Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Xochipilli, Flower God from Aztec days . . .

Xochipilii, on a good day
I had a half hour to spare yesterday while Pany recovered photos from a  re-formatted camera card, and so I went to Rooms 26 (Mexico) and 27 (North America) and marvelled at the indigenous peoples' technology, crafts and lifestyle, all as on display in this repository of all things foreign.

More on him in the photo at http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=209072

I only had a half-hour to spare, but was instantly transported back home to British Columbia when I saw the carved cedar entrance statues for a village lodge, as I entered the North America room.

These were 'borrowed' from the Vancouver Island village in about 1810 where they held up the entrance to the communal lodge, and taken by Royal Navy to London.

I note that today, back in British Coumbia where these artefacts are from, the museums there are returning the feather headdresses, the canoes, the totem poles and everything else back to the tribes from where they were taken, but it's sometimes difficult to identify exactly which tribe or geographical area these cultural treasures came from. Some are below.

Potlatch goods at University of British Columbia Anthropological Museum.

This may be due to everyone having oral tradition, prior to the coming of the Europeans, and so when the villages and village life disappeared with new peoples' arrival, no-one could later be sure exactly which sub-tribe or geographical location was the origin of these canoes, head-dresses, and so on.

Lovely First Nation artefacts. Some are now especially made by First Nation artists and craftspersons for this museum.

You will be happy to hear that a number of people in Canada are working on finding out and getting these things back when there are tribal people still living; some tribes have been completely assimilated or died off in previous decades, but anthropologists are still working on it. It will take a while to redress past imperialist actions.


A very good hint on who lived where before the Europeans turned north-west North America into British Columbia is the work of Emily Carr. She was the spinster daughter of English immigrants and she took up drawing and painting as a life-long exercise.


She didn't just do portraits and work in town. She actually did what very few white women did, she travelled alone to live in remote First Nation villages and drew and painted what she found, the collapsing totem poles, the decimated inhabitants (measles and smallpox, brought by Europeans, had killed 90 % of the indigenous peoples by the time Emily started recording them in late 1800's and early 1900's) and the Potlatch ceremonies which had been outlawed by the Canadian government.

Emily is one of my heroes, and I went twice to her retrospective exhibition here last year


Some would say the anthropology on view at the British Museum in Bloomsbury is not as comprehensive as what you can see at the Horniman museum in south London


and they've got about 2,500 artefacts on North American indigenous persons online to indicate what's on their site in SE22.

The eternal question - to whom do the artefacts belong - to the people who made them and used them, or to the people who either confiscated them or paid small amounts of cash for them at the time ?

Perhaps that's something to think about the next time you buy a brass platter in Africa or a wooden bowl in South America . . . and what happened to all those Mesopotamian treasures that were formerly in the Tigris and Euphrates area once ISIL took over ? Who bought them and will they ever get back to the Middle East ? What do you think ?

No comments: