It’s all Folk!

Capital overrun with festival merriment

On the National Mall this weekend, pedestrians can stroll along hearing Rara music from Haiti or Afro-Cuban sounds emanating from one of several large tents. The visitor may also do a double take when he sees an actual Chesapeake Bay Skipjack used in dredging for oysters.

The reason for all this activity is the Smithsonian’s annual Folk-Life Festival. This year’s festivities focus on the Waterways of the Mid Atlantic States, Haiti and Nuestra Musica or music in Latino culture.

The Smithsonian has the western end of the Mall this week, but there is an interesting array of tents near the eastern end, which shows a little known movement. If you are of a certain age, you may have wondered what happened to the people who were disparingly called “Jesus Freaks” of the Hippie era.

A group based on the early forms of Christianity, called the Twelve Tribes, has erected a two-story Common Ground Café and around a dozen large tents containing displays of freshly baked bread, musical instruments, singers, dancers and even one devoted to free speech.

Twelve Tribes

Theologically, the Twelve Tribes movement is a cult of Christianity. It does not represent historical, orthodox Christianity

Sociologically, the group has cultic elements as well

“We sprang out of the Jesus Movement in the early 70’s,” Mike Porterfield said. “Young people didn’t want to leave after bible studies.”

The group began in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee and they started Yellow Delis to support themselves. The movement has grown to more than 3,000 believers worldwide in nine countries on four continents Porterfield said.

The Tribes live communally and have restaurants and other commercial concerns ranging from service industries to the sale of their communally made products. They combine the new age optimism of the hippie movement with a deep commitment to an earlier form of belief.

Sholom Lavin, 59, worked as a college professor for 33 years and studied the group for four years while doing research for a book on the Twelve Tribes.

“I was going to go to Israel and study the Essenes [a 1st century sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls],” Lavin said. “It became obvious to me, this group paralleled the Essenes. They lived what they believed. We have a former airline pilot, teachers, and dropouts. We don’t go to church, we are the church.”

One can wander up the Mall to the Smithsonian exhibits after eating at their café, which will open until July 6, with fine food and a great view of the Capitol.

Mark Donohue, 32, a shipwright from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, is hard at work making a mast from a 62-foot piece of short leaf yellow pine from South Carolina at the Middle Atlantic States section.

“We could do one in a week with a three-to four-man crew,” Donohue said. “It’s great being able to explain to people what we do.”

Donohue will use power tools at times and he is sure they would have been happy to use them in the old days if they were available. He is also proficient with traditional methods and demonstrated how to plane the wood with a 150-year old adze.

“Haiti: freedom and creativity from the mountains to the sea” celebrates the 200th anniversary of the nation’s independence. There is a market where visitors can sample Haitian cuisine. One can also hear the frenetic ritual drumming and see the dances of Vou Dou.

The Folk Life festival runs until July 4 and it is a good to have a taste of a different culture before sitting down to watch the annual fireworks extravaganza.

Vacation? Short break? Day trip? Get Skip-the-line tickets at GetYourGuide.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Pentagram, USA
July 2, 2004
Dennis Ryan, Pentagram Staff Writer

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday July 2, 2004.
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