Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Children and their families will learn how to dance the salsa, sample traditional Haitian cuisine and see how old-style fishing boats are built during the 38th annual Folklife Festival, which begins today.

The 10-day outdoor festival, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, takes place on the Mall between Seventh and 14th streets NW. It will run from today through Sunday and from June 30 through July 4.

This year’s programs are: “Haiti: Freedom and Creativity from the Mountains to the Sea,” “Nuestra Musica: Music in Latino Culture” and “Water Ways: Charting a Future for Mid-Atlantic Maritime Communities.”

All events are free.

The Haitian exhibit features the arts, music, foods, storytelling and craft traditions of the nation. It also shows how Haitians cultivate their food and prepare traditional meals.

“We would like people to come away from this festival with the perception of the wealth, richness and diversity of the Haitian culture,” said Patrick Delatour, 55, a historic architect from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. “We are creative and have adapted whatever resources it is that we have had to our survival.”

Visitors also can see how masks are made, attend workshops on movement and music, and work with clay and straw under the supervision of traditional potters. Musical performances include the ritual drumming and dancing of vodou.

The Nuestra Musica exhibit brings together dozens of musicians, instrument makers, dancers and storytellers who will explore how the historical roots and contemporary issues of Hispanic culture are reflected in music and dance.

Featured music traditions include Texas-Mexican “conjunto,” New Mexican music that has its origins in the Spanish colonial period; Puerto Rican music, which combines both African and Hispanic sounds; and popular California traditions such as the mariachi.

Visitors also can participate in a variety of dance workshops, where they can learn to dance the salsa, the varsoviana, which is a couple’s dance from New Mexico, and a zapateado jarocho, which is a dance with rigorous footwork from Veracruz, Mexico.

The Water Ways exhibit focuses on the coastal region from New York’s Long Island through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The festival features 75 commercialfishermen, boat builders, waterfowl hunting guides, net makers and others who have worked the oceans, bays, rivers and marshlands of the Mid-Atlantic for generations.

“We are building a boat this weekend to show visitors a tradition our area has,” said Heber Guthrie, 53, a volunteer at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum on Harkers Island, N.C. “North Carolina is well-known for its boat building, and we want to show people how we build boats down here.”

The emphasis of the Water Ways program is on what lies ahead for these coastal areas. They face common struggles: a decline in commercial fishing, shifts in population as more vacationers buy waterfront property and wetlands giving way to development.

“It’s just trying to capture some of it and show it before it’s gone,” said Tim Howard, the third-generation owner of a crab-picking house in Crisfield, Md., that closed in 1999 after 50 years of business. Mr. Howard, who lives on the lower Eastern Shore, will tell stories of now nearly extinct crab houses.

“The seafood business is down to practically nothing here. I’m looking right now at a condo going up right in front of me,” Mr. Howard said.

Visitors can learn how to repair commercial fishing nets, make crab pots, identify and cook regional fish, read nautical charts and make duck calls. They will see the traditional ways of bait fishing and making rod and reels. On July 3, a boat-restoration exhibit will culminate with the installation of a mast on an authentic 70-foot Chesapeake skipjack.

Delaware’s tall ship the Kalmar Nyckel is in town until Sunday and offers tours and public sails, along with three other watercraft. The Kalmar Nyckel is a replica of a ship built in 1625.

“We entertain by teaching people history, letting them sail the ship and singing them sea songs,” said the ship’s captain, David W. Hiott IV of New Castle, Del.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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