Make your own drum, march to its beat

KAPAA — There was only one elk hide in a room full of buffalo and horse at David Craig’s Native American drum workshop, held at the Center for Spiritual Living in Kapaa over the last weekend in January.

I ended up with it draped over my 16-inch, round rosewood frame.

Ron Lemay, one of the other workshop attendees, took one look and said he was impressed.

“Nobody rides an elk,” he said.

I mentioned I’m not too sure who rides a buffalo.

My drum did sound a bit more wild than the others after we’d finished making them, though — at least to me.

Craig, who hails from Western Washington, just outside of Mount Rainier National Park, is part of the Little Shell Tribe, which is a Chippewa band that is headquartered in Great Falls, Montana.

He’s been coming to Kauai for at least 15 years, he said, performing at the annual September Powwow.

“I’m a sun dancer,” Craig said, “so that’s what got me hooked up with Kauai. And now we have so many extended family members here, we have places to stay and we run into people (we know) on the street.”

Holding drum workshops is something he started on the side, after several years of attending the powwows. Now he occasionally lands on the island, loaded with hides and drum rounds, ready to share his traditional Chippewa knowledge of drum making.

“The drum is worldwide, indigenous people use them all over the world,” Craig said. “We (the Chippewa) use them as a tool of prayer, for celebration, and to relax and lower your own heart rate. There are many benefits.”

The ways to make a drum are as numerous and varied as the benefits of playing one, Craig said.

“I’m just teaching you what I was taught,” he said. “Other tribes and other cultures have different ways, but really it’s all the same.”

Usually Craig brings cedar or pine drum rounds, which are the traditional woods used because they are soft and easy to work with, he said.

But when the opportunity came up to use rosewood, he couldn’t turn it down.

“I like rosewood because it’s the wood that we use for our cradleboards,” Craig said. “The protective band is always made of rosewood. It’s beautiful smelling and it protects the baby’s head.”

The hides that we used for the top of the drums all came from animals in the Pacific Northwest, Craig said. Even the hair that was used for the head of the drumbeater came from buffalo that live down the road from his land.

After a smudging ceremony, performed with sage and two feathers from the wing of a golden eagle, Craig and his assistant, Tim Fobes, taught us how to attach the hides to the drum rounds using strips of leftover rawhide that were soaking.

The weaving technique is very much like sewing.

The entire process took around two hours. Every drum maker put their personal touch into their drum — and no two looked the same.

“When you take it home, it’ll talk to you as it tightens,” said Michael Fox, one of the event organizers. “You’ll hear it pinging once in awhile.”

Another organizer, Carrie Fox, said it’s fun to look for shapes in the drum face as it dries.

The Foxes, who have made drums with Craig in his workshops before, said the shapes in their drums changed as they aged.

People at this workshop were seeing images of turtles, buffalo and the ocean in their drums.

All I’ve seen in mine so far is the blurry face of an old woman. She doesn’t look too happy. Maybe she’ll change her tune, as the drum gets a little older.

Though he’s on the island at least once a year, Craig doesn’t schedule regular workshops on Kauai. But he can be reached through his website,


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