WASHINGTON – The way Kawai Hoe plays his flutes might seem odd to a piccolo player attending the First Americans Festival – he plays them through his nose.
But that is normal for Native Hawaiians Kawai,25,and his father,Calvin,59,both of the island of Oahu,because they play Hawaiian nose flutes. Instead of mouthpieces,these instruments have a small hole for air from the nose.
“Basically it's sounds of the environment,” Kawai said Thursday about the bamboo and gourd flutes and his family's other nature-exalting instruments – conch shells,gourd drums and ka'eke'ekes – bamboo percussion pipes.
The Hoes are joining other indigenous father-and-son teams – including the Herreras and the Pipestems – playing music and making instruments at the festival on the National Mall,celebrating this week's opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
Calvin and Kawai announced the beginning of the celebration with a blast of the conch in the opening Native Nations Procession Tuesday.
While Kawai filled his cheeks and released a steady stream of air through a foot-long conch shell Thursday,three children covered their ears to soften the shell's resounding hum.
Aidan Hancock,a 6-year-old from Frederick,Md.,was fascinated with Kawai's “gentle and beautiful” music.
“How do you do that?” she asked with a smile on her face.
With a peacefully resonant voice reminiscent of the shell's sound,Kawai told Aidan,“You just blow – like a trumpet.”
Though this week's festivities have showcased diversity and camaraderie among native cultures,Calvin has celebrated his No. 1 priority – family.
“When you're related,there's responsibility,” he said. “Friends can say,‘I don't want to be your friend anymore,' but with family,you can't say,‘I don't want to be family anymore.'”
Like the Hoes,the Herrera family shared its bond the way 24-year-old Carlos has his entire life – making drums.
“Drum making gives me and my family a way to connect with each other,” he said,adding that it also connects him to his culture.
The drums – ranging in diameter from less than 1 inch to 2 feet – take months to create. The Herreras make the drums using cow or elk hide,Aspen or Cottonwood trees and a lot of attention to detail.
Carlos and his father,Arnold,65,are from the Cochiti Pueblo of New Mexico. From removing hair by burying the hides in the sand to hollowing the wood with a hammer and chisel,they use the same methods as the first drum-making Herrera,Carlos' late grandfather,Jim.
“It's a vital part of our culture,” Arnold said. “It's woven into the fabric. In school,they dissect everything – they don't bring them all together.”
The Herreras weren't the only father-son drum-making duo at the festival. Rock Pipestem,32,and his son,Kingston,12,both of Norman,Okla.,were making an Indian pow-wow drum just a few feet away.
However,their drum differs from those made by the Herreras. The pow-wow drum is much larger because it is played by a group of people.
When the Pipestems finish the drum,they will donate it to the museum. Although Rock wants to include a piece of his tribe,Otoe-Missouria,in the museum,he said parting with his creation will be difficult.
“Anytime you work hard on something,you don't want to let it go that quickly,” he said.
The festival will continue through Sunday. For more information on the festival and museum,visit www.AmericanIndian.si.edu.