Inspired by Nature. Handicrafts of the Natives of the Amazon Region. A Tribute to Borys Malkin
The National Museum in Szczecin | Gmach Główny Muzeum Narodowego w Szczecinie, Wały Chrobrego 3, 70-500 Szczecin, Polska

VERNISSAGE: April 19th 2018 | Thursday | 6.00 P.M. 

 

In 1492, Christopher Columbus reached the Bahamas, "discovering" America for Europeans. According to Columbus, all the inhabitants of the New World met by him were "Indios", because he believed that he circumnavigated the Earth and reached India. This is where the word Indians comes from, which has become a loose concept used in relation to the inhabitants of the Americas. Under this one term, thousands of groups are hidden, diversed in terms of language, culture, economy, politics and society.

Amazon region is a jungle and savanna area with a huge area of ​​6.5 million km², located in 9 countries: Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana and occupies ⅔ of the area of South America. It has about 1.4 million natives divided into over 400 ethno-linguistic groups. These are egalitarian communities, diverse in terms of gender and age groups. The basis of their social structures are kinship, authority and beliefs. The Amazonian Natives are divided into two types of cultures: savannah and rainforest ones. The first inhabit eastern Brazil and the Colombian-Venezuelan plains. They use languages ​​from the Gê and Guahibo families. They live from the cultivation of land, hunting and gathering. They do not engage in weaving or plaiting, and their material culture is based on ceramic products. They are divided into male and female age groups in which the oldest members become leaders. In addition, there is a division into moieties, that is, halves of family and non-family. They have a rich and varied ritual life, include boys' initiations, ceremonies of transition from one age group to another and funeral ceremonies.

Tropical rainforest Natives, in turn, live in the lowlands and highlands of the Amazon basin, Orinoco and rivers of the Guianne region. They are very linguistically diverse, they use, among others, with tongues from Arawak, Tupi, Pano, Carib and Toucan families. They are farmers, they supplement their diet with products from hunting, fishing and gathering. Their production is based on basketry, weaving, pottery and woodcarving. They are divided into clans, which include people originating from a common mythical or real ancestor. The prestige of an individual depends on the status of the clan they belong to. Clan organizations are distinguished by their rich rituals. During the girls' initiation ceremonial processions of masks depicting ancestors are held.
Nowadays, the Natives' lives have changed a lot. Progressive assimilation, life on the margins of national economy and culture, difficult history combining the period of the conquest, colonial and missionary activity, rubber rush, finally economic development, exploitation of natural resources, advanced settlement and tourism, led to the disappearance of traditional culture and even extermination of certain groups. The Natives of the savannah suffered particularly, numerous groups died out, some decreased in their populations to a dozen or so, and ethnic separateness and traditional culture survived only among the few. In the second half of the twentieth century, the first Native organizations began to be formed, whose main goal is to fight for Natives' rights to the land, bilingual and intercultural education, and to preserve traditions based on the ancestors' beliefs.

The collection of The National Museum in Szczecin includes one and a half thousand items from South America. The idea for an exhibition presenting the Amazon collection emerged on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Boris Malkin (1917-2009), an outstanding Polish collector, ethnologist and researcher of Latin American cultures celebrated last year. The exhibition is an opportunity to commemorate him. In the years 1953-1994, this Americanist participated in dozens of expeditions documenting the life of 42 ethnic groups. He devoted himself to "urgent" anthropology, a field of research dealing with the immediate registration and analysis of endangered cultures. Most of the cultures examined and documented by him have undergone such a strong acculturation process that collected collections and photographic materials are the only evidence of their traditional culture.

The activities of Borys Malkin influenced the development of American ethnographic collections of many museums in both Americas and Europe, including Poland. He was a collector who gathered with great integrity and competence, not only products of material culture, but also herpetological and entomological exhibits for museums and institutions dealing with the natural sciences. The momentum with which he worked can not be compared to other field researchers and ethnologists. He managed to obtain traditional products, which are unique nowadays. The ethnographic collections collected by him, numbering about 17,500 objects, have a huge scientific value. The largest collection of ethnographic monuments is in the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Canada and the American Museum of Natural History in New York in the United States. The National Museum in Szczecin has around 150 exhibits collected by Boris Malkin in the 1960s and 1970s. The specimens brought by the researcher represent over 30 different Native groups, including Noanamá, Sibundoy, Kofán and Yuco-Motilones from Colombia and Tukúna from Brazil.

The exhibits and photographs presented at the exhibition, made by Boris Malkin, represent over 20 different Native groups, including Ye'kuana, E'ñepá, Piaroa and Hoti from Venezuela, Shipibo and Campa from Peru, Kofán from Colombia and Ecuador, Carajá and Tapirape from Brazil and Tukúna from Brazil, Peru and Colombia. The exhibition aims to show the craft of the Amazon Natives from the perspective of their surrounding nature, affecting the characteristic shape of their culture. The products of local handicrafts are typically used objects, often also as disposable products. Inspired by nature, the Natives acquire and use materials available in their environment: feathers, seeds, animal bones, tapas (material obtained from the inner bark of trees and shrubs, softened in the process of soaking and breaking), wood, reed, palm leaves, cotton, clay, resin and many others. They form weapons, jewelry, costumes, ritual masks, ceramic dishes, baskets of various sizes, trays, presses, and all the items they need to function. The presented objects, apart from functional features, also fulfill aesthetic values. Multi-coloured necklaces worn by everyone: children, women and men, or richly decorated feather decorations, used to decorate ears, head, nasal septum, testify to the need to surround oneself with beautiful objects and the ability to create attractive artifacts. The exhibits, through ornamentation and composition, also tell stories related to the Natives' cosmology and mythology. All objects presented at the exhibition come from the collections of the National Museum in Szczecin.

The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of educational events.