Amazon to Caribbean brings together stunning ethnographic and archaeological finds plus contemporary works of art by celebrated Guyanese and Caribbean artists Aubrey Williams and Oswald Hussain to portray the Amerindian spirit as a force that continues to endure into the 21st century.
Expertly researched and curated by the museum’s Kenyan-born Head of Anthropology, Dr Hassan Arero, the exhibition takes a unique look at the cultural connections between the people of the North Amazon and the shaping of Caribbean identity.
These unique cultural links are highlighted with a stunning array of artefacts – many of which have never been displayed before – such as colourful feather headdresses, intricately-made jewellery, elaborate hair combs and a showcase of exquisitely decorated dance clubs used in Amerindian rituals and celebrations. The exhibition also features loan objects from the British Library, British Museum and Natural History Museum amongst others.
The significance of the Jaguar as a mythical and symbolic animal in Amerindian culture is also revealed with a beautiful Jaguar skin belt – or kamarapicho – and teeth necklace once worn by community chiefs during important ceremonies.
The Anaconda can also be seen represented in a striking serpent motif that adorns many of the objects on display such as finely decorated beaded aprons and textiles.
To the WaiWai tribes of Guyana and Brazil, it is believed that women originated from the mythical people who lived in the deep waters of the Underworld known as the Okoimo Yena – meaning the Anaconda People – and is regarded as a powerful force in Amerindian folklore.
Other motifs can be found echoed in the fine examples of basketry, stools, and various objects on display including canoe paddles and ceramic bowls – many of which depict revered local wildlife such as the Sloth Bear and Scorpion.
Amazon to Caribbean displays a range of early ceramic remains that have contributed significantly to the work of archaeologists in understanding pre-Colombian Amerindian society. The carefully decorated remains have also provided the key to tracking the movement of populations between mainland South America and the Caribbean Antilles before and during the arrival of the early-Europeans.
The exhibition also seeks to examine the complex cosmology and striking symbolism that has formed the fabric of Amerindian societies for generations. From beautifully-crafted wood carvings depicting the three main aspects of Amerindian mythology – the Sky, Earth and Underworld – to an ancient Taino three pointed stone used by shamans and healers, the fascinating mythological world of the Amerindians is put under the spotlight at the award-winning Forest Hill museum.
Another significant aspect that is common in Amerindian societies is the universal production and consumption of cassava. An indigenous South American plant that is poisonous without careful preparation, cassava is a tuber that has to be grated before the toxins are removed. Amazon to Caribbean features a number of beautiful wood graters demonstrating the refined craftsmanship involved in the production of this staple diet. They also represent an enduring tradition that has been passed down for generations.
The exhibition finally highlights the valuable contribution Amerindian culture has made to the world and reveals how the origins of the words tobacco and hammock have made their way into everyday english usage.