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The Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport is moving to retrieve precolonial indigenous sculptures being housed at the British Museum in the United Kingdom (UK).

These are Taino wooden sculptures – the ‘Boinayel figures’ and ‘Birdman’.

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Olivia Grange, said that “as Minister, I am determined to ensure the repatriation of cultural objects taken from Jamaica, which constitute our rich cultural heritage,” she noted.

This is a replica of the sculpture found in a cave in the spots mountain within the Carpenter’s Mountain Range, Manchester, Jamaica. Figures like these are called zemís, they served as an intermediary or representation of a deity or spirit. They were religious objects imbued with the power of the spirits that they represented. They could represent familial or mythic ancestors or deities. The zemís played a prominent role in religious ceremonies relating to fertility, healing, divination and the cult of ancestors. The original sculpture is in the British Museum.

 

This figure is identified as Boinayel the Rain Giver, an important god of the Taíno. The tears that stream from his eyes signify the magical tears that created rain. His twin brother, Márohu, was the god of sunny weather. These two weather gods were locked in a constant battle between rain and clear skies. Naturally, the Taíno needed both twins to work in harmony to ensure a good harvest. The original sculpture is in the British Museum).

 

She was speaking at the recent virtual staging of the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) Heritage Fest.

Minister Grange said the return of the artefacts “will fill the gaps in our history that are critical to the process of understanding ourselves and fostering greater cultural awareness”.

She informed that the Ministry, with the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, has initiated the process of “engaging our British partners” to get the artefacts.

She noted that in 1981, the British High Commission in Jamaica had identified approximately 137 objects from Jamaica that were housed at the British Museum.

Information obtained from the IOJ, states that the Taino sculptures were removed from a cave in Carpenter’s Mountain in the parish of Vere, now known as Manchester, during the 18th century.

Those objects are also called Carpenter’s Mountain carvings.

“The objects are slated to have been acquired by the British Museum in the period between 1799 and 1803. They were formally entered into the Museum’s collection in 1977,” the document says further.

The IOJ’s Heritage Fest, under the theme ‘Treasures of the IOJ: Every Object Tells a Story’, was streamed on the Institute’s YouTube channel.

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