United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

 

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When Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Greater Antilles in the late 15th century, he encountered the Taino, Arawakan Indians numbering as many as two million at the time. A century later they had been reduced to near-extinction by disease and enslavement. A peace-loving people, they were also skillful artisans with wood and stone, and left a small legacy of elaborate sculptures. In 1997, UNESCO had an ongoing project, Insula 2000, and chose this opportunity to strike a medal in memory of the Taino, awarded to individuals who have distinguished themselves in the defence of peace and democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The obverse side features a duho, a low four-legged ceremonial chair sculpted from a guaiacum tree native to the island of Hispaniola. Dating back from the 12th to the 14th century, this masterpiece of Taino art belongs to the collection of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. The carved effigy represents Opiyelguoviran, a zemi (spirit) endowed with the faculty of moving. During animistic rituals, the entranced shaman would sit on the duho and “travel” to dialogue with the gods. On non-religious occasions, a distinguished guest was invited to sit on this chair which, for UNESCO, symbolizes cultural exchanges and understanding between peoples. The reverse of the medal is plain.

Available in gold-plated silver and silver

Photo © UNESCO/N. Burke

© UNESCO 1995-2008 - ID: 26470