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Community Collections Grants: “And We are Still Here:” Stories of Resilience and Sustainability from Houma Culture Bearers in Louisiana

Below is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog by Folklife Specialist Guha Shankar who interviews Community Collections Grant recipient Professor Tammy Greer (and team) about their project, “And We are Still Here:” Stories of Resilience and Sustainability from Houma Culture Bearers in Louisiana. This post is part of the Of the People blog series featuring the 2022 awardees of the AFC’s Community Collections Grants. The Community Collections Grants program is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path initiative, which seeks to create new opportunities for more Americans to engage with the Library of Congress and to add their perspectives to the Library’s collections, allowing the national library to share a more inclusive American story.

An action photo of Monique Verdin (interviewer), Kaliq Sims (videographer) and R.J. Molinere (artist) travel around Lake Long, behind Grand Bois, in an airboat, July 2022. Photo by Tammy Greer.

Monique Verdin (interviewer), Kaliq Sims (videographer) and R.J. Molinere (artist) travel around Lake Long, behind Grand Bois, in an airboat, July 2022. Photo by Tammy Greer.

Professor Tammy Greer’s project is a wide ranging, multi-site survey of material culture traditions still practiced in Houma communities in Louisiana. In her Community Collections Grant application, Professor Greer described a number of the arts and crafts pursued by her fellow citizens of the United Houma Nation and the natural resources they rely upon to maintain their ways of life. She noted: “Many of our tribal members still live off the land and practice traditional crafts such as basket weaving, wood carving, blowgun construction, palmetto hut construction, and moss doll making. The native plants, including palmetto, cane, white oak, long leaf pine needles, cypress and cedar, used for basket-making, are still available along the bayous as are the black walnut, honey locust, red oak and other native trees used for carving.” In my interview with her, she elaborated on the progress that she and project team members – documentarians Monique Verdin and Kaliq Sims, and Houma traditional artist, Janie Luster – have made since they launched the initiative in Summer 2022.

A promotional graphic featuring a portrait photograph of Community Collections Grant recipient Professor Tammy GreerIn your proposal for the grant project, you noted that your documentation of Houma cultural practices seeks to encompass not just artistic practices, but also broader historical and social factors that continue to pose major challenges to your community’s lifeways. You stated: Our culture, including our material culture, values, knowledge of the land and community cohesion are threatened.Your intended approach to bring these critical issues into the light was to have practitioners articulate their experiences about Houma cultural history, environmental degradation, and generational change. How has this approach actually worked out in the course of your fieldwork?

It has been surprising, but also heartwarming, that our tribal artists have been very open with us. The information we have gathered covered more territory than I expected. Most elders spoke about segregation in the public school system that they, themselves, experienced, with Houma Natives having their own schools and an 8th grade limit in those Native schools. Most elders spoke about how access to native plants, and other materials needed for their art, is becoming increasingly harder to navigate. Most spoke about the rising bayous and coastal waters, and about more frequent and increasingly devastating hurricanes. They spoke about the loss of understanding of our cultural ways, especially among youth. And, as well, they spoke of their art forms – half-hitch coil palmetto baskets, cypress baskets, four-strand braided palmetto baskets, wood carvings, palmetto huts, clay ovens, wattle and daub huts, and Spanish moss dolls.

For instance, this video compilation of excerpts from project interviews provides a sense of the range of Houma community perspectives and topics – not to mention the unexpected hilarity that sometimes occurs in the course of fieldwork!

Read the rest of the interview here!

Community Collections Grants: An Interview with Mark “Boots” Lupenui

Below is an excerpt from an interview by Folklife Specialist Guha Shankar with Community Collections Grant recipient Mark “Boots” Lupenui entitled, “Heirloom Songs” from Kohala, Hawai’i: Documenting a Fragile Musical Legacy, as part of a series on the Library’s Of the People blog featuring the 2022 awardees of the AFC’s Community Collections Grants program. The […]

Happy Holidays: AFC’s 2022 Video Mummers’ Play

Happy Holidays from the American Folklife Center! In this blog post, you can enjoy our 2022 holiday mummers’ play.  As you may know, every year, in the week of the Library’s holiday party, staff members of the American Folklife Center put our research and performance skills into play, bringing collections to life in a dramatic performance that tours the halls of the Library of Congress.  Dressed in costumes that range from striking to silly, we sing, act, rhyme, and dance for other Library staff members and for members of the public. Our performances are based on the ancient tradition of mumming, which has come down to our archive in the form of play scripts, songs, photos, and other items collected in the early twentieth century. This year’s play was called The Flute of Ice: A Mumming from the Vault. This blog post includes the video, the script, explanatory notes, and still photos from the performance and dress rehearsal.

