Feng Chuanshi: Outstanding craftsman of elephant-foot drum making in SW China’s Yunnan
Eighty-year-old Feng Chuanshi is a national-level inheritor of the craft for making elephant-foot drums, a representative national intangible cultural heritage item in China.
A member of the Dai ethnic group from Linxiang district, Lincang city, southwest China’s Yunnan Province, Feng has always been very fond of the elephant-foot drum, a traditional musical instrument of the Dai ethnic group, since his childhood. Before he turned 20, Feng could play the elephant-foot drum and later he would go on to learn how to make the musical instrument by himself.
The elephant-foot drum got its name because it is in the shape of an elephant’s foot. It is often played to accompany song and dance performances, as well as performances of Daixi, a traditional opera of the Dai people of Yunnan Province.
There are a variety of craft-making techniques involved when it comes to making an elephant-foot drum, including sculpturing, colored painting, leather making and weaving, among others. The body of the drum is made from different types of wood, while the drumhead is made of cow leather.
The elephant-foot drums often come in different sizes. The larger ones can be between 130 and 160 centimeters tall; the medium-sized ones are between 60 and 95 centimeters tall; and the small ones are usually between 30 and 40 centimeters tall. The medium-sized drums are the most widely used for performances.
The drums made by Feng, according to the local people, are durable, simple and yet good-looking, as well as having the ability to produce a wide range of sounds. It is precisely for this reason that the local people call Feng the “King of the Elephant-foot Drum” in recognition of his excellent craftsmanship. In 2018, Feng was named an inheritor of the elephant-foot drum craft-making techniques, a representative item of national intangible cultural heritage in China.