May 22, 2007

Should museums display shrunken heads?

Should they accept an artist's offer of his own head -- when he's done using it -- in exchange for the museum's return of their collection of heads to their place of origin -- the Amazon -- for burial?

I was once shown around a museum after hours. Look here, in this drawer. Shrunken heads! We can't display them anymore. Not politically correct.

23 comments:

Ron said...

Display them? We should hire Disney or ILM to use that animatronic technology on 'em! Get those jaws a'flappin! Choruses! "Oh, we are the chorus, we hope you like the show..." Tastefully, of course!

While we're at it, let's get Napoleon's penis to sing of its many European conquests...

Bob said...

Ron: remember the old Tiki show at Disney? That was pretty close to what you describe.

Ron said...

If PBS had a shrunken head concert with the voices of Josh Groban and Charlotte Church during pledge week, I might stick a crowbar in my wallet and give 'em a buck...

TMink said...

Now weren't these shrunken heads used as talismans and war trophies in their original cultural context?

Trey

AJ Lynch said...

"offer the use of one's own head -when one is done using it".

Well that takes all the fun and suspense out of the offer.

The Drill SGT said...

Two separate issues here:

Respect for the dead. It seems to me that both the takers of the heads (creators) and their original owners (unheadless folk) were from cultures that saw nothing wrong with taking heads as Talismans of power and symbols of victory.

I have no problems displaying heads from this perspective

Cultural relativism

If one respected that multicultural "all cultures and customs are equal and deserve respect" then one ought to display the heads.

I would put the heads away, and I would also not show AQ head chopping videos on AJ or CNN.

All cultures are not the same.

Synova said...

My daughter says, yes, they should accept his head.

peter hoh said...

If you're planning a trip to Philadelphia, be sure to see the Mutter Museum.

You'll see an amazing display of medical oddities. Human skeletons that show the damage done by extremely tight corsets, skulls of people who had early brain surgery (and survived), and a woman whose fat turned to soap.

From their website: The Museum's collections include over 20,000 objects, including fluid-preserved anatomical and pathological specimens, medical instruments, anatomical and pathological models, items of memorabilia of famous scientists and physicians, and medical illustrations in the form of lantern slides, 35 mm slides, photographs, drawings, and prints. In addition, the College collections include over 160 portraits in oil and other media.

Drew W said...

To the artist, Ted Dewan, I can only say this: Call your shrink. (Oh, somebody had to say it.)

When I was little, I spent a day in New York City for a friend's birthday party. One of our destinations was the Museum Of The American Indian, which covered tribes from South America as well as North. They had many, many shrunken heads on display. (I also remember the museum being kind of dark and mostly empty of people, which made the experience all the more eerie.) In addition to the shrunken heads, the museum also had two men, fully shrunken from head to toe. The shrunken guys freaked us out more than anything else. Really no more than two guys in a glass case, it was obviously one of their most popular exhibits. You could buy a postcard of them, which I did.

I know the Museum Of The American Indian moved from its Harlem location a while ago, and now I think it survives in The George Gustav Heye Center (part of the Smithsonian's National Museum Of The American Indian), located at the Customs House near Wall Street. I've never been there, so I have no idea if the shrunken heads (or people) are still on display.

Zeb Quinn said...

Putting them on display will give the headshrinkers the attention they crave, and it will encourage copycats.

Ann Althouse said...

Drill, there's also the consideration of the visitors to the museum. The place where I saw the heads was a college, and they were concerned about the sensibilities of their students. I think the idea was that students whose ancesters came from parts of the world near the origins of the heads would feel denigrated.

The Drill SGT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Drill SGT said...

Ann,

I have a problem with that. This How many Amazon River Headhunters live in Oxford? is Oxford. Students should not be protected from history or reality. Headhunting was (IS) a fact. One can't air brush that from history anymore than the Brits should stop teaching about the Holocaust or the Crusades just because kids have learned a different fact set in their local Mosque

William R. Hamblen said...

From http://www.head-hunter.com/origins.html: In the 1930s heads were made to order and sold for approximately $25.00.

Revenant said...

I think the idea was that students whose ancesters came from parts of the world near the origins of the heads would feel denigrated.

Why? My ancestors got up to some pretty bloody religious shenanigans too, and it doesn't bother me when people point that out. I'm not them.

Emy L. Nosti said...

Regardless of culture there is (or should be) something disturbing about displaying dead bodies mostly for entertainment.

Still, it's widely accepted and while it should not be taken lightly, it's hard to imagine, for example, a good Egyptian display without sarcophagi.

After all, it's not entirely gratuitous; head shrinking, like mummification, is a historical death ritual and worthy of attention.

Albatross said...

I think shrunken heads should be on view, just as mummies are. One of my favorite displays in the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum in San Antonio was the shrunken head.

From their Web site [http://plazawaxmuseum.com/Flash/ripleysbion.asp]:

"Visitors will learn about primitive cultures from South America and Africa as they view artifacts of religion, weaponry, and habits of survival. One of the rarest in the museum is an actual European Jivaro Indian shrunken head. . . complete with details about exactly how such a war trophy was produced."

Dan Collins said...

I think they ought to be restored to their rightful owners, if they can be found. I think it's dreadful that some people find it sporting to gallivant about creating liberals. I don't care about the cultural sensitivities; one must draw the line somewhere, presumably, even in Madison.

Jennifer said...

I'm so curious as to how they might track down the rightful owner of a shrunken head. Is the area they're coming from that small?

Bissage said...

This post gives new meaning to classic advice: Don't let the little head do the thinking for the big head.

Annette said...

So are the Mexicans culturally insensitive to have the Mummy Muesum in Guanajuato? Or are you just not allowed to display dead people from another culture?

http://www.mummytombs.com/mummylocator/group/guanajuato.htm

shaina said...

does any1 know how this practice was conducted? Meaning, how the hell did they shrink heads?!?

shaina said...

nevermind... i found it. @.@