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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Reproducing a DUHO

I thought this story would be of interest to all of you.
Taken from Magazine Times of The Islands Turks Caicos Islands

Link www.timespub.tc/index.php?id=197

Story & Photos by Brian Riggs, Museum Manager

Finished Duho ReproductionBack in the planning stage for the Lucayan exhibit room on the Museum's second floor, we decided to provide something a little more special for the new displays than the potsherds and shell tools that have made up the Amerindian displays so far.

In order to do that, we got in touch with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Their collection contains a number of Lucayan Indian artefacts that originated in the Turks & Caicos Islands. These include beautifully carved statues, stone ax heads, and a carved wooden seat called a duho.

For the past ten years, the National Museum of the American Indian, a part of the Smithsonian, has been actively pursuing a policy of returning Indian artefacts in their extensive collection to the descendants of the Native American tribes from whom they were collected in the last two centuries. In the case of our Islands, though, there are no living Lucayans. So we thought they might consider returning artefacts to the National Museum of their country of origin.

A list of about 15 Turks & Caicos pieces was compiled and submitted to the Smithsonian's review committee. Several months later we heard their decision. As a start to our new relationship with that organization, they decided to return four pieces to us. Two carved stone pieces, in particular, are quite unusual and considered to be one-of-a-kind. A carved wooden seat, a duho, could not be returned at this time but possibly will be returned in the future. Based on preservation and workmanship, this seat--called the "Blake Duho 3"-- is among the finest of the 80 or so wooden duhos known to exist.

Duhos are generally considered to be the seat of power for a Taino or Lucayan chief or shaman. They were usually carved in the shape of a four-legged creature, most with a carved head at one end and an elongated tail at the other. The carved faces have been interpreted as bats, dogs, turtles, or grimacing humans. All are considered to be cemis, representatives of the supernatural world and guiding spirit for the important men who sat on them. Most duhos have been discovered in caves, thus attesting to their spiritual significance as caves were sacred places used for ceremonies and sometimes burials.

We wanted to include a small cave in our Lucayan exhibit and, naturally, wanted to display a duho in the cave. Being unable to display an original for the time being, we went looking for someone to make a reproduction duho. There are several artisans in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic who make wood and pottery Taino and Lucayan reproductions for sale to the tourist market. But, though their work is nice, it is more interpretive than accurate. We continued the search. Through friends at the Museo del Barrio (the museum of Puerto Rican culture) in New York City, we located two sculptors who specialized in faithful museum reproductions. But because we had spent several months looking, time was now too short for either of these artists to be able to help us.

As the time grew close for the official opening of the Lucayan exhibit and we still had not been able to acquire a duho replica, the answer was obvious: make one ourselves. Fortunately, at the same time we were having our quandary about a duho reproduction, one of the many large trunks of the ancient guinep tree at the Museum's entrance succumbed to an incurable infestation and came crashing down into the road. The old giant had to be cut up into pieces in order to clear the road, but we kept many of the larger sections and displayed them at the museum's entrance. One large curved piece was just the size and shape of a duho.

Just a year ago, the Museum had received a thoroughly researched and liberally illustrated Ph.D. thesis entitled Taino Wooden Sculpture . . . from Canadian Joanna Ostapkowicz. In it, she outlined every detail of every duho known to exist: where they came from, what they were made of, and how they were made. Using Joanna's thesis as a guideline, I set about carving the first duho to be made in the Turks & Caicos Islands for at least 600 years.

Blocking duho shapeStarting with a small chain saw, I blocked out the shape, gradually proceeding to smaller and smaller tools as the details emerged. I was struck by the immense amount of thought and effort it took to retrieve what seemed to be a rather simple shape from a big block of wood. I was also thankful that I had much more sophisticated tools to work with than the stone chips, sharpened conch shells, and pieces of coral that were used to fashion the original duhos.

It is theorized that ancient duhos were fabricated using fire as the main tool. After a likely looking block of wood was chosen, a small fire was started on the place where wood was to be removed. After a short burn, the fire was quenched and the charred wood was easily scraped from the surface with stone or shell tools. When the scraping reached the unburned surface, a new fire was started and the process repeated. Little by little, scrape by scrape, the carving emerged.

Carving DuhoMany existing duhos are noted for their beautifully dark and lustrous finish and may have been made from either mahogany or lignum vitae, both very hard and dense woods. But it is also possible that other woods were used, the dark finish being partially the result of the fire-sculpting technique. The burning of the surface would also serve to bring up the wood's natural oils from within the log. This also helped produce the pleasant finish and kept the wood from cracking while it was being worked. This technique is how large wooden objects like canoes and log drums were made.

Working three to four hours a day, I completed our duho in about three weeks. Given only stone and shell tools, though, it might have taken more than a year to complete. Ours is not an exact replica of any known duho, but has the look and spirit of a Lucayan duho. And being made from Guinep House's very own guinep tree, it is definitely a true native artefact

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