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Collaborative Project: Exhibition Slavery in Context: Materialities of Asymmetrical Dependencies


In cooperation with the various collections and museums of the University of Bonn and of the region, a touring exhibition focusing on "Slavery in Context: Materialities of Asymmetrical Dependencies" will be developed. A scientific companion volume and a digital atlas with an interactive depiction of the archeological sites of the artefacts and bodies that constitute part of the exhibition and have been researched will guarantee long-term safeguarding of the research results. Moreover, a digital learning management system will be developed for use in (university) museums as well as in schools in order to familiarize museum workers, visitors, teachers and pupils with the social history of artefacts. This research area will thus contribute to the dissemination of research results achieved within the cluster into society. It will be embedded in and further the digitalization strategy of the University of Bonn, which is connected to the University's collections and museums to a considerable extent, and increase the international visibility of research done in the humanities.

Ressources of Power: Objects Talk about Slavery and Dependency

For thousands of years, human beings have lived in relationships of asymmetrical dependency. Networks of dependency are created by people controlling access to resources and the things people produce and consume. But it is often the very things that make dependencies real for observers. Within such a framework of material and social dependencies, the exhibition “Slavery in Context: Materialities of Asymmetrical Dependencies” , shown in four locations, tells a millennia-old story of slavery and strong asymmetrical dependencies through objects that relate to the materiality of three resource groups: grains, luxury foods, and textiles.
The production of resources such as cotton, coffee, and corn, the globalized trade flows, and the different uses of the goods produced from the resources are closely interwoven with varying manifestations of dependencies. The exhibition is the collaborative work of the Research Area "Embodied Dependencies" at the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies. It is based on objects from the University’s own museums and collections. The exhibition will continue to develop in the coming years and will become the core of a large display of the materiality of dependency and slavery.

Three Groups of Materials

Grain

Ägyptisches Museum

Regina-Pacis-Weg 7 53113 Bonn

Luxury Foods

Abteilung für Asiatische und Islamische Kunstgeschichte Adenauerallee 10
53113 Bonn (1. Etage)

Textilien

Bonner Amerikas-Sammlung
Oxfordstraße 15 53111 Bonn

Grain

The domestication und cultivation of cereal crops happened at different times in different regions of the world. They were a driving force in the process of humans becoming sedentary, while at the same time making people dependent on barley, emmer and wheat (from 8500 BC in Egypt and the Mediterranean), rice (in Southeast Asia from 8000 BC) and maize (in the Americas from 7500 BC). The consolidation of cereal crop cultivation led to overproduction, which meant that some groups of people now no longer had to spend their time with food production. Here lie the origins of specialized crafts and the stratification of societies: and also of asymmetrical dependencies. After all, the cultivation of cereal crops also changed access to and ownership of land.

Domestication is a process of ever-increasing interdependence between human societies and particular plant populations. The term neolithization has been coined, for the Eurasian region, for the bundle of cultural and social processes that occurred during the domestication processes. It denotes the transition from the Paleolithic/Mesolithic to the Neolithic, a period in which ceramics, polished stone axes, cultivated plants and domestic animals, as well as year-round settlements eventually came to dominate production and social life.

But the concept of a ‘Neolithic revolution’ is problematic for a number of reasons. For one thing, these processes did not happen at the same time in all places. Sedentariness, agriculture and animal husbandry did not necessarily occur together. Polished stone axes and pottery came later. For another, the hypothesis of the “Neolithic revolution” is not easily transferrable to other world regions, where urban structures existed for centuries without significant crop domestication, largely based on the use of marine resources. This was the case on the Peruvian coast.

However, the consolidation of cereal crop cultivation led to overproduction, which meant that now some groups of people no longer had to spend their time with food production. Here lie the origins of specialized crafts and the stratification of societies: and also of asymmetrical dependencies. After all, the cultivation of cereal crops for staple foods also made humans dependent on objects that were essential for the production and distribution of food from cereals. These range from digging sticks and utensils for food preparation (millstones, mortars...), through storage buildings, terraces and receptacles, to tools and roads for transport. Throughout history, extreme dependency arose from the control over the production and distribution of grain and the food produced from it. This is still the case today, for example in the many conflicts between small-scale grain farmers and industrial mass production.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Joeline Anna Damer

Like pyramids and scarabs, ushabtis are among the instantly recognizable visual forms of ancient Egypt. These small (and usually cheaply made) figures, often mass-produced, show a remarkable variance in iconography, materials and even their markings. For an overall analysis of asymmetrical dependencies, these “magical” minions illuminate aspects of Egyptian concepts of labor, social dependency, and questions of identity.

