot of camp babies have bad eyes and bad teeth. That is because the camp conditions, the diet, the nutrient, the environment.

***

Mother and child worry
Where were they going?
Relocation was so upsetting.
Sad to think back on

***

When Manzanar first opened, it was really terrible. But eventually people started building little ponds, gardens, and they eventually built a Japanese bath. You would wash first, drain it off, and then soak, like a sauna. Cleanliness is a part of Japanese culture.

***
Soaking in a hot bath
Washes away care and worry
It’s so refreshing
I almost forget I am a prisoner

***

What was your mother like?

The pamphlet of compiled poems written by his mother, Satsuki Abe, that George carried with him at the 2016 Folklife Festival. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann
George Abe carried this compilation of his mother’s poetry with him at the Folklife Festival. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann

My mom was a poet. She wrote tanka poetry, which is a Japanese form of poetry that goes back to 800, 900 AD. My mom used to say that Japan is a land of poetry, and it’s true. In my mom’s case she was born here but educated in Japan, so I think for her, writing poetry was a way to stay connected to Japanese culture.

When my grandfather came here, he leased land in Orange County, the City of Orange. He had a farm, and they apparently made some money because they went back to Japan. My mom, at that time, was in the fourth grade. So that was very dislocating. She got teased a lot.

At age twenty-six, she came back to the United States on the invitation of her older sister. She was twenty-six years old and unmarried—very rare in Japan for a woman. I think she was very independent, and she didn’t want to be stuck in the Japanese wife role.

She ended up being a Japanese school teacher here in the United States, but that didn’t make enough money, so she ended up doing domestic work. Here she is, well educated in Japanese history, culture, and language, but she didn’t speak enough English to get a job. So she ends up doing domestic work all the way until she retired. She passed away at the age of 93.

***

Walking around
The closed down Japanese school
Even today I cannot forget
Those tears of sadness

***

My mom was an accomplished poet. Every year the emperor of Japan did a contest for poems. The emperor picks a theme, and in 1950 the theme was asakura, morning sky. Thousands of poems are submitted, and a panel of high-level writers and teachers go through them all and pick out maybe ten or fifteen poems. In 1950 my mom wrote one, submitted it, and it was accepted.

***

Bright morning sun
Moving across the sky
Brings a kind of heavenly stillness
Purifying mind and spirit

***

George Abe joins Afghan American musicians Homayoun Sakhi (middle) and Salar Nader (right) in a discussion on musical resilience despite war, exile, and displacement, moderated by ethnomusicologist Theodore Levin. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann
George Abe joins Afghan American musicians Homayoun Sakhi (middle) and Salar Nader (right) in a discussion on musical resilience despite war, exile, and displacement, moderated by ethnomusicologist Theodore Levin. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann

How did you get started playing music?

My father played the biwa, and my mother was a poet, so I grew up in a community of artists, poets, and musicians. I was inspired to play. I played clarinet and saxophone in middle school and high school. And about the time I went to college, I started digging into bamboo. Bamboo is really important in Asian culture. For example, this is a flute that I made from California bamboo grown in my friend’s backyard. And like me, it is different than Japanese bamboo. Japanese bamboo is hard and grows slowly.

Do you think of your music as a form of social activism?

Absolutely. The way I see it, there are different fronts to the [Asian American] movement. For example, we started doing taiko, the Japanese drums. It was originally in the context of the obon, the yearly festival. But one time we just started jamming. We were JAs [Japanese Americans], so nothing about that was sacred. “This is fun! This is great!”

So we started trying to make our own drums, using leather and nail barrels. We started using California oak wine barrels. We would take them apart and glue them together, using the rings to hold it together until it set. It got more and more sophisticated as time went on.

I think in Japan people really wouldn’t think about making their own drum because it is such an old tradition. But as JAs we said, we can’t afford it, but we want to do it, so let’s figure it out. So we started making our own drums. That is empowering. People would see us playing it and say, “I want to do that.”

Abe gives an impromptu <em srcset=
fue flute lesson to FandangObon partner Sandino González-Flores. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann” width=”700″ height=”500″> Abe gives an impromptu fue flute lesson to FandangObon partner Sandino González-Flores. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann

We played at Wat Thai Temple. The Thai community is Buddhist too, but a different sect of Buddhism, but they invited us to come and play. One of the most embarrassing things you can do when you are playing drums is drop the stick. Well I got so into it, I dropped my stick. I got an ovation!

They understood, just spontaneously, that people make mistakes and have fun with it. It isn’t serious. It isn’t like I am going to die on stage because I dropped a stick. I learned a lot from these Buddhist people. Theirs is an attitude toward life that when you make a mistake, let’s celebrate it! We took this attitude and used it to learn about ourselves, who we are, how we fit into this society.

