Sunday, November 6, 2011

Kangaroo Skin Drums

The Hiker copyright 2011-Seven Roads Gallery

The Makah tribe of Native Americans live as far west and north as one can travel in the United States.  I travel across the country to Neah Bay, the main settlement of the Makah.  I'm looking for a drum maker named Greg Colfax.  My ex-wife and I  are staying at the only motel in town.  The floor sags. Walking across the room is like walking on a piece of plywood too thin for my weight.  It's like walking on water. Given the proximity to the ocean and the Northwest Coast rain forest climate where moss hangs in huge conifers lining the road, I am most likely walking on water under the floor.  After a warning from a tribal elder to avoid so and so, because he wasn't honest, I thank this person for the advice. I've been given directions to Greg's home.  Colfax is carving something in his living room.He's well known as a carver, drum maker and canoe maker  There are wood shavings strewn over the carpet. He's trying to light a fire in the wood stove with a propane torch.  I make a note of this trick the next time I need to start a fire in a wood stove.

There's a large biker type man sitting in an easy chair adjacent to the wood stove.  He's wearing a leather brimmed hat like the ones that golfers wear.  Colfax introduces him as, my "friend Tiny".  I note the size disparity and wonder after previous warnings about avoiding certain tribal members.  Greg mentions that he has a source for kangaroo skins.  I commission him to make and paint drums sell at my trading post.  He makes two sets of drums. The paintings are executed in traditional Northwest Coast style colors.

The nature of kangaroo skin is that it's light weight and extremely durable.  The hand drums I make from deer, elk and cowhide are laced together with 8 laces across the frame connected to a perimeter lace woven through the edge of the rawhide stretched across a 9 or 12 ply laminate wood frame.  Colfax uses only two laces.  

The rule of rawhide drums is the thinner the skin the higher the pitch.  Goatskin bohrans(Irish drums) have the highest pitch save for some odd thing out of Africa made from squirrel or muskrat-some strange critter. Playing bodhrans in a group produces overtones that sound like angels singing  with the drummers.  It is a stunning effect.  When I played my own Lightning Bolt painted elk hide drum from Thunder Studio from California at a memorial service for Aids victims, people were moved to tears because of the resonant deep throaty sound bouncing off the walls and ceiling of the church where the service was held.  The kangaroo skin drums are the exception to the rule. Light weight, thin skin and deep resonant voice. 

The story of the painting on the three drums is as follows.

Colfax is in Colorado. I have forgotten the nature of his visit.  He is performing in front of an audience.  A man comes out of the audience after the show and relates a story I have named "The Hiker".  

The hiker is walking through a national forest.  On his sojourn he spots a wolf. The first drum pictures that the wolves spotted him long before he noticed he was being followed.  The hiker attempts to follow the wolf.  Both hiker and wolf have pained expressions ( my interpretation)  regarding the encounter.  After a considerable walk the man finds himself in a large open clearing.  He notices wolves encircle him at all points of the compass.  In relating this story to Colfax, the man who experienced the encounter with the wolves says that for the period of time he was surrounded-he doesn't detail the exact amount of time-he experienced a trove of emotions from abject fear to extreme elation. Then without a visible signal, the wolves trot off.  The hiker man is deeply humbled from the experience. 


Anonymous said...

Beautiful tale of the drums - and the graphics are gorgeous. I didn't realize you made drums. I had the privilege of listening to some drum groups playing at a local Pow Wow this summer. It was beautiful stuff.

Gavrillo said...

Drum maker is what I list for occupation on any employment form. Really throws people off. So does the ne're do well.

Anonymous said...

I have a hard time believing you're a ne'er do well. You do quite well with whatever you set out to do.

Gavrillo said...

Did you notice I spelled ne'er wrong. It's a perfect example of never do well. I am good at banter, however.