Culturally, they were located within the horizon of Pharaonic society: a highly traditional peasant economy with labor obligations that formed part of a patronage system. We know of various different  substitution mechanisms – such as elite members providing a contingent of workers who would labor in their stead – from the social practice of the ancient Nile Valley. In this same socio-funerary way of thinking the ushabti served as a labor substitute for a real person in the afterlife.

In funerary culture, the ushabtis contained a paradox by functioning as servants in the afterlife, but also as stabilizers of the deceased person’s identity for eternity. This is shown by the mummy-like appearance of the ushabtis – grave clothes are not suitable for work. So they are intended to signify something different from traditional servant figurines.

In addition to these concrete material objects, there are also funerary texts (dating to the first half of the second millennium BC). The oldest known ushabti text was written on the sarcophagus of a man named Gua and ran like this:

A spell for causing a shabti to do work for his master in the Hereafter

If this [the deceased] is called up for substitute-work

of replacement-land, for removal of a sector,

for traversing(?) riverbank lands, for turning over new fields

for the reigning king [Osiris],

“Here I am!” you should say to any commissioner who may come for this [the deceased] as his replacement.

Then take up your *picks, your hoes, your carrying-poles, your baskets,

see, as does every man for his master.

(trans. in Werner Forman & Stephen Quirke, Hieroglyphs and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt, London 1996, p. 98.)

In their standard form, which they assumed in the New Kingdom (from the second half of the second millennium BC onwards), ushabtis carry a hoe in each hand and a bag or basket on their backs. In Egyptian culture, digging was considered the prototype of physical labor, and this conception solidified in the shape of this hieroglyph, , which shows a man carrying a basket on his head. We may assume that the basket is filled with dirt or soil. A hoe and a basket carried on one’s head – hieroglyphics     and   - were the two distinctive tools for agricultural digging.

So the ushabtis were not so much associated with individual work for one’s own benefit, but rather with the social dimension of labor and its integration into the socio-cultural framework. With their ushabtis, members of the elite all the way up to the pharaohs tried to absolve themselves from their personal duty to labor in the hereafter. Ushabtis of pharaohs like Amenhotep III or Tutankhamun  show that it is likely even kings were thought of as called upon to work in the afterlife.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Joeline Anna Damer

The Maya in Mesoamerica frequently placed funerary or ritual offerings on plates that were painted with depictions of the youthful Maize God. This tripod plate was used to offer maize bread (tamales), a staple of the Maya diet. The maize kernels were soaked overnight in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, before being ground on a grinding slab (metate). The maize dough was shaped into loaves, wrapped in maize leaves and cooked in a clay oven. The bread was served with beans and hot sauces, sometimes also with meat. Maize loaves were also given as offerings to the dead, which is why painted plates have been found in numerous tombs.

They often depict, as this plate does, the Maize God dancing as he reemerges from the underworld. The plate exhibited here is decorated with a band of pseudo-glyphs to enhance its value. In Maya belief, the dead depended on the offerings left for them by the living in sacred places of ancestral worship.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© D. Grana-Behrens

As well as a  lower slab, the grinding of maize also requires a hand-held stone roller. After being cooked and soaked, the maize was ground into dough on a grinding slab. Milling stones of this type have been common throughout Mesoamerica since the domestication of maize (corn). This metate is one of only very few with zoomorphic attributes. The legs, head, and long tail make this milling stone the image of a large cat, probably a jaguar. In the worldview of the people of Mesoamerica and Central America, utensils and objects were endowed with a life force and possessed of souls: they could transform into animals or humans. Valuable grinding slabs like this one were probably used in the preparation of ritual food. According to another theory, these figuratively decorated milling stones from the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica were never used to prepare dough, but deposited as offerings in sacred places to ensure a rich maize harvest.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© J. A. B. Hegewald

As in the cases of wheat, maize and barley, dependencies (such as the pre-colonial and colonial food trade, dependencies on food imports, colonial rice plantations) and exploitation (such as low-paid labor and dependencies in terms of land and tax) also play a major role with rice. Today, rice is not only one of the continent’s most important staple and a major export commodity, it is also deeply embedded in the cultural and ritual lives of the people of Asia. Rice is associated with good luck, prosperity and fertility, as well as with numerous traditions: whether as an element in harvest festivals or cultivation rituals, or as an offering to deities, rice plays a versatile and central role in daily life. In India, too, rice is closely associated with fertility and prosperity. Rice flour plays a central role in the daily lives of Tamil women. It is used to draw kōlaṁs. Kōlaṁs not only signify the ebb and flow of the days and the seasons, they also show up forms of dependency (such as social dependency and gender dependency, since it is usually women who draw kōlaṁs). Kōlaṁs are usually drawn freehand, by allowing rice flour to flow between the thumb and index finger. Stencil sheets, boxes and rollers are used to paint larger and more complex motifs created e.g. for temple festivals. The rollers and sheets have geometric patterns punched out with which to create the kōlaṁ. When the sheet is covered with rice flour and tapped on the floor, the flour falls out, forming a geometric pattern. The rollers are similarly filled with rice flour; by rolling them back and forth they create lines or a pattern.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Joeline Anna Damer