What is the purpose of cross-cultural collaboration?

The song we did “This Moment, Once in a Lifetime” is about coming together. These are opportunities for us to see the world a little differently. Otherwise you could get a little narrow.

Abe learns how to play the Basque percussions instrument <em srcset=
txalaparta. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann” width=”700″ height=”500″> Abe learns how to play the Basque percussions instrument txalaparta. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann

If I practice shakuhachi eight hours a day, sure I would get good, but it’s like tunnel vision. So when I play shakuhachi with a tabla player, we are exploring a whole different soundscape and rhythm. And I grow from that.

I also really enjoy working with people of other cultures. I love doing collaborative types of things and hanging with other world musicians.

***

Abe shows members from the Armenia youth rock band TmbaTa how to play the shakuhachi. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann
Abe shows members from the Armenia youth rock band TmbaTa how to play the shakuhachi. Photo by SarahVictoria Rosemann

As a social activist and musician, George symbolizes the diverse, cross-cultural influences that have shaped—and continue to shape—California. At the Festival, he engaged with Afghan American instrumentalists, Mixteco dancers, Armenian musicians, and Basque craftsmen and txalaparta players, admiring their skill and technique, collaborating and learning. He seeks out new experiences and influences in order to grow.

SarahVictoria Rosemann is a media intern for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She has a degree in ethnomusicology, with a focus in Tibetology, and grew up in Reno, Nevada.

The 2016 Sounds of California Smithsonian Folklife Festival program was co-produced with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Radio Bilingüe, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Smithsonian Latino Center. 

Flyer advertising a seminar on the Um so Povo program

National Museum of African American History and Culture
This flyer advertises a seminar on the Um so Povo program of reconciliation and reconstruction in Angola. The flyer is white with black text and features an illustration of protesters with flags and raised fists. The title reads: [ANGOLA: FROM LIBERATION TO RECONSTRUCTION / MPLA / A VITORIA / E CERTA]. The back of the flyer lists the program schedule to take place from March 15-21, 1976.

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage - Explore Culture

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
The education page of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Access education kits, curriculum materials, videos, and recordings for classroom and other educational uses.

A Firsthand Account of What It Takes to Pilot a Voyaging Canoe Across the Ocean

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s nighttime. The winds are blowing at 27 knots, with gusts of 35 to 40, and the seas are heaving at 15 feet. It’s close to midnight and we are out in the middle of the ‘Alenuihaha channel between the islands of Maui and Hawai‘i, aboard the 72-foot modern voyaging canoe Hikianalia.

It’s been a pretty smooth ride up to this point. In fact, we were towed all the way to the end of Maui from Honolulu Harbor, because the winds were dead against us. Entering this channel feels like the beginning of a true voyage. Now we have the sails up and the twin hulls of the canoe are gracefully stable despite the large waves.

I am at the helm with a young trainee, Ka‘anohiokala Pe‘a, and we are guiding the canoe by Mars over the starboard boom. Half of our crew of 12 is asleep below, in bunks inside the hulls, while the captain and navigator sleep in a little hut on deck.

What brought me here is the same thing that brought all the rest of the crew members here: an enchantment with oceanic voyaging, spurred by that great icon of cultural pride: the Hōkūleʻa. And for those of us who are trainees, a hope to crew on a leg of Hōkūleʻa’s Worldwide Voyage.

I first learned about the vessel in about 1986, two years or so into my move to Hawai‘i to study geography in graduate school. One of the founders of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Ben Finney, was a professor of anthropology on the next floor down. He came up and gave us a talk one day about Hōkūleʻa, and I was immediately hooked. As years went by, I would meet the great navigator Pius Mau Piailug not once but twice, interview navigators and voyagers, and I have written and lectured about how the voyaging canoe teaches us not only how to live on small islands, but how to live on our island Earth. And in 2013, I built my own outrigger canoe.

The 72-foot modern voyaging canoe Hikianalia was on a training mission with Smithsonian geographer Doug Herman aboard: "The red line was our actual route, the white line was the intended route," he says of the difficult trip. (Doug Herman)

Now, there was just one thing left to be done: go voyaging.

“Okay, it’s time to tack,” announces our watch captain, Nahaku Kalei, a vibrant young woman who has been setting our course. We prepare to tack—to turn the bow of the canoe from one side of the oncoming wind to the other, which would change our direction by maybe 45 degrees. We try to tack. The canoe starts to turn, then slides back to its previous course. We try again. It doesn’t work.

Now all the crew is up, including the captain and navigator, and we try all kinds of tricks. We take down one of the sails to try to leverage the wind’s push on the boat. Not only does it not work, but also the sail jams as we try to raise it back up, and we spend an hour (or so it seemed) in 15-foot seas hoisting people up the mast to try to fix it.

