Sunday, December 30, 2007

Caribbean Artist Roy Lawaetz at the Florence Biennale: Taino Inspiration

Roy Lawaetz, whose Modular Trinagular System was featured in The CAC Review in 2002, recently exhibited his work at the Florence Biennale.

Featured in Florence, his “Global Warming Series” assimilates pre-Columbian tribal beliefs to highlight a modern day topic. As presented in his brochure for the exhibition, his work is inspired by the Taino zemi or “spirit stone” and in this series his works refer to indigenous Caribbean people who were not polluters but rather worshippers of nature. The Taino Indians practiced a belief model recognizing Nature Deities such as weather gods.

In his interactive piece “Atabey, Fertility Goddess”, this artwork dramatically presents global temperature shifts in innovative display. The melting phenomenon posed by climate crisis is shown in uncompromising terms with virtual dripping water from ice inside a cone. As in Eugene Ionesco’s absurd play where mushrooms spring up all over, it is as if global warming with a melting ice pack has drifted so far as to affect the artist’s own canvas. The artist technically demonstrates how the triangle motif of the zemi stone can be removed from its archaeological categories for re-emphasis on modern day environmental concerns. By focusing on the fertility beliefs of the Taino he reconstructs and re-invents to provide a pictorial modern day narrative that draws from their old cultural heritage practices. The Taino’s own belief that certain zemies could provide adequate water and the good things in life is combined in Atabey, Fertility Goddess. This interactive presentation succeeds in blending modern day technology and ancient tribal belief with the artist’s
own environmental irony.

For more, please see his lavishly beautiful brochure at:
See also:

New Book: Hans Staden's True History

Available June 2008 from Duke University Press
Hans Staden’s True History
An Account of Cannibal Captivity in Brazil

Hans Staden
Edited with an introduction by Neil L. Whitehead
Newly translated by Michael Harbsmeier

In 1550, the German adventurer Hans Staden was serving as a gunner in a Portuguese fort on the Brazilian coast. While out hunting, he was captured by the Tupinambá, an indigenous people who had a reputation for engaging in ritual cannibalism, and who, as allies of the French, were hostile to the Portuguese. Staden’s True History, first published in Germany in 1557, tells the story of his nine-month captivity among the Tupi Indians. It is a dramatic first-person account of his capture, captivity, and eventual escape.

Staden’s narrative is a foundational text in the history and European “discovery” of Brazil, the earliest European account of the Tupi Indians, and a touchstone in the debate on cannibalism. Yet despite its importance, the last English-language edition of Staden’s True History was published in 1929. This new critical edition features a new translation from the sixteenth-century German along with annotations and an extensive introduction. It restores to the text the fifty-six woodcut illustrations of Staden’s adventures and final escape that appeared in the original 1557 edition.

In the introduction, Neil L. Whitehead discusses the circumstances surrounding the production of Staden’s narrative and its ethnological significance, paying particular attention to contemporary debates about cannibalism. Whitehead illuminates the value of Staden’s True History as an eye-witness account of Tupi society on the eve of its collapse, of ritual war and sacrifice among Native peoples, and of colonial rivalries in the region of Rio de Janeiro. He chronicles the history of the various editions of Staden’s narrative and their reception from 1557 until the present. Staden’s work continues to engage a wide range of readers, not least within Brazil, where it has recently been the subject of two films and a graphic novel.

Neil L. Whitehead is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of Dark Shamans: Kanaimà and the Poetics of Violent Death and the editor of Terror and Violence: Anthropological Approaches (with Andrew Strathern and Pamela Stewart); In Darkness and Secrecy: The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and Witchcraft in Amazonia (with Robin Wright); Histories and Historicities in Amazonia; and The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtiful Empire of Guiana by Sir Walter Raleigh. Dark Shamans and In Darkness and Secrecy are both also published by Duke University Press. He is also sits on the editorial board of KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology.

Michael Harbsmeier is Associate Professor of History in the Department of Culture and Identity at Roskilde University in Roskilde, Denmark. He is the author of two books in German.

Order form, and printed information available at:


The Lost Fort of Columbus...and the Tainos of Today

From an article appearing in the History & Archaeology section of The Smithsonian Magazine for January 2008, by France Maclean:

And then there's Clark Moore, a 65-year-old construction contractor from Washington State. Moore has spent the winter months of the past 27 years in Haiti and has located more than 980 former Indian sites. "Clark is the most important thing to have happened to Haitian archaeology in the last two decades," says [archaeologist Kathleen] Deagan. "He researches, publishes, goes places no one has ever been before. He's nothing short of miraculous."


In 1980, Moore showed some of his artifacts to the foremost archaeologist of the Caribbean, Irving Rouse, a professor at Yale. "It was clear Clark was very focused, and once he had an idea, he could follow through," Rouse recalled to me. "Plus he was able to do certain things, such as getting around Haiti, speaking Creole to the locals and dealing with the bureaucracy, better than anyone else." Moore became Rouse's man in Haiti, and Rouse became Moore's most distinguished mentor.


One night, when Moore was entertaining friends at his harborside cinder-block house in Cap-HaÔtien—he lives there with his wife, Pat, a nurse from Nebraska with 16 years' service in Haiti's rural clinics—the conversation turned to the fate of the Taino. "The Taino really weren't all wiped out," Moore said. "There are groups in New York, Puerto Rico and Cuba who call themselves the descendants. They're reviving the language and ceremonies and want the world to know 'Hey, we're still here.'"

"The descendants in Haiti are secretive," a visiting archaeologist chimed in.