During the Middle Kingdom (c. 2100–1800 BC) it became common practice in Pharaonic Egypt to put small figures of painted wood into the graves of those of the deceased who could afford it. The figures depicted servants who were believed to magically animate, so that they would make sure that the deceased did not suffer any lack or hardship in the afterlife. The servants would provide the deceased with daily supplies of both basic foodstuffs and luxury items. Many thousands of these small servant figures have been found all over Egypt in the tombs of the members of the middle and higher echelons of the elite: they include brewers, bakers, fishermen, butchers and many others. Many of the little wooden figures have movable arms and legs like jointed dolls; often they have been grouped together into larger ensembles or even whole production groups in settings such as abattoirs, breweries, or bakeries. As staples, bread and beer were equally important for all social classes; so it is no surprise that we find their ‘perpetual’ production depicted with particular frequency. Our statuette is of a woman leaning forward. She holds a milling stone in both hands with which she grinds grain into flour on a grinding stone which rests on a pedestal. The flour, which is marked by white paint, forms a little pile in a kind of hollow. Experimental archaeology has shown it would take a skilled, strong person seven hours to produce about two kilos of flour in this way: it was hard and laborious work. The dough was prepared in large vats, in which the flour was mixed and kneaded with water and possibly salt, oil and other ingredients. It was then shaped into loaves of various types and sizes and cooked either in an oven (horizontally or stuck to the sides), fire-baked in Bedouin fashion, or baked in pre-heated terracotta bread molds. Although bread was a universal staple, in came at different levels of quality; something that was often indicated by the bread stamp [see Coptic bread stamp]. So the representations (images or three-dimensional sculpture), utensils and sometimes the foodstuffs themselves (loaves or grains as grave goods) frequently also can tell us about the variety of production, quality, and the social groups involved – from the woman servant with her grinding stone to elite consumption of a luxury item that was wholly free from grains of sand.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© F. J. Dölger-Institut

The image on this terracotta disk is an antelope enclosed by two circles. The base of a broken handle on its back makes it likely that it was a stamp, presumably a bread stamp. The practice of stamping loaves of bread was widespread in antiquity, the purpose being to indicate the quality, the type or the maker of the bread. The image on the stamp could also be associated with magical or religious purposes. In ecclesiastical usage, bread for the eucharist was stamped with Christian symbols. This stamp, which carries the image of an animal, belongs to the worldly sphere. Almost no material remains [IRH1] of ancient bread have survived, but bread stamps can provide insights into the consumption and the status of this staple food.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Joeline Anna Damer

Keros were vessels used to consume chicha (fermented maize beer) during rituals and major ceremonies in order to establish important religious, social, and political relationships and seal agreements.

In the Middle Horizon (500–1000 AD), the organization of festivals and ceremonies was a strategy to forge alliances and exercise political power. Although public power was in the hands of men, in Tiwanaku society the production and distribution of food and chicha during festive and ceremonial occasions was organized by women.

The production of chicha was based on a complex system of commensality and reciprocity typical of Andean societies, which embodied kinship obligations and dependencies.

Chicha was also used as a currency, and women could negotiate their status by controlling the quality and quantity of chicha they produced.

From an historical accounts by Titu Cusi Yupanqui (nephew of the Inca) we know that the Spanish were received very cordially by Atahualpa, who offered them chicha in a kero jar to signal the alliance[IRH1] . The Spanish, however, poured the precious beverage on the ground. The Spaniards in their turn presented Atahualpa with a Bible, which he also hurled to the ground: two symbolic acts of mutual disrespect. They may demonstrate the balance of power in a dynamic that appeared symmetrical at the time.


 

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Bonn Collection of the Americas

This statue is of the Aztec goddess Chicomecoatl, whose name means “Seven Serpents”. She was the goddess of agriculture and of plenty, and the female aspect of the maize plant. For this reason, she was regarded as the female counterpart of the maize god Centeotl. Chicomecoatl was also associated with food, drink, and human livelihood. The figure depicts the goddess carrying a basket full of corn cobs on her back. She was especially celebrated during the harvest festival, Huey Tozoztli. During the festival, her priestesses chose the maize to be planted in the new season.

Small fertility figurines were mass-produced by the Aztecs and probably served for family worship or for rituals performed in the maize fields themselves.

The selection of grains for sowing was the responsibility of the women, while the men prepared the fields. In Mesoamerica, reciprocity applied to the division of labor between the sexes, but also to the relationship between people and plants. Maize cannot propagate by itself, so it has to depend on humans to sow it, just as humans depend on maize as a staple.