The name of this channel, ‘Alenuihaha, means something like “big waves, feel your way through.” The giant mountains of Haleakala (10,000 feet) and Mauna Kea (13,700 feet) on either side not only force the ocean roughly through this pass, but the wind as well. We are all wearing foul weather gear. Some are or have been seasick, and I will be soon. 

Hōkūleʻa is currently in Key West after a historic crossing of the Atlantic. It will spend roughly May 15 to June 1, 2016, in the Washington, D.C. area. (Polynesian Voyaging Society)

But at this moment—indeed at all moments of this short voyage—spirits are high. Everyone is trying to help, attending eagerly to what needs to be done, or pitching in wherever they can. There is no sense of fear or danger—many on this canoe have seen much worse. I am thinking about when Hōkūleʻa flipped over in 25-foot seas, back in 1978, and the crew was left clinging to the hulls overnight. Famed surfer and lifeguard Eddie Aikau, who was among the crew, was lost at sea going for help. But Hikianalia, besides heaving up and down and a little bit side to side, feels so stable I might as well be standing on a dock.

In ancient times—or, for that matter, contemporary parts of Micronesia—voyaging was a way of life. On small Pacific islands, most males grew up with the sea, whether fishing near shore or traveling between islands or making the long journeys to other island groups. One “learns the ropes” from very early. School-age boys make model canoes, sometimes even racing them in the shallow areas. They would float on their backs in the ocean to learn to feel and differentiate the different swells. They would also have to learn the many skills for carving, weaving, making rope, lashing and so forth that apply to land-based arts as well as canoe building and maintenance.

Few of us today, including most Native Hawaiians, have this traditional upbringing to prepare us for voyaging. When the late, great Micronesian navigator Pius “Mau” Piailug joined Hōkūleʻa in 1975, the crew saw in him a living ancestor, for their own culture had largely lost the skills and knowledge he possessed. I heard the story that Hawaiians in their 20s said: “We want you to teach us how to navigate.” Mau shook his head, and said: “You? You are too old. Give me your children, I will teach them.”

Image by Doug Herman. We were towed all the way to the end of Maui from Honolulu Harbor, because the winds were dead against us. (original image)

Image by Doug Herman. What brought me here is the same thing that brought all the rest of the crew members here: an enchantment with Oceanic voyaging. (original image)

Image by Doug Herman. Navigator Chadd 'Onohi Paisshon, right, with Captain Bob Perkins in the bow, as the crew gets under sail off West Maui. (original image)

Image by Doug Herman. Long-time voyager Dennis Chun looks out on the south coast of Maui. We had seen a lot of humpback whales that day. (original image)

Image by Doug Herman. As we head for Kawaihae, Desmond Haumea breaks out a ‘ukulele, Nakahu Kalei is at the steering paddle. (original image)

After 40 years of voyaging, Hōkūleʻa has had many crews, and its current Worldwide Voyage has required more than 165 different crew members for different legs. At this writing, it is in Key West after a historic crossing of the Atlantic. It will spend roughly May 15 to June 1, 2016, in the Washington, D.C. area and then sail on up the East Coast before continuing its journey back to the Pacific.

How does one get chosen to crew this, the most famous progenitor of all modern voyaging canoes?

First, one must show a commitment, and one of the best ways people do this is by coming to work on the canoes when they are in dry-dock. The older voyagers watch the efforts the industry and the interactions of these volunteers, looking to see how people mesh together, because on a voyage, working together is everything. “If you watch the crew, you’ll see that without words they make way for each other. Nobody says ‘Coming through! Make way!’ It’s a tiny space, but nobody gets into each other’s way. You learn to live that way. It’s almost poetic; it’s like a dance.”

Indeed, I am seeing—and participating in—that dance right now, as we crew members quietly move past each other, help each other, diligently attending to what needs to be done and looking for ways to help whatever requires it.

But not everyone who works at dry-dock is voyager material. “You can have a tremendous number of people that want to go on the canoe,” says Jay Dowsett, one of the canoe builders, “but in reality it’s a much smaller group that can actually do it. How do you know you’ve made it through to be crew?”

“If the dock is getting smaller, you’re ready to be on the canoe,” replies Billy. “But if the boat is getting smaller, you’re staying on the dock.” In other words, you’re not ready to spend time at sea in a limited space.

Beyond that, there’s training. The Polynesian Voyaging Society and other voyaging groups in Hawai‘i coordinate a series of training programs including safety training, working of ropes, protocols for arriving at new places, and some basic principles of navigation. A five-day program called ‘Imi Na‘auao (“seeking knowledge”) is held periodically as a basic training program hosted by the organization ʻOhana Waʻa (family of the canoes). I attended one in 2013. And then there are training sails, like the one I am on now. 

