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Duho or carved effigy seat from a Taino town in Cuba

From the Journal of the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus, summarized by his son Ferdinand, we learn that on Oct. 29, 1492 the Spaniards visited a Taino town at río de Mares (Puerto Gibara) in Cuba, where they saw large houses containing wooden furniture, some elaborately carved.

Ferdinand's account includes a description of duhos, or carved seats found in the houses of Taino cacique s or chiefs "They seated each in a chair made of one piece and in a strange shape, for it resembled some short-legged animal with a tail as broad as the seat of the chair [which] had a head in front with eyes and ears of gold. They call these seats duhos."

Many of these effigy seats are similar in form to stone carvings which may have been used as ceremonial grinding stones or metates, and are similar to carved stone slabs commonly found on the mainland in Costa Rica. The duho effigies may also have a relation to the zemi images common in the Antilles. Columbus in his Journal entry for November 29, 1492 also noted that head effigies and occasionally, actual heads of principal ancestors were worshipped in household shrines in Hispaniola, an interpretation which modern scholars including Rouse and Arrom (1992) find to be accurate for the contact-period Taino of the Greater Antilles.


[Fig.1: Stone duho, or carved seat with effigy (Fewkes 1922; Berlin Museum.)]

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