 

710_Foto Akademisches Kunstmuseum Bonn-Jutta Schubert.jpg
© Jutta Schubert

In the ancient societies of the Mediterranean the cultivation of grain, such as emmer, barley and wheat, played a central role in supplying the population with food from very early on. Enough rainfall to secure a good harvest was essential to ensure prosperity. Ritual offerings from sacred sites show that people often asked for divine assistance. One example is a votive relief from Eleusis in Greece, which shows Demeter, the ancient Greek goddess of agriculture and fertility. She is dressed in a long robe and holds a scepter in her left hand. With her right hand, she gives an unidentifiable object to an almost naked boy, the mythical prince Triptolemus. To the right stands her daughter Persephone holding a torch, while she performs a sort of blessing over the boy’s head with her right hand. This scene references a mythical tale according to which Demeter gives ears of grain to Triptolemus and instructs him in the ways of agriculture, before sending him on a journey to pass this knowledge on to humanity. This is an impressive example for the degree to which human prosperity and well-being depends on fertile soils and good harvests, and on divine assistance.

LUXURY FOODS

 The history of the exploration of foreign countries, of colonialism and of slavery are closely enmeshed with the trade of vegetable products. This trade was driven by a desire for ‘exotic’ stimulants. Colonial trading companies established plantations in Asia and the Americas that were worked by oppressed local populations or enslaved people from Africa. The trade with both legal and illegal stimulants continues to the present, generating new addictions, for example to coca(ine).

The display case on “stimulants” contains a number of substances as examples. The items come from different continents and are made from a number of materials. The objects themselves are all held in university and private collections in Bonn. We also show examples of the vegetable products associated with them.

In addition, the concrete historical context of the trade in luxury foods and its interrelations with colonialism and slavery highlight the mesh of asymmetrical power relations and dependencies between the Global South and North. This shows up clearly the economic imbalance in production and consumption. The production or extraction of luxury foods takes place in the colonised countries, while the accumulation of the products and their economic revenues are located in Europe. The excessive extraction of luxury foods was accompanied by the often violent exploitation of local and enslaved labour. This violence was imposed and justified especially by racist and Eurocentric forms of thinking. So the history of the trade in luxury foods not only highlights the economic asymmetries between colonized and colonizers: it also underscores the epistemological and systemic violence of racism that directly and specifically dominates or occupies the bodies of Black and Indigenous individuals or groups.

Such economic, but also physical and psychological, violence continues to the present day. This is reflected, for example, in the unequal, asymmetrical and exploitative relations of production and the consumption patterns of global trade.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Joeline Anna Damer

h: 22.3 cm, d: 15 cm
Egyptian Museum Bonn
Inv. no.: BoSAe 15284
Marl, Tonca.
1480–1397 BC 
Provenance unknown
Part of the permanent exhibition
Acquisition 1901 in Qena, Egypt

Wine was a much sought-after luxury food and as such already an important commodity at the time of the ancient Egyptian and Roman Empires.

This wine jug is in the collection of the Egyptian Museum of the University of Bonn. The exact place of origin is not known; the well-preserved terracotta vessel was purchased by Ludwig Borchardt in Qena in 1901. It can be dated to the New Kingdom period, around 1480–1397 BC. On the outside, the jar is decorated with an inscription in black ink. The word, jrp, translates as ‘wine’ or ‘grapes’. Based on the inscription and the high quality of the workmanship it is likely that the vessel was used in the household of a member the upper classes.

In addition, it is important to underline the significance of wine within social processes and ritual contexts, which is reflected, for example, in the consumption behavior of hierarchically organized societies. For a long time and in many societies, wine was the exclusive reserve of the upper classes. This fact is also highlighted by this wine jug.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Bonn Collection of the Americas Museum

14.5 x 12.5 cm
Bonn Collection of the Americas
Inv. no. 2055
Dyed camelid fiber, coins (prob. copper-nickel alloy) 1960, Aymara Oruro, Bolivia
Collection H. Trimborn
Acquisition 1960 in Oruro, Bolivia

Today, in this country coca is known primarily as the base product of a modern drug, cocaine.

But in the South American Andean countries (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia), unprocessed coca leaves are still valued for their analgesic and mildly stimulating effect.

This bad woven from wool fibers is called a ch’uspa. Coca leaves are carried in such pouches for easy access during strenuous physical and mental activities. People in harsh living conditions also like to resort to coca, because chewing the leaves in combination with vegetable ash or bicarbonate of soda also reduces feelings of hunger and tiredness.