The 72-foot modern voyaging canoe Hikianalia, docked at the Marine Education Training Center on Sand Island, Honolulu Harbor, is used to train crew members for the Hōkūleʻa. (Doug Herman)

Sometime before midnight the captain, Bob Perkins, decides that we will have to tow again to get up to where we need to be to sail around the top of Hawai‘i Island towards the town of Hilo. My turn is over, but the other shift is short two people due to seasickness and a minor injury, so I will be awakened at 3:30 a.m. for a half-hour stint back on deck. Towing means that we are banging against the waves, instead of riding them smoothly, so seasickness soon catches up to me and when I get up at 6 a.m. for my shift, I have to make a beeline for the rail for some retching before I can help at all.

Our progress during the wee hours of the morning had been poor; the winds are still strong against us and the sea is still churning at 15 feet. 

But the sun is out and it's a beautiful day. The giant blue waves sweep gently under the canoe and their beauty mesmerizes me. Everyone seems content. Sure, the stove has broken, so there is no coffee or hot breakfast. The toilet is broken, too. 

“More things have gone wrong on this trip than on our entire trip to Aotearoa [New Zealand]!” pipes Nahaku cheerfully. This was a trip of mishaps, and we’re still a long ways from our destination, making very little progress. We are behind schedule. 

But everyone is happy. We are on the canoe.

“That’s it,” says the captain, after a short discussion with Pwo navigator Chadd ‘Onohi Paishon, “We’re heading for Kawaihae,” a much closer port, on the wrong side of the island from our destination. There is a sense of relief as we turn the canoe downwind and are finally sailing again, using only the jib because the wind is so strong. Kawaihae comes into view, and soon we are mooring, cleaning off the boat, and loading onto the towboat to go ashore.

Friends and family, some of whom have driven over from Hilo, meet us at the dock. An elder comes out onto the narrow dock to meet us, and soon his chanting booms out from behind me. From the shore a response is chanted, and the goosebumps rise up on my skin and my eyes well up with tears. 

It feels like we’ve been at sea for a week or more. It was only three days, and yet I don’t want it to be over, and don’t want to leave this instant family, this wonderful crew that has embraced me, and this craft that has carried me securely on its back.

On shore there is food for us—tons of hot food, Hawaiian food. Crew instructor Pomai Bertelmann, who helped me find my way to this training sail, is there. “So,” she says, “would you do it again?”

When do we leave?

The Hōkūleʻa arrives in the Washington, D.C. area on Sunday, May 15, to the Old Town Waterfront Park Pier, 1A on Prince Street, in Alexandria, Virginia, from noon to 5:00 p.m. The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian celebrates the arrival with a number of programs and film screenings.

Oral history interview with Harlan Butt, 2009 July 27-28

Archives of American Art
Sound recording: 7 sound files (5 hr., 19 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 90 pages

An interview of Harlan W. Butt conducted 2009 July 27-28, by Mija Riedel, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, at Butt's studio, in Ptarmigan Meadows, Colorado.

Harlan Butt speaks of the influence of Asian art on his work; the use of text and imagery in his work; the use of pattern in his work; his undergraduate minor in weaving; the influence of Asian religion and mythology; series The Earth Beneath Our Feet , Garden Anagogies, and Snakes in Heaven; his childhood growing up in Hopewell, New Jersey, near Princeton; undergraduate work at Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; discovery of Buddhism and Eastern religions; his mother's death when he was 20; studying with Stanley Lechtzin and Elliot Pujol at Tyler; graduate school at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; interest in Japanese tea ceremony; more exploration of Zen Buddhism; use of color in his work; studying with L. Brent Kington; reliquary series; move to Connecticut in 1974; second trip to Japan in 1984 to co-curate Kyoto Metal: An Exhibition of Contemporary Japanese Art Metalwork; introduction to Japanese system of artisan apprenticeship; early efforts as a writer and poet; the influence of poet Gary Snyder; summer teaching position at Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; teaching job at San Diego [California] State University in the mid-1970s; rattles and pipes series; exploring the Western landscape; the power of the snake image; taking a teaching position at University of North Texas, Denton (1976- ); first trip to Japan in 1980; differences in artisanal/metalworking practices in Japan and the United States; teaching workshops at various craft schools, Penland School of Crafts, Penland, North Carolina; Haystack School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Maine; and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, compared with teaching in a university; the pros and cons of the gallery system; work with the Nancy Yaw Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan; the challenge of commission work; National Parks Project, Denton Center for the Visual Arts, Denton, Texas; the role of haiku and text in his pieces; series 1,001 Views of Mt. Mu; series Snakes in Heaven; the influence of his wife and children; trip to India and organizing Colour & Light: The Art and Craft of Enamel on Metal, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, 2001; trip to Australia; involvement with the Society of North American Goldsmiths, Enamelist Society, and American Craft Council; subtle issues of environmentalism in his work; his affinity for metalsmithing and enameling. He also recalls [Rudolf] Staffel, Robert Winokur, Italo Scanga, Jan Brooks, Mike Riegel, Rachelle Thiewes, Eleanor Moty, Albert Paley, Shumei Tanaka, Ken Glantz (Ken Chowder), Randy Thelma Coles, Sandy Green, Mickey McCarter, Gene Pijanowski, Hiroko Pijanowski, Toshihiro Yamanaka, Helen Shirk, Ana Lopez, and Sarah Perkins.

