Skip to comments.Cuban Colonists Traded Bootlaces For Gold
Posted on 10/09/2006 4:16:32 PM PDT by blam
Cuban colonists traded bootlaces for gold
Monday October 9, 2006
Guardian Unlimited (UK)
El Chorro de Maita cemetery; and an artist's impression of the jewellery made by the Cubans from the Europeans' shoelaces. Images: Courtesy Institute of Archaeology
The people of El Chorro de Maita, a fishing and farming village on the east coast of Cuba, were buried with their greatest treasures: jewellery made of stone, coral, pearl, gold and silver alloy, and odd little tube shaped metal beads. Meanwhile the first Europeans to make contact with the island were sailing home, well pleased with their barter: they'd swopped their bootlaces for pure gold.
Details of one of the meanest bargains in history have emerged after 500 years, in the laboratories of the Institute of Archaeology in London. The cemetery, dating from the decades after Christopher Columbus's fleet first made landfall in 1492, was excavated 20 years ago - and has become an eerie tourist attraction, with the mouldering skeletons replaced by plaster casts exactly as they were found - but the origin of the heavily corroded little metal tubes found scattered all over the bones remained mysterious.
It was only when Cuban government archaeologist Roberto Valcarcel Rojas brought them with him to the Institute that they were finally identified: they were the cheapest scraps of metal the Europeans would have had with them, the little brass tags from the ends of the laces which tied their boots and fastened different pieces of clothing together.
(Excerpt) Read more at arts.guardian.co.uk ...
Just in time for Columbus Day!
Okay, so I went to Dictionary.com to make sure that the word 'Meanest' as used here could stand for something other than that the transaction between the natives and Spanish was a swindle perpetrated by the Conquistadors.
No, the other definitions of 'mean/meanest' show that something is made in earnest ("He means well") or is a middling value ("A mean average").
Now that I've got that settled, I can continue: What business is it of the author to say what a fair price for bootlace aglets are to the residents of a primitive fishing village? They made a happy trade with their gold and regarded the bootlace ends as cherished jewelery. They had also probably never seen such sturdy necklace string material, either.
Why must the primitive brown people perpetually be cast as poor little victims, particularly those that have been dead for centuries? It just makes me nuts to hear liberals squawk about how the developed nations are ruining the environment for beautiful unspoiled native peoples who live as prehistoric men, then turn right around and label these same orangutang hunters to be victims of poverty because they don't have indoor plumbing and air conditioning like us Western people do.
Yeah, well pick one or the other, liberals, and stick to it. Are they not going to be satisfied until Masai tribesman are counting their head of cattle from the air in a helicopter made of cowrie shells and beads?
I'm with you. What drives me particularly nuts is those do good nitwits who are trying to 'protect' indigenous people from the dreaded 'modern world'.
They never bother to ask those 'primitive societies frolicking in the (insert wherever they are here)' of they would prefer some modern dental care, like to make it so half of their children don't die from some dreadful disease, drink some clean water, etc etc.
It's the epitomy of arrogance if you ask me.
Instead they want to keep them backwards, ignorant, and dying young.
I don't think you selected the correct definition of mean. The bauble was obviously prized by the natives, as they were part of their burial wares. However, to the Europeans they were "of little importance".
One of the most extraordinary things about old Mexico was how Europeans adapted their technology to it.
For example, in some truly huge silver mines, instead of explosives, steel and machines, what was available was manpower, wood and leather. Steel was at a premium, and expensively imported. And yet with these resources, huge amounts of silver were mined and sent to Europe.
As a big post-collegiate conservationist in the early '60s, Michael Rockefeller went around photographing the local natives on Papua New Guinea who had just barely abandoned the old practice of headhunting and witchcraft. At some point in contact with them, Rockefeller traded one of the native tribes several iron camping hatchets in exchange for a genuine shrunken head. He then told them that he'd be willing to pay the same price for other shrunken heads that the natives would bring.
Michael Rockefeller continued his travels in PNG and was presumed lost at sea when his adventure party's dugout canoe got swamped and Rockefeller -- an Ivy League swim team champ -- elected to swim to shore. He was thought to have drowned or been eaten by sharks in his attempt to make landfall.
Several years later, a French anthropologist visiting the natives of Papua New Guinea allegedly noticed one of their high shamans with a broken pair of horn-rimmed nerd glasses woven into in his tribal headgear. The shaman said that they came from an 'important wizard' who was killed by a headhunting party that eagerly took up the practice again because they heard that a whiteskin was paying a fortune of inconceivable wealth for fresh shrunken heads.
I don't know if the French anthropologists' account is true, but if it is you can probably guess the rest of the story.
I sometimes wonder at the possibility of a noble savage of Papua New Guinea who just might have saved the people of the United States from having another four-eyed know-it-all blueblood poindexter liberal Democrat carpetbagger of a US Senator inflicted upon us ... One that was too stupid to realize that his negotiation practice sparked a headhunting frenzy in Papua New Guinea that ultimately ended in his own demise.
Those were not bootlaces, they were machined metal bits which the recipients instinctively knew were the indication of technologies that would make their lives and the lives of their children better.
The bootlaces were but harbingers of things to come, and were worth much more than gold.
And thus became the origin of the expression "Get nailed".
No wait ... wrong history lesson.
I read that Captain Cook had difficulty keeping his ships together in the Hawaian Islands because the crew kept trading nails for sexual favors from the native females.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on or off the
"Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list or GGG weekly digest
-- Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)
Liberals know nothing about market forces...LOL! Loved the story.
Kudos to you for the nice usage of the word "poindexter"!
Misjudging the value based solely on the quantity is always an error.
Note to time travelers - Colored thread (and bootlaces) are great trade items!
It would be hard to get a good nights sleep, while sleeping with cannibals.. You might not wake up...