Coca pouches were woven in precolonial times, long before the Incas. In this way, the leaves were always at hand, both for human consumption and as an offering in rituals. The cultivation of coca and other agricultural products intensified under Inca rule. The expansion of their empire gave the Incas access to the eastern slopes of the Andes, where the climate is warm and humid – ideal for coca cultivation. This allowed them to produce a greater quantity of this crop with its central place for them and their cosmovision.

The spiritual and political dimensions of dependency associated with the coca plant in the pre-colonial Andes is vastly overshadowed today by the global criminal market around the drug cocaine. Chemical processing vastly increases the original effect of the cocaine contained in the plant and so creates new, extreme, physical and ultimately also social and economic dependencies.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Joeline Anna Damer

11 x 26 x 15 cm
No inv. no.
Silver-plated metal, synthetic material / shellac
Twentieth century
India
Private collection, permanent loan

Tea, a luxury beverage from Asia, is strongly connected to dependencies. From 1820 onwards, the British East India Company set up large-scale tea plantations in India, leading to the annexation of the cultivated lands. Commercial tea growing only became possible by exploiting dependent and poorly paid workers.

Tea became a popular stimulant that was soon consumed in large quantities, expressing the colonial power’s status, as well as that of the upper classes in western countries.

Tea continues to be a popular stimulant today. In parallel, a distinct culture of porcelain, cast-iron or silver-plated metal teapots and tea sets developed.

While tea is being consumed all over the globe, there are traditions specific to particular countries and contexts in terms of the social significance of tea consumption as well as of particular varieties and types of tea and teapots. Chai, the term for generic tea or for particular tea preparations in Asian and Eastern European languages, is an important part of social gatherings or everyday life.

This twentieth-century teapot and the twenty-first-century tea container highlight the continuing importance of tea: today, tea of whichever kind is easily found in supermarkets, stores and markets across the world. This includes Europe and the Global North, where tea can be found in every household, and is consumed in large quantities.

To this day, we can observe continuities as well as new forms of dependencies: while most tea is still produced in Asian, African or Latin American countries in poor working conditions and exported worldwide, the largest and richest tea companies are corporations from Europe or the U.S. This again shows the complexity and interrelatedness of dependencies, colonialism and capitalism. We can observe neo-colonial structures and continuities, but must at the same time bear in mind the existence of new forms of dependencies.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Harbiye Erdoğan

33 x 21 x 12 cm
Islamic Archaeology Research Unit, Bonn
Inv. no. H98.L1.Obj100
Terracotta
Fourteenth century
Tall Hisban, Jordan
Tall Hisban Collection
2001 excavation

Sugar production in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Palestine rested solely with the state and was largely based on forced and enslaved labor. Sugar was also commercially produced and exported under the Mamluks and in the Ottoman Empire.

In the Americas, the cultivation of sugar in plantations was similarly based on slave labor forcibly transported from Africa. So the production of sugar was strongly enmeshed with different forms of dependency, while the west in turn was dependent on sugar imports from the Near East and Middle East and the ‘New World’.

This terracotta vessel for molasses, which is part of the Islamic Archaeology collection at the University of Bonn, was found during an excavation at Tall Hisban, Jordan.

In Asian medieval societies a whole variety of sweeteners formed an important part of the diet and served medicinal needs: from raisins and date molasses to honey and sugar. The most expensive of these – cane sugar – was grown and processed on many state-owned estates in the Jordan Valley, in wadis and oases. Sugar and the products derived from it were stored and distributed throughout Syria and Egypt, and transported to Mediterranean ports for export, including onward to Europe.

Syrian sugar was a valuable export commodity in the fourteenth century. The production of thick sugarcane molasses, which were obtained by boiling off the moisture, were a popular and less expensive alternative to sugar crystals.

Unlike on plantations in the Americas, sugar cultivation and processing were not exclusively the product of enslaved labor. Sugar production in the Levant was a state monopoly, but the sultans and amirs who owned the land on which sugarcane was grown, and the factories for pressing and heating, generally relied on peasant corvée labor, while slave labor was less common.

The sugar industry caused devastation in countries where sugarcane was grown, since the water for it was diverted from other crops. As a result, water-sharing agreements were not being honored. There was disruption to established traditions and damage to the environment. It was an exploitative but a highly profitable industry. Sugar was, literally, worth its weight in gold.

This terracotta vessel for molasses is one of many found during a 1998 excavation of the storeroom of a medieval castle at the site of Tall Hisban, Jordan. An earthquake in the middle of the fourteenth century led to the citadel being abandoned. The contents of a storeroom, which was sealed as the vault collapsed, offer a glimpse into the daily life in this frontier town and garrison during the Mamluk period.