After 50 Years of Song, Dance, Food, Even Hog Calling, Is It Still Worthwhile?

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

This article was originally published on Smithsonian.com.

Traditional culture permeates our lives. It includes things like what we eat for breakfast, how we greet our family, and how close or far we stand from other people when we encounter them in public places. UNESCO has described traditional culture—or intangible cultural heritage—as the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills—as well as the associated instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces—that individuals, groups and communities recognize as part of their cultural heritage.

Even in the information age, this living cultural heritage plays an enormous role in the choices we make. For example, where does your name come from, who chose it and why? What rituals does your family do day after day, year after year? As a folklorist, I have spent much of my life studying the ritual expressions of African-inspired religions in Cuba, and wrote a book about how rituals change people. The value of rituals and traditions, though, extends beyond the work of cultural anthropologists and folklorists. Song artists, the home chef, even children singing playground chants are collecting and archiving and sharing important ritual cultural expressions.

This summer the Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrates its 50th anniversary with an exploration of circus arts and the impact of migration over generations. The Festival has long played a role in digging deep into the rich diversity of cultural life in U.S. and around the world to seek it out, record it, archive it and put it before audiences here in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall.

Fifty years into this annual summertime bacchanal of tented events that feature the cultural traditions of food, craft, artistry, music, dance, theater, storytelling and even yes, hog calling, why are we still passionate about it? Why does it still matter when so much of modern life is defined by innovation, speed and profit? To answer these questions and to honor the millions of people who have participated, produced and attended the Festival since 1967, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on its vital role in our society.

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Traditional culture crafts reminds us that everyday people often make extraordinary art in the course of their lives. Culture does not belong only to professional artists, and it does not live only in galleries and museums. Rather, artistic expression lives within and around us all.

Take the example of quilting. In the United States, the tradition of making quilts and handing them down through families has become a major movement. Tens of thousands of people are now involved in quilting. In November 2013, Paducah, Kentucky, was named a UNESCO creative city because of the prevalence of quilting there. Outstanding quilters, such as Carolyn Mazloomi and Mozell Benson, have been honored as National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows.

Traditional cultural expressions bring people together. Whether making music or listening to it, whether building human towers or cooking a family meal, expressive culture unites people in a shared activity where they can experience and reflect upon their lives. Artists and those of us allied with their work have long known that sharing artistic expression creates a strong sense of connection between people, a state that some social scientists call communitas.

“Communitas occurs through the readiness of the people—perhaps the necessity—to rid themselves of their concern for status…and to see their fellows as they are,” writes anthropologist Edith Turner. “Communitas is a group’s pleasure in sharing with one’s fellows.” Local musical traditions from garage bands to more distinctive local genres—folk dancers, festival arts, spoken word, storytelling, building arts, and local food practices—bring people together and are all kept vibrant as they are passed from one person to another.

In fact, some arts advocates have explored the intrinsic impacts of experiencing live performance together, and they found that social bonding is a key outcome. This research reinforces what artists, folklorists, and ethnomusicologists have long known: Witnessing an artistic presentation unites people, especially when it celebrates or sustains some aspect of cultural heritage. These expressions usually link language, cultural practices, symbolic places and historical events. Bringing these cultural assets into play allows people to celebrate, reassert and transform their sense of identity.

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Traditional art forms can provide not only an economic benefit to some communities but it also fortifies practitioners with a tremendous sense of physical well being. In the Basque Country, the famous traditional delicacy Idiazabal cheese has been made from sheep’s milk for generations. Since the United Nations adopted its Millennium Development Goals, people around the world have been actively exploring how cultural heritage can support the livelihoods of communities around the globe. Many countries have created “denominations of origin” to give a market brand identity to traditional food and wine production. The Spanish state codified the process and ingredients to regulate the quality and geographic origins of Idiazabal cheese, a strategy to valorize this local product in the larger market place.

