John Waghiyi plays his drum while his son Aavlan dances. John and his wife, Arlene, made the Eskimo drum from walrus stomach and the frame from hickory. It's a Siberian Yupiak style drum. John is from Savoonga, AK. on St. Lawrence Island.

“If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.” HENRY DAVID THOREAU

Last Friday night, I wanted to watch the performance of Native dancing as part of the Alaska Federation of Natives 2010 Conference (the week of Oct. 18 through Oct. 23, 2010) in downtown Fairbanks. I had no ride. I called for a cab: $50 one way. I decided to miss the dancing and I was decidedly sad.

On Saturday, the last day of the conference, my friend, Kathy, bless her heart, picked me up and we went to the Arts and Crafts show at the AFN. I’m new to Alaska and unfamiliar with the traditions and artistic work of Native Alaskans. The room was packed with vendors and shoppers. I barely made it down one row of vendors. I stopped to buy a set of handmade deerskin baby booties with black and orange glass seed beads from Tonya Esmailka. I purchased them as a gift for Milo Peterman, born Sept. 14, 2010 in Seattle. His mother, Melanthia, is a dear friend and the secretary on the board of my nonprofit, Isis Initiative, Inc.

Tonya Esmailka poses with the baby booties she made from deerskin and glass seed beads. Tonya attended the Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Fairbanks the week of Oct. 18 through Oct. 23, 2010.

I stopped to look at some gorgeous masks. I like to buy a piece of artwork when I move to a new town and a new home and I thought I’d found the perfect piece. I hesitated briefly and a young man walked up and purchased the very mask that had enchanted me.

I moved on, reluctantly.

At the end of the row, I found John Waghiyi at the last table. He had carvings and two drums–what I thought were drums–on his table. And no prices. I wondered if the pieces were for sale. I hesitated. Then I asked about the drums. Again, enchanted.

One drum was larger and round, at least 12 inches in diameter, probably more. The other was smaller and shaped like a wide shovel or fan. John picked it up, then picked up a slender piece of wood, curved slightly, and began to gently tap the drum with it.

A young boy turned toward the sound and looked up at John then began to dance, with a cadenced step/stomp and hand gestures. A small crowd gathered. John played and the boy, his son Aavlan, danced. When they finished, I learned John had made the drum with his wife, Arlene, from walrus stomach and the frame from hickory. It’s a Siberian Yupiak style drum.

They killed the walrus this past May. It takes three weeks to prepare the walrus stomach for the drum. They scrape it then soak it, changing the water daily. They then inflate it and hang it outside to dry. (I hope I’m remembering the details correctly. My notes are sketchy.) The hickory is store-bought, John said, however, they steam and shape the wood by hand to create the frame for the walrus stomach, which becomes the drum head.

I barely dared to ask if the drum were for sale. It was. I wanted the drum as a gift for my brother, J, a musician. He had flown from Germany the previous week and donated his time, talent and the money from his J Hatch Trio CD sales to a fund-raiser to benefit Isis Initiative, Inc. He would love and appreciate the drum as I love and appreciate him. And I would support a local artist and a Native tradition with my purchase.

John Waghiyi and his son Aavlan pose for a photo with the Eskimo drum that he and his wife, Arlene, made from walrus stomach and hikory. It's a Siberian Yupiak style drum. John is from Savoonga, AK.

My brother has been a musician his entire life. He remembers as a child being drawn to the rhythm a coin would make bouncing in a dryer. I think of him when I think of the Thoreau quote about the man who hears a different drummer and marches to his own step. J is his own drummer.

I am beyond words at my joy at being able to offer my brother the gift of a Alaska Native drum–from one drummer’s hands to another.

Thank you, John and Arlene, for the fine work and spirit you put into the drum.