Retracing the footsteps of Everard Im Thurn in Guyana
The South American country of Guyana (formerly British Guiana) has a rich biological and cultural heritage, well-represented in Kew's Economic Botany Collection. A research project seeks to view the historic collections in the context of today's people and environment.
For my doctoral research I have been studying the Latin American career of Everard Im Thurn, (1852 – 1932). He was a colonial administrator and polymath: equally capable as a botanist, anthropologist, curator, photographer and ornithologist. An important resource for my project is the artefacts collected by Im Thurn in British Guiana [now Guyana], kept in the Economic Botany Collection at Kew. The objects pictured below were both collected by Im Thurn:
A pot made of clay mixed with burned and powdered Kanto bark (Hirtella americana) by the Arawak Indians (EBC 37797)
A sample of Karamani gum, from the Symphonia globulifera tree, used for cementing arrow heads (EBC 66698)
In October 2010 I am going to Guyana to visit some of the communities (Arawak and Macushi in particular) where Everard Im Thurn collected some 120 years ago. I will also have the opportunity to visit the capital Georgetown and examine the way indigenous artefacts are part of the cultural life of Guyana today.
My main aim is to see how the objects such as necklaces, hammocks, fans and pottery have or have not changed in the intervening period. I wonder if the kinds of objects collected by Im Thurn are still being used by these communities, whether the same species of plants are being used to make the objects, is this knowledge of handcraft is still being passed down through the generations, and to what extent tourism is influencing these communities. Once I return, I will report some of my findings back to the blog.
My research project is funded by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award and a studentship from the Portuguese foundation FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia), and co-supervised by Dr Luciana Martins (Birkbeck, University of London) and Christopher Mills (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew).
- Sara -