Similarly, the Self-Employed Women’s Association has organized women in Gujarat, India, to document and share local embroidery and textile arts to provide women with additional sources of income; the women became so engaged in celebrating these traditions that they also developed a museum to highlight the best pieces from their community.

The Urban League has explored how local cultural vitality feeds into community development efforts. This work sought “evidence of creating, disseminating, validating, and supporting arts and culture as a dimension of everyday life in communities” to ensure that community-based cultural expressions factored into efforts to reimagine and revitalize communities across the United States.

The Alliance for California Traditional Arts partnered in 2011 with the University of California, Davis, to study the relationship between participation in community arts and health. Their findings make clear that engaging in traditional art forms improves physical and mental health and provides a wide range of social benefits.

It is common, even today, to hear spirituals sung in homes, churches and political events. These prayer-filled anthems and impassioned vocal performances resonate so deeply, connecting people to a past that is dark with longstanding patterns of exclusion and the drive for freedom from slavery.

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African American spirituals allowed enslaved people and their descendants to give voice to both the sufferings of their oppression as well as their yearning and hope for better times. These songs traveled with people as they moved out of slavery and worked through Jim Crow and the civil rights era to create a more equal and just American society. Traditional culture is a uniquely powerful tool for capturing this zeitgeist, it expresses human aspirations, it empowers civic expression and speaks to a brighter future.

For centuries, artists in search of new creative forms of all kinds have sought inspiration in traditional expressions. Professional artists sometimes incorporating its elements directly and at other times improvising based on traditional cultural forms. So-called “high artists” have borrowed and purloined from the endless resources available to them from traditional culture.

In The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare used the folktale motif of the three caskets and in Midsummer Night’s Dream, he sampled from the complex legends of the fairies Oberon and Mab

In Hungary, the renowned composer Béla Bartók tirelessly documented as an ethnomusicologist the musical traditions of his homeland; and the unique sounds of rural Hungry were transposed within his own musical creations.

In his native Palafrugell, along the Costa Brava near Barcelona, the distinguisted Catalan writer Josep Pla in his masterful book, Gray Notebook, taps into café conversation for material. So important is traditional verbal arts to the literary tradition that both William Butler Yeats and Italo Calvino spent decades documenting, editing and publishing collections of folktales. Similarly, contemporary Cuban visual art overflows with images borrowed from the African-inspired religions there.

At its heart, traditional culture revolves around free expression. Communities keep these practices alive to remind themselves of their origins, their histories and their way forward into the future. Individuals use traditional cultural forms to comment on what is happening around them.  

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Freedom of speech—to hold and publicly communicate political opinions—long before it makes its appearance in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has its origin in the Roman Republic. Many civil libertarians advocate for the more expansive freedom of expression—to seek and share information and ideas, regardless of medium—and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ guarantees freedom of expression to all and assures the cultural rights necessary for dignity and the development of the individual.

Legal scholars like Richard Moon focus on the social nature of expression, how it creates relationships between people who in turn foster new knowledge and new directions for communities large and small.  Cultural and artistic expression provides a principal avenue to understand and communicate the most important aspects of our common humanity.

Whether you perform at, or attend, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival; whether you create a wonderful meal for the people you love, or whether you learn from your grandfather how to make a bird call, you are keeping alive cultural traditions and communicating important ideas and values about who you are and where you are headed. To let this communication die without the recognition it has received over the past five decades at the Folklife Festival would be a violation of our identity as people. Supporting it is a simple but powerful act of freedom.

Michael Atwood Mason, director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, is a folklorist whose research explores how people use their cultural traditions to change their lives.

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Main website for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage includes information on the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, educator resources, cultural policy, publications, and exhibitions.

Hibachi Grill

National Museum of American History
After World War II, many newly affluent Americans had the means and desire to travel. They flocked to the tropics, visiting Pacific islands, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, as well as warm places closer to home, including Mexico, California, Hawaii, and Florida. People developed a taste for casual living and the distinctive local foods and drink. Returning home, they re-created these experiences in their new suburban backyards, with patios, tropical drinks, and the grill, where they cooked meals craved by a postwar meat-mad America.

The brick fire pits, huge in-ground pits, and giant community-sized grills used for traditional western and southern barbecues were not compatible with the new suburban yards. Backyard barbecuers favored smaller, more portable tools like the new covered patio grills and Japanese hibachis. By the 1980s and ’90s, they were buying more elaborate grills and smokers, as well as specialized tools, serving paraphernalia, decorative items, and furniture for the outdoors, made by American and Canadian manufacturers. By the late 1950s, American manufacturers and retailers were promoting a huge number of goods made to prepare grilled meals on the patio.

