Taíno duho

Duho (dujo), Taíno, 1200–1500 C.E., stone, Puerto Rico, dimensions not listed (Museo de Arte Puerto Rico)

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Tamara Díaz Calcaño: [0:04] We are at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, in Santurce. As we take a moment to rest in one of the benches in the galleries, we spot a different type of seat. But this is not just any seat. This is a seat of power linked to the Taíno culture.

Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:19] This is what’s known as a duho, a type of seat that is often low to the ground. The one that we’re looking at has an anthropomorphic or zoomorphic face on one end, then a slightly curved back where you would actually sit. And then on the other side what looks like a small, short tail and then the four legs.

Dr. Tamara: [0:41] The face is quite expressive, and we can identify rather deep indentations in the eyes. There there would have been perhaps shell, bone, or gold inlays.

Dr. Lauren: [0:53] Duhos were made by the Taíno, Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean who were flourishing especially between the year 1000-1500 prior to the invasions and colonization of Europeans. The Taíno lived in the Caribbean, specifically in the region of the Greater Antilles.

Dr. Tamara: [1:11] They were one of the dominant cultures in the Caribbean when the Spanish occupation of the region started.

Dr. Lauren: [1:18] This particular duho is on the smaller side, but they range in both scale and ornamentation and even material. We find them not only in stone like this one, but also in wood.

[1:30] Although, it does seem at least from what still exists today that stone duhos survive more in Puerto Rico, whereas those that still exist in wood are found more commonly in Dominican Republic. That could be the result of climate. We’re not entirely sure.

Dr. Tamara: [1:45] Duhos are also described as ceremonial stools. They were reserved for the highest ranking in Taíno society, specifically, the caciques, the chiefs, and the bohiques, the shamans and the medical professionals in Taíno society.

[2:02] They were used during rituals by these figures. They were also used in the bateys, for them to sit as they watched and witnessed the batu, the ball game.

Dr. Lauren: [2:14] These were not for ordinary people. These were not for everyday people. Their very act of creation, their very use in certain spaces would have marked anyone sitting in them as a person of power. As I mentioned earlier, they tend to have a similar form. They are often low to the ground.

Dr. Tamara: [2:31] This low-to-the-ground design also meant that the sitter would be positioned in a squatting position.

Dr. Lauren: [2:38] They do not have armrests. They often have a slight arc to their shape so that it could give one a slightly reclining position, although some of them have a very dramatic arc that would have pushed one backwards, almost like you’re reclining in a hammock.

[2:54] They vary in terms of their imagery. They could have elaborate geometric carvings, or animal or human designs. As you mentioned earlier, they could have different types of materials added to them.

Dr. Tamara: [3:09] This elaborate detailing also points out how important these objects were and how linked they were to the highest ranking in Taíno society.

Dr. Lauren: [3:19] Most of these duhos are not the size of, say, a throne that we might imagine in places around the world to convey power. These are often of a size that would make them portable, where they could be moved into the caney, the most important spot in any given center, that was often the home associated with the cacique.

[3:39] It could be moved to the civic ceremonial complexes where you might have these ballgames taking place. All of them, despite whether they’re made in stone or they’re made in wood, do seem to suggest portability that was important to their function.

Dr. Tamara: [3:54] They needed to move the village to another place, they could just carry all their objects with them, especially objects of political importance, as they served as seats of power for the most socially influential figures.

Dr. Lauren: [4:08] And so while we were just seated on a bench that is for anyone in the gallery, these duhos were objects of prestige and power. Not just anyone could sit down in one.

[4:17] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Tamara Díaz Calcaño and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, "Taíno duho," in Smarthistory, April 19, 2023, accessed June 21, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/taino-duho/.