Friday, November 25, 2011
65. Taino Ritual Seat (Domenican Republic, AD 1200-1500)
This Taino throne may be extra famous because apparently Christopher Columbus was respectfully given the opportunity to crouch on a seat just like this on one of his trips to the West Indies, were the Taino lived before they were exterminated. But MacGregor, for reasons which should be consistent with the rest of his interests, doesn’t have much to say about Columbus; instead, he takes the stool here more as a memorial to one of the many cultures that disappeared with the coming of whites en masse to the western hemisphere.
I don’t know much about the Taino, except that I seem to remember Howard Zinn opening his People’s History of the United States with an incredibly depressing story about native cultures driven to extinction and genocide in those decades after 1492. MacGregor here tells us that words such as hammock, canoe, barbecue, and tobacco come into our language from this culture in particular, which does give you the impression that they were lazy people who loved relaxing in an eternal summer (sign me up!). But industry is often overrated, and after all these years I still don’t know whether an industrious culture is by definition a better culture (that’s what they wanted me to think as I was growing up).
MacGregor tells us that the Taino perceived the world as having many invisible layers, that all our dead ancestors were all around us all the time, for example. So, by crouching over this chair (which is male—the genitalia on the underside are anatomically accurate, even if the creature’s shape is a little unusual) and taking drugs, the chief communed with spirits to find the answers to difficult questions facing the tribe. When Columbus crouched here, did he ask the question “Why do I destroy everything I touch?”