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Duho

26/07/2009

A duho is a ceremonial stool made by the Taino people of the Bahamas and Antilles.
It is about all that remains of their material culture, although we hear echoes of their voices whenever we use their words ‘barbecue’, ‘hammock’, ‘canoe’ and ‘hurricane’.

Christopher Columbus, on first meeting them in October 1492 said of them:

They traded with us and gave us everything they had, with good will..they took great delight in pleasing us..They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal..Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people ..They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing

Noting that they had no metal weapons, Columbus also remarked “I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.” Which is exactly what he did on his second expedition in 1493. The independent eyewitness Bartolomé de las Casas tells of how the Spaniards

made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow; or they opened up his bowels. They tore the babes from their mothers breast by their feet, and dashed their heads against the rocks…they spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords….and by thirteens, in honor and reverence for our Redeemer and the twelve Apostles, they put wood underneath and, with fire, they burned the Indians alive.

It took only a few years to completely exterminate the Taino.
Now here’s a stool with no one to sit on it.

But of course we should keep it because it has helped us to prevent that kind of callous and deliberate extinction from ever happening again, hasn’t it?

Duho

14 Comments leave one →
  1. davidebocelli permalink
    27/07/2009 11:36 pm

    I think Columbus would keep it as a trophy. But thinking to this, this becomes a trophy of the disappearance of the Taino people, of the crime of exterminating a culture just because looks to a different horizon.

  2. Bodger permalink
    28/07/2009 8:36 am

    “But of course we should keep it because it has helped us to prevent that kind of callous and deliberate extinction from ever happening again, hasn’t it?”

    Having a cynical day, Mr Hermit?

    It could be a great educational (s)tool, surely? Couldn’t someone from the education team at the museum use it to make just the points you want to make? Imagine if one object could be the rallying point for a whole new generation of people standing up and saying, “Stop. No more. Not in my name!”

    • Nina permalink
      28/07/2009 11:44 am

      I think that the hermit’s point was that its use now is only as an illustration to a point.

      “Oooh look at this stool, isn’t it beautiful? Well, we Europeans wiped out the people who made it, so let’s never commit genocide again, right?”

      You suggest it might become a rallying point. I think this is dangerous, and could possibly spawn a cult, people worshipping an object. Imagine people congregating around it, making pilgrimmages to it… That’s not helpful to anyone.

      The stool isn’t our to keep. It is a trophy taken from a people that our ancestors wiped out. Its only morally acceptable use can be to make people feel guilty, which isn’t helpful. Put it back where it came from. If we didn’t commit genocide, there would be no need to collect these artefacts.

      • Stephen Welsh permalink
        28/07/2009 12:05 pm

        There is no reason or documentation to support the notion that this duho was taken as a trophy. There are many objects in the collection that certainly are grim reminders of military campaigns, but it cannot be claimed that this is one for certain.

        The vast majority of information that exists on the Taino people and culture was authored by Europeans. This duho provides a tantalising glimpse of Taino culture beyond the Eurocentric lens.

      • Bodger permalink
        28/07/2009 3:05 pm

        “Oooh look at this stool, isn’t it beautiful? Well, we Europeans wiped out the people who made it, so let’s never commit genocide again, right?”

        Does it feel good, when you can simplify a complex argument to a simple soundbite to try and discredit another’s suggestion?

        Do you really think that people who work in education are that thick that they can’t use an object like this to move people and to make them think?

        • 28/07/2009 3:48 pm

          OK, OK, let’s not have a fight about this.

          Rather than focusing on an object from a far-off place and time, or arguing about whether an education team somewhere might be able to interpret it for someone, somewhere else, perhaps it might be useful if we took responsibility for educating ourselves. We can do that any time by examining our own ideas and emotions right here and now, as they happen.

          Why don’t we just forget about the object? Look at this conversation.