First imported from Japan and Hawaii, and later from Taiwan, this small charcoal-fueled hibachi was perfect for preparing skewered meats and vegetables, perhaps made popular in tropical-themed tiki bars, where customers often grilled their own food at the table. Because of its size, the hibachi was much favored by apartment dwellers that didn’t have big outdoor spaces for the larger grills. As use by Americans grew, so did the size of the hibachis. This double-grill version, made primarily for the U.S. market by the Hibachi Company of Taiwan, was better suited for the enormous steaks favored by American backyard cookout fans over the small pieces of meat or vegetable on a bamboo stick as typically used in Asia.

The hibachi was not the only Asian cooking tool (or foodstuff) adopted by post-war patio cookout fans. The expanding American market for backyard cooking paraphernalia let those fans buy hibachis to use at home for their Americanized versions of newly popular Asian street food.

California - Cultural Destinations

Smithsonian Magazine

It has been said that everyone in California is from someplace else. As a result the state is an astonishing blend of cultures. When chefs mix the offbeat and the conventional, we call it fusion, but when it comes to California's culture, alchemy is a better word. Native American, Asian, European, African, Latino, Midwesterner–pick any and you'll find the heritage thriving in California: celebrating, interacting and producing magic. Within a generation, the slow-cooker that is the Golden State has given us the Grateful Dead, Silicon Valley, Redding's Sundial Bridge, lowriding, the gay pride rainbow flag, and Dogtown skateboarders. The powerful rhythms of African drum-dancing on one stage, the sweet cymbal surprise of the Korean nabich'urr (butterfly dance) on another, the happy triumph of Cinco de Mayo dancers and trumpets on a third—California is a party where the world plays host.

One of the state's greatest attributes is its diversity. California's immigrant populations lend a flare to the state that you won't find anywhere else. Here, 39% of the population speaks a language other than English at home, meaning California has more foreign language speakers than any other state in the country. On city streets from San Francisco to Los Angeles, you'll hear Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Tagalog, Russian, Italian and more.

One result of this incredible diversity is California's vast array of cultural sights and activities. You can explore Chinese American history in California's Gold Country, delve into Mexican music at San Jose's Mexican Heritage Plaza or wander the streets of San Diego's Asian Pacific Thematic Historic District. Asian American culture livens up the San Francisco Bay Area, where you'll find the world's largest Chinese New Year celebrations, Asian art museums and outstanding Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese restaurants. Mexican radio stations echo through the air, from San Diego to the San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

California also has incredibly rich African American culture, which you can tap into by visiting sites that run the cultural gamut from the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, to Oakland's Your Black Muslim Bakery. Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park in the Central Valley is one of the best-known parks with African American ties. Allensworth, an Army chaplain, educator and orator, was born into slavery. Through his desire to succeed, he founded a farming community in the San Joaquin Valley that was owned and governed by African Americans.Whether it's hard-hitting hip-hop boiling up from the streets of south-central LA, or mellow rhythm-and-blues emanating from a club in San Francisco's Fillmore District, African American music is an integral part of California's musical landscape.

And then, of course, there's the food. In the 1970s, chefs like Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck revolutionized cooking in the United States, using fusion techniques and the freshest ingredients to kick off the culinary movement known as "California Cuisine". Thanks to Waters' legacy and the state's burgeoning immigrant population (primarily Mexican and Asian), California has become one of the world's most exciting places to eat.

Major Cities

Vibrant and cutting edge, chaotic yet undeniably beautiful, California's biggest cities have a unique way of combining culture, nature and the 21st century, offering visitors unforgettable urban experiences.

Los Angeles
For many visitors, Los Angeles embodies the very essence of California: Hollywood, Beverly Hills, beautiful people, sunny weather, automobiles and beaches galore. It lives up to every expectation. But there's more: Latino culture, rocking bars, fabulous food, fascinating modern architecture and one of the country's hottest art scenes. California's biggest city is a must-see.

San Diego
With its eternally perfect ocean breeze, San Diego boasts one of the country's most blissful climates—and San Diegans know it. With its beautiful waterfront and miles of coastline, you'll have no problem enjoying it right along with them. Less than an hour from the U.S.-Mexico border, San Diego is infused with Mexican culture that gives it a unique twist. The city's historic Gaslamp Quarter, the epicenter of San Diego's nightlife, is one of the city's highlights.

San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge, the fog, the beautiful wooden houses, the parks—there's no denying San Francisco is one of the world's most beautiful cities. It's easy to walk (if you don't mind the hills) and exceptionally friendly. From the restaurants of North Beach and China Town to the coffee shops of the Mission District, exploring this city of neighborhoods could fill weeks on end.

