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From Texas to Bhutan in a Day
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival takes us near and far
Joan Dawson (joanied40)     Print Article 
Published 2008-07-07 08:17 (KST)   
Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall.
©2008 Joan Dawson

There are certain events Washingtonians never fail to miss: the cherry blossoms, the film fests and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Now in its 42nd year, the Folklife rarely disappoints. This year was no exception.

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The Folklife Festival presents the cultural traditions of a nation, region, state or group to 1-million-plus visitors. Since 1967, the festival has highlighted the culture of over 90 nations, every region of the US, hundreds of American Indian groups, dozens of ethnic communities and a wide variety of occupations.

To ensure authenticity, the festival brings representatives from these groups to the nation's capital. These folks then conduct educational sessions or perform in activities on the National Mall that demonstrate their culture; these may include music, dance, performance, crafts, cooking demos and storytelling. Festivalgoers are always highly encouraged to participate.

This year, the festival presented the traditions of the Lone Star state of Texas, the Himalayan country of Bhutan and the stellar work of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It is not often you can meet a Texan in a cowboy hat, a Bhutanese in traditional garb and a NASA scientist all in one day! Luckily, no one suffers from culture shock going from one section of the festival to the other!

The festival lasts almost two weeks and always overlaps with the Fourth of July holiday. I went yesterday, July 5 and spent about two hours there. I checked out the dancehalls of Texas first. Music is an integral part of the Texan lifestyle.

Texas music for the cowboys and cowgirls.
©2008 Joan Dawson

According to the Smithsonian's Web site, music is the "glue that draws people together, encourages them to stay, and invites them to join in. At weddings, anniversaries, community festivals, ethnic celebrations, church events, backyard social gatherings, local clubs, and dancehalls, Texans of all stripes come together to eat, drink, and enjoy the music."

Indeed, the music was lively. After the dancehall, I saw the cooking demonstrations, wine making and barbeques, all offering to tempt our senses. Then this urban cowgirl moseyed on over to the Bhutanese section.

Monks demonstrate their artistic skills.
©2008 Joan Dawson

Bhutanese temple.
©2008 Joan Dawson

Considering there were no roads in Bhutan until the 1960s and no access to planes until a few decades ago, this reporter for one was grateful that more than 100 Bhutanese came to Washington, D.C., to share their culture with us.

Incense-making demonstration.
©2008 Joan Dawson

Bhutanese woman demonstrating weaving.
©2008 Joan Dawson

Just by taking a local bus to the festival, I was transported to Bhutan, a country that is situated between China and India. I saw their archery skills, artistic inclinations and spirituality displayed. I touched their traditional cloth and learned about the labor and time (nine months to make a dress) needed to make a garment. I tasted their cuisine: Jasha Maroo, a delicious minced chicken and dumpling dish with rice. Typically, Bhutanese food is spicy, but this dish was rather moderate. I then went from spice-to-space: I finished my meal and headed to NASA.

Jasha Maroo, a chicken and rice dish.
©2008 Joan Dawson

While I was wandering around the freeze-dried food demonstrations, walking through life-sized shuttles and seeing kids doing scientific experiments, I happened to hear one of my favorite music genres: a cappella.

NASA spaceship "float."
©2008 Joan Dawson

I headed to the stage and sat down to listen to several songs performed by the Chromatics. Out of the six members, three work at NASA. They have combined their love of music and science to form an a cappella group that believes music can help us learn about space and science.

Educational sessions in the "space station."
©2008 Joan Dawson

I am not sure if I walked away with more scientific knowledge than I came with, but I certainly walked away with a greater appreciation for those who shared so much of their traditions, lives and passions with us today. Now, if only my bus ride home could be so stimulating!
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Joan Dawson

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