          How possessive do you feel about your own way of thinking? How eager are you that other people see things from your point of view, and how angry do you feel when someone else appears to think differently?
          To what lengths would you go to convince them you are right?

          What would happen if you first tried to understand rather than make yourself understood?

          It’s very easy to blame the problem on other people. And it’s easy to demonise a caricature, as I’ve done. But how different is any of us from Christopher Columbus?

          This is not an invitation to feel guilty. It’s a reminder to act differently.

          • Nina permalink
            29/07/2009 1:33 am

            Sorry if you felt I was attacking your ideas, Bodger, it wasn’t my intention. I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with the whole concept of genocide and colonisation, and I’m sure you’re not a fan yourself. I reduced your argument to a couple of lines to show people how it is (in my humble opinion that is worth no more than yours) a bit naive, because if things worked that way there would only ever have been one genocide. Also I think it open the doors to the possibility of a cult. But I do appreciate your argument and your sense of publicity, and I think philanthropist enterprises really need that to drum up support. I wasn’t trying to discredit your argument.

            As for what we ourselves can do… I stand by the idea that we should put the duho back where it came from. We don’t need one example of genocide to not want to do it again. We are civil, aware people and simply by keeping our hearts open to other peoples we will prevent this from happening again.

            • Stephen Welsh permalink
              29/07/2009 8:50 am

              The duho is much more than a signifier of genocide; it is a beautiful example of Taino artistry and engineering. It reminds us, albeit tragically, what a skilled and complex people they were. The duho needs to remain in the Museum so it and its maker or makers, can be appreciated and remembered.

  3. Stephen Welsh permalink
    28/07/2009 9:35 am

    The Manchester Museum inherited the duho in an exchange of objects with Salford Museum. The original Salford accession register recorded the duho as a wooden Mexican pillow or stool from San Salvador. Thankfully during her PhD research Joanna Ostapkowicz was able to correctly identify it as Taino duho from the Bahamas. This duho is one of less than two hundred in collections internationally.

    By increasing access to collections for researchers, source communities, schools and the public, there always exists the potential that they will readily be able to indentify objects that may have been unintentionally labeled incorrectly.

    • Tom Stephenson permalink
      28/07/2009 6:56 pm

      Well I reckon if Manchester Museum is capable of throwing out Ansuman one year, then locking him away the another, then then that puts a whole different light on the acquisition of the duho. Next thing, they will be blaming Salford for having misplaced the key to let him out, purely in order to gain an asset by dubious methods. Red Brick, you see.

      • Stephen Welsh permalink
        29/07/2009 8:34 am

        It’s not a case of Blame Mr. Stephenson, rather a reflection on Victorian museological practice.

        Most Victorian accession registers, including those here in the Manchester Museum, frequently include inaccuracies or down right absurdities when describing particular objects or collections. These erroneous entries are often the result of naivety or lack of familiarity rather than a premeditated attempt to deceive.

        • Tom Stephenson permalink
          29/07/2009 8:53 am

          I joke, my friend. Interesting about how the registers lead to erroneous entries, though. And this isn’t even the ‘Labeling’ thread!

  4. Stephen Welsh permalink
    29/07/2009 10:03 am

    You say label, I say accession register, lets call the whole thing off!

  5. George Bankes permalink
    02/08/2009 7:32 pm

    When Joanna Ostackpowicz was a PhD student at the University of East Anglia, she sent round an illustrated circular to museums asking if they had any duhos. I thought the item (pictured) in one of the American store cupboards was a duho so I invited Joanna to come and see it. She confirmed it was a duho and took many photos of it. It featured in her PhD thesis. At a talk Joanna gave in the museum a few years ago she said Lisa Harris, Stephen Welsh’s predecessor, had given permission for a small amount of wood to be taken from the duho by the British Museum for radiocarbon dating. At the time of Joanna’s talk, Lisa put the duho on display in what was then the first Living Cultures gallery (now the Manchester gallery). Joanna is currently Curator of the American collections in Liverpool Museum.

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