San Jose
Immediately south of San Francisco, the city of San Jose is actually California's third largest city. It's the heart of the Silicon Valley, where technology reigns supreme. Northeast of San Francisco lies Sacramento, the state's capital and its seventh largest city. In terms of population, it's right behind Long Beach (just south of Los Angeles) and the city of Fresno, the cultural and economic heart of California's Central Valley.

Teak Tray, about 1965

National Museum of American History
Tropical hardwoods such as koa, monkeypod, and teak became popular in the 1950s and ’60s as a material for serving bowls, platters, and utensils, as well as for outdoor furniture. This teakwood tray has “Polynesian” decorations, similar to those found on glassware and other serving dishes in tiki and beach bars. This serving ware was designed to hold the Hawaiian, Asian, and Caribbean snacks of a pupu platter (snacks, canapés, appetizers, hors d’oeuvres) served with the mai tais, daiquiris, Singapore Slings, and hurricanes also popular with tiki followers.

Wearing the aloha shirts and muumuus acquired on trips to Hawaii, men and women of the 195’s and later would serve these new foods added to their home repertoires from the tiki bar food (vaguely Asian and Caribbean) made popular by Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s restaurants. The popularity of many of these dishes and drinks, still served in revival tiki bars and in hundreds of Chinese Cantonese restaurants, is indisputable. Baby barbecued pork ribs, shrimp toast, chicken “drumettes,” chicken livers and water chestnuts (rumaki), all sorts of things skewered such as terayaki meat grilled on bamboo sticks, all dunked in “duck” sauce or soy sauce, dumplings (dim sum), vegetable and seafood tempuras, fried shrimp, anything with pineapple, chicken wings, eggrolls, and others came to be in the basic repertoire of American bar food.

Giant Christmas Displays Are Taking Over Malls Throughout Asia

Smithsonian Magazine

At the Pavilion Kuala Lumpur mall in Malaysia, a Christmas tree towers 75 feet over holiday shoppers. But its height isn’t the most interesting thing about it—nor is the fact that it’s the first of its kind at the mall. Rather, the secret is in its sparkles: It’s made of 175,000 glittering Swarovski crystals, separated into 3,100 six-and-a-half-foot strands and valued at about $700,000. A nightly snowstorm at the mall’s winter garden entrance adds to the luxurious holiday ambience.

The over-the-top tree, which took about six months to go from conception to creation, is just one of hundreds of similar displays at shopping malls across east Asia, where Christmas fever has taken over with force. Asian shoppers’ hunger for all things holiday isn’t necessarily about Christmas itself—indeed, the region’s main religions are Hindu, Islam and Buddhism. Rather, Christmas’ appeal to mallgoers seems to lie in a combination of local love for shopping malls and an overwhelming desire to celebrate.

“Shoppers in Asia yearn for a unique experience each time there is a festival celebration,” Joyce Yap, CEO of retail at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, tells Smithsonian.com. Yap says that people tend to plan gatherings and outings at malls to celebrate festive occasions like Christmas. She says that social media also fuels a growing demand for highly attractive holiday displays—more than half of global social media users are in the Asia Pacific region.

Malls in Asia are increasingly becoming mega-destinations that include movie theaters, banks, restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, zoos and more. In Malaysia alone, shopping centers encompass 100 million square feet and about $33 billion in real estate value. Given that eight of the world’s top ten malls are in Asia, it’s a logical place to get into the holiday spirit in extravagant style.

The displays are spectacular indeed. One mall in Tokyo had a Godzilla-shaped tree that breathes smoke and a glittery display of trees and landscape lighting out front. In recent years, Christmas mall displays in Hong Kong (for a century, a British colony) have included everything from two-story-tall polar bears to a Central Park-inspired indoor park with light-up bicycles, an entire Christmas town, and an Andy Warhol-themed display of soup cans. Shoppers in Malaysia have enjoyed a Christmas bazaar under a giant holiday dinner table, humongous hot air balloons, a sparkling indoor forest, a candy village, giant Lego displays, and a fairy-themed indoor town. In China, developers are even building a replica of Finland’s famed SantaPark to satisfy the Christmas-loving masses.

This obsession with Christmas decorating may also be partially related to the absorption of some aspects of American culture. Robert Foyle Huwick of The Atlantic writes that about 275,000 Chinese students participate in study abroad programs in the United States each year, then bring American Christmas traditions back with them in order to combat solemn, serious traditional fetes with opportunities to party and shop. Expat culture also makes the holiday look pretty appealing, especially in places like Hong Kong, which is home to over 300,000 expatriates. The holiday is celebrated across the region without religious context; rather it’s an excuse for friends and family to get together and have a good time. Given the grandeur of the continent’s many Christmas celebrations—and the widely reported death of the traditional American shopping mall—there’s perhaps never been a better time to head to an east Asian shopping mall for a dose of outrageous good cheer.

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