You are on page 1of 2

This Quimbayan poporo is, as described by the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) in Bogot,

a piece of pre-Columbian art. Its round shape and the detailed filigree at its base are
witnesses of the technical advance in goldsmith that indigenous groups possessed before
the arrival of Spanish colonizers. As a piece of art in a museum, we are supposed to admire
its esthetical condition and the technical display that exists behind its production: the
extraction of the mineral, the purification of the gold and the handwork that shaped the
poporo. As an archeological piece, we are supposed to extoll it as a footprint of a lost group
of people, as an example of a irrecuperable past and costumes that were exterminated five
centuries ago. Both of these possibilities rely deeply in a narrative that is shaped by a
Western epistemology, where value is measured by the technical skills for crafting and
cultural and religious elements from non-Western ethnicities are buried in the past and
turned into archeological artifacts.
Epistemological injustice is happening in the display of this poporo. Michael Taussig
addresses this problem in the first chapter of his book My Cocaine Museum, where he
seeks to understand the poporo beyond the archeological display of the museum and the
praising of the goldsmith techniques evidenced in the piece. How to look at the poporo
with non-western eyes? How to approach to it without being coopted by the museums
narrative? Taussig proposes to look at the absent matter in the poporo. A poporo, taken out
of its ritual condition becomes an archeological piece, pre-Columbian art. To fill the voids
of the ritual, coca and the mamo the Wisemanhave to be brought back through
imagination. The poporo then is reactivated as a matter of thought, and the Gold Museum
becomes then a Coca Museum as well. Taussig points to the spit that mamos accumulate in
the nozzle of the poporo, and how it is a material remnant of thought. Poporos are used as
devices for mambeo the act where the Mamo consumes coca leaves mixed with lime to
stimulate thought and word.
Defying the epistemic center that guides us into observing the poporo as a piece in the
museum, also produces a shift in the way we understand the museum itself. Many of the
pieces collected there, besides being gold artifacts and exemplar pieces of goldsmith, were
connected to ritual consumption of coca. The coca, turned into cocaine, and the gold,
extracted illegally as a monetary source for paramilitary and guerrilla groups, find an
interesting counterpoint in the pre-Columbian pieces. Suddenly the museum stops being a
window to the past, and becomes a reflection on the present, more particularly a speculation
on the continuities and ruptures of the link between human and non-human elements.
Similarly, indigenous groups dearcheologize through this exercise and this enables to see
a connection between a colonial past and their current claims and fights for land
distribution.

Related Interests