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Des cabinets de curiosités aux musées modernes : où sont les objets caraïbes des Petites Antilles ?

Abstract : From the first contacts with the Amerindians onwards, conquerors, voyagers, missionaries, colonial officials and so on have brought back to Europe numerous attributes of the New World: natural curiosities (naturalia) as well as objects manufactured by the Indians (artificiala). Various historical sources (official or private correspondence, notary records, inventories, ethnohistorical accounts, etc.) attest to the presence in France of seventeenth and eighteenth century Amerindian objects from the Lesser Antilles. Like flora and fauna, these exotic objects appear as the obligatory ornamentation of royal cabinets of curiosities or cabinets of the learned. Today, paradoxically enough, not a single object in contemporary private or public collections is attributed to the Island Caribs anymore. However, several French institutions (quai Branly museum, Sainte-Geneviève library, etc.) hold seventeenth and eighteenth century collections of the American continent predating the French Revolution, some of which contain pieces from the Caribbean region. The majority of these pieces is recorded as originating from the lowlands of South America and most generally from the Guyanas. Nevertheless, these attributions are not based on any exact information; being poorly documented as a result of their age and their having exchanged hands many times due to inheritances, the precise origins of these collections (clubs, basketry, feathered apparel, bows and arrows, etc.) remain to be determined. It is likely that some of these objects originate from the Lesser Antilles and are thus testimony to the material culture of the Amerindians who occupied the islands upon the arrival of the Europeans, and into to the colonial era of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Besides the study of the formation of ancient Antillean ethnographic collections (collectors, institutions, networks of correspondents, nature of the collections, etc.), our reflections will lead us to tackle the complex question of the documentation and interpretation of Amerindian objects in museums, taken as places of preservation and sharing of knowledge.
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André Delpuech, Benoît Roux. Des cabinets de curiosités aux musées modernes : où sont les objets caraïbes des Petites Antilles ?. 24th Congress of the International Association for Caribbean Archaeology, Jul 2011, Fort-de-France, France. pp.9-16. ⟨halshs-01011890⟩

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