The American Folklife Center: 2022 in Review

As 2022 draws to a close, we at the American Folklife Center want to take time to reflect on a year devoted to deepening our commitment to community-centered stewardship, adapting to hybrid work and planning for the future. The year was marked by the Library’s return to full onsite operations, leadership transitions, and moves to new public and staff spaces that make way for the transformation of the Jefferson Building. The year brought waves of change and staff rose to the challenge. Read about the year’s highlights in this blog post from AFC’s new director!

The Truth Behind the Hanukkah Dreidel: Metafolklore, Play, and Spin

Hanukkah this year will be celebrated from December 18 to December 26. Jewish children all over the world will be playing a gambling game with a traditional spinning top known as a dreidel. Many of them will also be told stories about the origin and meaning of the dreidel, stories which claim that the dreidel once had a subversive purpose or that it was created to commemorate a great miracle. These stories are themselves interesting folklore. Since the dreidel is a traditional toy used to play a traditional game, such stories about the dreidel and game can be called metafolklore–that is, folklore about folklore. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some of these stories about the origin of the dreidel and examine the toy’s real history.

Mumming Up 2022: AFC Mummers on December 13

The American Folklife Center Mummers will present their annual mummers’ play in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, 10 1st Street SE in Washington, DC, at 1:00 and  3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 13. This year’s play is called The Flute of Ice: A Mumming From the Vault. It’s 1816 and President Madison visits the North Pole Library to deposit a flute made of ice! But soon Father Christmas, the North Pole Librarian, and Dr. Joculus have to deal with dueling monsters. Will their celebrity guest get to play the flute before it melts? The American Folklife Center’s annual holiday play incorporates traditional songs, music, and folk drama from Library of Congress collections for a zany and fun time in the Great Hall. It’s open to the public, so come on in and see us perform!

Botkin Folklife Lecture Premiere: Steve Zeitlin

The Poetry of Everyday Life: Reflections of an Urban Folklorist. Welcome to a video premiere in the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series! This lecture features folklorist Steve Zeitlin, the founding director of City Lore, one of America’s leading research centers for the documentation of urban folklife and grassroots culture. You’ll find the video embedded below! In his lecture, Steve eloquently reflects on his career, recounts some of his most meaningful projects, and discusses the relationship of folklore to everyday language and speech in contemporary America. Drawing on his experiences as both a folklorist and a poet, he discusses how colloquial speech and shared verbal art forms like poetry work to preserve cultural heritage and create community in a complex metropolitan landscape like New York and, more broadly, throughout 21st-century America.

Caught My Ear: The Lullaby That Came to Symbolize the Exodus of Cuba’s Children

During her internship here at the American Folklife Center, Elisa Alfonso had the opportunity to explore many wonderful digital collections here at the Library of Congress. In particular she found many versions of a Spanish-language lullaby, “Señora Santana,” and noted fascination variations among versions, suggesting that a version collected primarily from Cuban Americans has become a vessel through which migrants talk about the sensations of trauma and loss that come with childhood forced migration. Read her observations, and hear several versions of the song, in her guest post.

Community Collection Grants: R&B Urban Line Dancing on “Of the People”

Below is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog highlighting artist, documentarian, and AFC Community Collections Grant recipient Karen Abdul-Malik, also known professionally as Queen Nur. It is part of an “Of the People blog” series featuring the 2022 awardees of the American Folklife Center’s Community Collections Grants program. Abdul-Malik’s project focuses […]

A Seminar for Strathmore Artist in Residence Grad School

Thanks to an ongoing partnership between the American Folklife Center and the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, Maryland, fourteen young musicians were treated to a multi-media feast of collection materials significant to jazz history from three different divisions in the Library of Congress during their in-person visit on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. Read all about it in Folklife Today!