The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an international exposition of living cultural heritage. Initiated in 1967, the Festival has become a national and international model of a research-based presentation of contemporary living cultural traditions. Over the years, it has brought more than twenty-three thousand musicians, artists, performers, craftspeople, workers, cooks, storytellers, and others to the National Mall to demonstrate the skills, knowledge, and aesthetics that embody the creative vitality of community-based traditions.
Usually divided into programs featuring a nation, region, state, or theme, the Festival has featured exemplary tradition bearers from more than ninety nations, every region of the United States, scores of ethnic communities, more than a hundred American Indian groups, and some seventy different occupations.
Produced annually outdoors on the National Mall the Festival takes place for two weeks every summer overlapping the Fourth of July holiday. Attending for the third year, the Festival has become part of our summer traditions.
This year China and Kenya were the two featured nations. More than one hundred artists and culture bearers were featured in the program.
Zhang Wenzhi is a kite maker from Gangzha District, Nantong City, Jiangsu Province. Growing up, he became interested in the craftsmanship of the region’s distinctive banyao (board snipe) whistle kite—large kites fitted with carved bamboo or gourd whistles that sound in the wind when carried aloft.
Pan Yuzhen (foreground) and her daughter Zhang Hongying (background) represented Maio Embroidery from the Guizhou Province. Pan Yuzhen began learning the embroidery traditions from her mother when she was seven. In Miao communities, embroiderers record their history and culture in the embroidery on their clothing.
“The embroidered patterns are about the story of the ancestor of mankind. By embroidering his story on clothes and the cloth with which we carry our babies and singing songs about his story, we believe that he will protect us and our children.”
– Pan Yuzhen, Miao embroiderer
Li Xingxiu is an Qiang embroiderer, designer, and entrepreneur from the village of Pinggou, Mao County, Sichuan Province. She first learned the embroidery traditions of her Qiang ethnic community from her mother when she was six years old. Since 2003, her company, Qiang Village Embroidery Workshop, has employed local embroiderers to produce her designs and patterns.
“Through embroidery, women feed their families with their hands. After the earthquake, it became an even more important means to help women gain income and support their families.”
Kenya is a country of deeply rooted traditions and a vibrant cultural crossroads. Some of the oldest artifacts of human communities have been discovered in Kenya, making the East African country truly a cradle of humanity.
Photographed below is a member of the Oriang women’s pottery group made up of more than fifty members who use indigenous techniques of molding clay to make pots. This group was formed over thirty years ago to help promote, preserve, and safeguard the cultural heritage of the Luo community.
“The stories we tell. The flavors we cherish. The songs we sing. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival provides a vibrant platform for all this and more.”
Text courtesy of Smithsonian Folklife Festival website, July 2014