Since there is no evidence of sugar production near the highlands, it is likely that the molasses in this container was produced in one of the sugarcane growing areas of the Jordan River valley about 130 kilometers from Tall Hisban.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© J. A. B.. Hegewald

mortar: h: 8 cm, d: 11.5 cm
pestle: 13.5 x 3 cm
stone
Twentieth century
India
Private collection, permanent loan

Demand for precious spices led to trade expeditions to the east. Among the first spices brought to the west as coveted luxuries were cassia/cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, pepper and cardamom, later on chili powder and curry blends.

The history of the spice trade is a long one dating back to antiquity. It continued during the period of the crusades, the age of Portuguese explorers from the fifteenth century onwards, and the time of European trading companies such as the Dutch East and West India Companies.

Extreme forms of dependency played an important role in the extraction and distribution of spices from the colonies.

In the era of colonization, many Asian spices were seen as luxury products which not everyone in Europe could afford and which were consumed especially by the upper classes. Today, curry, chili, turmeric and pepper are to be found in every German supermarket: the spices that were once expensive rarities have become part of every kitchen.

This black stone spice grinder was made in India in the twentieth century. But just like the spices themselves, very similar utensils for processing them are widely available in Europe today.

And again in the case of spices as globally consumed products, forms of dependencies and labor exploitation in production and consumption occur right up to the present day: spices continue to be produced in Asian countries in poor working conditions and exported worldwide, and sold cheaply in Europe, for example.

Tee.jpg
© Joeline Anna Damer

8 x 7.5 x 6.5 cm
No inv. no.
Colored metal
Twenty-first century
England
Private collection, permanent loan

Tea, a luxury beverage from Asia, is strongly connected to dependencies. From 1820 onwards, the British East India Company set up large-scale tea plantations in India, leading to the annexation of the cultivated lands. Commercial tea growing only became possible by exploiting dependent and poorly paid workers.

Tea became a popular stimulant that was soon consumed in large quantities, expressing the colonial power’s status, as well as that of the upper classes in western countries.

Tea continues to be a popular stimulant today. In parallel, a distinct culture of porcelain, cast-iron or silver-plated metal teapots and tea sets developed.

While tea is being consumed all over the globe, there are traditions specific to particular countries and contexts in terms of the social significance of tea consumption as well as of particular varieties and types of tea and teapots. Chai, the term for generic tea or for particular tea preparations in Asian and Eastern European languages, is an important part of social gatherings or everyday life.

This twentieth-century teapot and the twenty-first-century tea container highlight the continuing importance of tea: today, tea of whichever kind is easily found in supermarkets, stores and markets across the world. This includes Europe and the Global North, where tea can be found in every household, and is consumed in large quantities.

To this day, we can observe continuities as well as new forms of dependencies: while most tea is still produced in Asian, African or Latin American countries in poor working conditions and exported worldwide, the largest and richest tea companies are corporations from Europe or the U.S. This again shows the complexity and interrelatedness of dependencies, colonialism and capitalism. We can observe neo-colonial structures and continuities, but must at the same time bear in mind the existence of new forms of dependencies.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Bonn Collection of the Americas Museum

Twenty-first century
Bolivia
Acquisition in Bolivia

Today, in this country coca is known primarily as the base product of a modern drug, cocaine.

But in the South American Andean countries (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia), unprocessed coca leaves are still valued for their analgesic and mildly stimulating effect.

This bag woven from wool fibers is called a ch’uspa. Coca leaves are carried in such pouches for easy access during strenuous physical and mental activities. People in harsh living conditions also like to resort to coca, because chewing the leaves in combination with vegetable ash or bicarbonate of soda also reduces feelings of hunger and tiredness.

Coca pouches were woven in precolonial times, long before the Incas. In this way, the leaves were always at hand, both for human consumption and as an offering in rituals. The cultivation of coca and other agricultural products intensified under Inca rule. The expansion of their empire gave the Incas access to the eastern slopes of the Andes, where the climate is warm and humid – ideal for coca cultivation. This allowed them to produce a greater quantity of this crop with its central place for them and their cosmovision.

The spiritual and political dimensions of dependency associated with the coca plant in the pre-colonial Andes is vastly overshadowed today by the global criminal market around the drug cocaine. Chemical processing greatly amplifies the original effect of the cocaine contained in the plant and so creates new, extreme, physical and ultimately also social and economic dependencies.

Textiles

A world without textiles is inconceivable: we use textiles as clothing, as room furnishings, as tools or status symbols. For thousands of years, the raw materials (cotton, linen and wool) and the production of textiles have played a central role in social and global processes. Cotton on the plantations of the Americas was harvested by exploiting slave labor. Spinning as a typically female activity symbolizes the traditionally subordinate role of women. Dependent wage laborers in eighteenth-century textile factories stand at the beginning of industrialization in Europe. Exploitation and forced labor still exist today in the textile industry in Asia to satisfy our demand for inexpensive “fast fashion”.

As early as several millennia ago, different types of cotton were cultivated independently in different parts of the world. The earliest documented domestication of cotton dates back to the seventh millennium BC in what is now India and Pakistan, particularly the Indus Valley. Other finds show that cotton was domesticated and systematically processed in some parts of Africa, the Arab world and ancient Syria as early as 6,000 – 5,000 BC. In the Mesoamerican region, the use of cotton for the production of clothing and other textiles was known as early as the third or second millennium before the current era. Strikingly, some evidence points to the domestication of cotton on the north coast of Peru from 5,000 BC onward. Recent research suggests that it was the harnessing of this raw material for the systematic production of nets for fishing that proved crucial for the emergence of sedentary, complex societies – rather than food production through agriculture, as is often assumed.

In the ancient Mediterranean, the most frequently used plan fiber was linen. Cotton was not  common until after the Islamic conquests in the seventh century AD; it then replaced linen. This case is a clear example for the fact that the use of resources also depended on political power relations.

But if we want to understand these different effects, it is not enough to look just at cotton. In the ancient world, silk production enabled the Chinese Empire to extend its influence to the entire Eurasian continent including Japan, as well as parts of the northwest coast of Africa, by setting up the Silk Road as a trade route and an economic driving force. Today China, a global power, leverages silk’s symbolic power by naming these trade routes to strengthen its influence on global markets with an investment and programmatic initiative called “Silk Road 2.0”.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Bonn Collection of the Americas Museum

77 x 37 cm
Bonn Collection of the Americas, Bonn, inv. no. 2997
modern
Ecuador

Cotton production was a significant factor in the development of societies in the New World. But like textile production, it was often associated with dependent labor.

After being harvested, cotton must be cleaned and combed. This is followed by the spinning process, in which continuous yarn is being produced from the fibers by  pulling and twisting. The manual production of yarn with the puchka (the Quechua word for spindle) is still woman’s work in the Andean region; a skill passed on from mother to daughter. The loose fibers, held together with a piece of cloth, are held on a distaff – usually a long wooden staff – which the spinner tucks under her arm. She gradually pulls out fibers with one hand and feeds them to her spindle, which she twists with her other hand. The spindlewhorl assists the spinning process by acting as a flyweight, causing an even rotation of the hand spindle. The spindlewhorl is firmly clamped to the spindle, which also helps to firmly fix the pre-spun yarn. Spinning with a distaff leaves both hands free, so that one hand can draw out the fibers while the other twists the spindle.

Originally, textiles in the Andean region were made from cotton as well as from the wool of sheep, vicuñas, llamas and alpacas. This changed at the beginning of the twentieth century, and a lot of cloth is now produced from industrial cotton or synthetic fibers. These are frequently imported from Asian countries, where they are produced by low-waged women workers.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© P. Linscheid

31 x 15 x 6 cm
Egyptian Museum, Bonn, inv. no. MF3154
Linen fabric, Pharaonic period (3000–300 BC)
Egypt

This linen sheet measures three by one metres when it is spread out. It was made on a large loom in a simple plain weave, with a decorative fringe along only one long side.

The folds in the material show that the cloth had been folded once along its short side when it was in use. Folded half on half, it was probably worn wrapped around the body as a garment. The folding arrangement seen here is modern.

Although the cloth’s find site and context are unknown, we can assume that it had been in a grave, where such textiles were used to prepare the mummies and given as grave goods. There are residues of oily liquids on this cloth, which can give us information on how it may have been used.

In ancient Egypt, weaving rooms were located in private homes, rural estates, and temples. The weaving was often done by slaves. The importance of textiles can also be seen from the fact that they could be used to pay both tribute and taxes in ancient Mediterranean societies.

In the ancient Mediterranean, linen was the most important textile fiber; not until the Islamic conquest, from the seventh century AD onward, was it gradually replaced by cotton. This is a good example to illustrate how the use of different resources also depends on cultural influences.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Joeline Anna Damer

40 x 34 cm
BASA-Museum, Bonn, Inv.-Nr.: RV24
Baumwolle und Kamelidenhaar, 1000-1500 n. Chr. Chancay-Kultur, Zentralküste, Peru

This loincloth was made from a long rectangular piece of cotton by adding a tying cord to its upper hem as well as a border that was both decorative and reinforcing. The border has crimson, dark yellow and black geometric patterns, and edging on both sides. Both ends have depictions of a female face seen from the front. The decoration with geometric patterns and the abstract images of humans and animals are characteristic of Chancay textiles. The culture, which was named after the River Chancay, was influential on the central coast of Peru between 1000 and 1533.

Numerous textile artefacts as well as ceramics of outstanding beauty and quality characterized the Chancay period. Many of them have been preserved. The majority of the finds were discovered as grave goods in large burial complexes; they are indicative of pronounced social stratification. The development of cultural expressions such as architectural patterns, weaving techniques, iconographic textile motifs, and ceramic types and styles indicate that this culture had something akin to a national structure. The style of textiles and ceramics can be divided into two phases: objects from the late phase are usually decorated bicolored – in black-and-white or dark-and-light – while objects from the early phase are mostly decorated in three colors, black and red with a light-colored base (white and yellow), like our loincloth fragment seen here.

Textiles, like agriculture or animal husbandry, form part of an economic system. They represented a vital resource in the flow of tribute from the peripheries to the centers of power, possibly as early as the Late Intermediate Period. Textiles are also used to as material forms of expression for society and culture. Cultural identity is represented artistically through manufacture, technique, color and iconography. In this way they also transport information about the social relations of the people who produced the cloth.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© F. J. Dölger-Institut

5.4 x 4.2 cm
Franz Josef Dölger Institute, Bonn, inv. no. 31
Terracotta, late antiquity (400-700 AD) Egypt (on a modern stand)

Cotton was unknown in the ancient Mediterranean, fibers for textiles being produced instead by the domestication of sheep and the cultivation of flax. The first step in textile production is making yarn by spinning. In antiquity, spinning utensils served as attributes of feminine  identity; there are numerous depictions of women with spindles and distaffs, and textile tools have been found as grave goods in women’s tombs.

The spun thread was woven into cloth on a loom. The decisive factor for the choice of material were the desired qualities of the fabric: wool is warming, elastic and can be dyed, while linen is cooling and  tear-resistant, but will not absorb dyes.

Weavers produced garments like tunics and mantles, but also textiles for interior decoration such as wall hangings, curtains or cushion covers. Textile utensils such as nets, covers and sacks were indispensable in everyday life.

Lavishly produced textiles served as status symbols. Simple fabrics were also valued, being repeatedly repaired and reused. 

SpindelmitStoff.jpg
© Joeline Anna Damer

46 x 12 x 9 cm
Bonn Collection of the Americas, Bonn, inv. no. 3025e
Modern
Ecuador

In the Andes, fibers were obtained by cultivating cotton and domesticating camelids. Fiber and textile production played an important role in the development of complex societies in South America. Cotton harvesting is strongly associated with labor dependency and relationships of strict servitude. After the Spanish conquest, a new fiber was introduced to the Andes: silk, whose arrival there was made possible by shifting global power relations and the colonization of the world.

The spindle on display comes from the village of Salasaca in the central highlands of Ecuador, north of Riobamba. The spindle is made from bamboo and the distaff from wood; the spindlewhorl is terracotta. A purple cloth has been wrapped around the bundle of cotton on the distaff to secure it. At the beginning of the twentieth century, wool and synthetic fibers increasingly replaced cotton and camelid hair. Only in rural areas do the original materials continue to be used.

Bordüre.jpg
© J. A. B. Hegewald

16 x 66 cm
Asian and Islamic Art History, Bonn, no inv. no.
Cotton fabric, twentieth century
Gujarat, West India

Once cloth has been produced, the next stage may be one of elaborate decoration. The hanging on display here is from contemporary Gujarat in western India. It is made of cotton and has been decorated with appliqué and embroidery. Curtains like this one are hung in front of doorways and niches that house sacred objects.

Cotton is the most important fiber material in South Asia. It is turned into a wide range of textiles, from luxury goods to those for everyday use.

Cotton plays a significant role in the formation and regulation of dependencies of different social groups (e.g. castes) in the region. Textiles gain in value through the numerous steps of production and distribution.

After the fabric has been taken off the loom, textile finishing is the last step in the textile production process. Cutting and constructive stitches are used to shape the object. Finishing techniques include embroidery, painting, printing or appliqué. Finishing is largely dependent on regional traditions. Much of our clothing today is made in India. While the factories of well-known clothing brands are regular targets for criticism, textile manufacturers are frequently ignored. But their factories are also almost exclusively staffed by women and girls who are pushed into situations of strong dependency through oppressive contracts. The scheme is known as “Sumangali”, which translates as “happy bride”. In rural areas, the bride’s family often still bears the costs of the wedding. But many disadvantaged families do not have the financial means. They send their daughters to work in the textile industry where they are promised board and lodging, which usually turns out to be severely substandard and inhumane.

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© Joeline Anna Damer

Einführung

Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies Niebuhrstraße 5
53113 Bonn (EG & 1. Etage )

Luxury Foods

Abteilung für Asiatische und Islamische Kunstgeschichte Adenauerallee 10
53113 Bonn (1. Etage)

Grain

Ägyptisches Museum

Regina-Pacis-Weg 7 53113 Bonn

Textiles

Bonner Amerikas-Sammlung
Oxfordstraße 15 53111 Bonn

Partner

Wird geladen