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Anthropology: The Spanish explorer who desecrated graves in the name of science | Culture

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Domingo Sánchez first saw the sea at age 25. “The spectacle of the sea,” he would recall in amazement, years later. He was the son of “honest farmers” and had worked as a goatherd back in his home village, Fuenteguinaldo (Salamanca). Domingo had studied thanks to the determination of his mother, a peasant woman who “was addicted to reading” and could quote entire passages from Don Quijote from memory.

On July 22, 1885, Sánchez hugged his parents, mounted a horse and trotted away. Ten days later he was in Barcelona, where he boarded a steamer headed for the Philippines, then a remote Spanish colony that had been named after King Phillip II.

The Spaniard was starting out a new life as a collector of exotic animals for the Ministry of Overseas Affairs. “I was flattered by the thought of being a naturalist explorer, and by the fact that this profession would enable me to experience real-life episodes out of the novels of Jules Verne and Mayne Reid that I was so fond of,” he wrote.

Sánchez left the Philippines over a decade later, after having sent to Spain an entire zoo’s worth of dead animals as well as numerous human remains, some of which are still on display today at the National Anthropology Museum in Madrid.

First page of the memoirs by Domingo Sánchez.
First page of the memoirs by Domingo Sánchez.Colección familiar

His memoirs, plucked out of oblivion by an association based in his home village, do not conceal the shady origin of these items. Rather on the contrary. In the Philippines, Sánchez would introduce himself as a naturalist explorer scouring the islands “on the King’s orders, collecting plants and animals to make medicine to cure disease.” But his real obsession was with human remains, reflecting the 19th century’s obsession with anthropology.

In his autobiography, Sánchez recounts a 1890 expedition to rob bodies from the Tagbanwa, the inhabitants of Palawan island. “I wasn’t very afraid of those little men, half-Malay, half-Black, who looked upon me with great respect and for whom my rifle was a terrible weapon,” he wrote. “I was not unaware that what I was trying to do represented the greatest of crimes for those poor people. The desecration of their graves, the desecration of their dead, was the biggest offense imaginable against them, and it would have justified any attack, any kind of reprisals. But the benevolent, compassionate man had left my body. Only the naturalist was left behind, and to him, obtaining those samples deserved some sort of sacrifice. I spent that night projecting and planning the theft, because theft is what it was,” writes Sánchez in his memoirs.

The following night, when everyone slept in the hamlet of Iüahit, Sánchez and his assistant crept into the sacred cemetery of the Tagbanwa, stole a coffin and got away on a boat. From the shoreline they saw a plume of smoke rising in the sky, illuminated by flames. “Somebody found out about the desecration, probably warned other members of the tribe, and agreed to set our house on fire, thinking perhaps that we were still inside. Even if that was the case, I would never think of calling those wretched people bandits or criminals for seeking revenge for the profanation of their dead. Many peoples of the world who boast of being civilized and cultivated would have proceeded in the same manner, and perhaps even more cruelly. The fact of the matter is that we made it safe, and we saved the booty. That coffin was a good option,” reads the autobiography.

The skeleton of a Filipina woman at the National Museum of Anthropology in Madrid, next to two 19th-century statues of people from Equatorial Guinea.
The skeleton of a Filipina woman at the National Museum of Anthropology in Madrid, next to two 19th-century statues of people from Equatorial Guinea.

Mercedes Sánchez, 78, keeps the original manuscript handwritten by her great-uncle (who died in 1947) inside her home in Fuenteguinaldo. The memoirs take up two hefty volumes that she inherited along with a set of photographs and other notes. “We used to call him grandfather because he didn’t have any grandchildren of his own. He would bring us candy and sit us on his knee,” recalls Mercedes in a telephone conversation from Alicante, where she is spending her retirement years.

The local association Amigos del Castro de Irueña recovered Sánchez’s memoirs, published them last year, and are working to give them greater exposure. “I’m reading them now for the first time,” admits his great-niece.

The manuscript, titled Historia vulgar algo novelesca de un naturalista médico español (or An ordinary, somewhat fantastic tale of a Spanish naturalist doctor), contains a succession of hunting expeditions. Sánchez would shoot down anything that crossed his path: monkeys, armadillos, alligators, bats, otters, porcupines, black storks. He didn’t shrink away from anything. On one occasion, he required four men to help transport a python he’d just hunted down. During his expeditions through the jungle, he would stay at missionary convents or at the homes of Spanish settlers. One day in 1892, he stayed at the home of a man in Mamburao, a middle-sized town on the island of Mindoro. “In the afternoon we dug up the skeleton of a young Black girl whom my host had watched get buried,” writes Sánchez.

On a recent Wednesday, the National Anthropology Museum was practically empty due to the coronavirus pandemic. The so-called Room of the Origins of the Museum does precisely that, take visitors back to 1875, the year that King Alfonso XII inaugurated the building. Inside an old display case, there are two skeletons standing side by side: those of a female orangutan and of a Filipina woman. Hers was one of the human bodies brought back to Spain by the explorer from Salamanca.

Filipino men at Retiro Park in Madrid during the 1887 Exposition on the Philippines.
Filipino men at Retiro Park in Madrid during the 1887 Exposition on the Philippines.J. Laurent y Cía

“The female skeleton is from the island of Luzón. All we know is that it was sent by Domingo Sánchez, but we don’t know when or how,” explains a spokesperson for the museum, which is overseen by the Culture Ministry. “The items in the Physical Anthropology collection have yet to be investigated. Their origin is very complex and hazy.”

Many of the samples obtained by the explorer arrived in Madrid for the General Exposition of the Philippine Islands, held in 1887. Sánchez sailed from Manila on April 1 of that year, on a steamer whose deck was filled with cages containing live animals, including monkeys, deer, pythons and carabaos, a buffalo-like grazing mammal. Up near the bow, there was a multitude of birds, especially parrots and magpies. Among all these animals, there was also a group of 43 indigenous people who were getting paid to go on display at Madrid’s Retiro Park.

María Cristina, the queen regent, solemnly opened the Expo on June 30, 1887 at the park’s Crystal Palace, which was built for the occasion. At night, the park would light up with the recently installed electricity, fascinating everyone who looked on. News reports of the day talked about more than 30,000 visitors a day.

The historian Luis Ángel Sánchez Gómez analyzed the circumstances surrounding the exhibition in his 2003 book Un imperio en la vitrina (or An empire in the showcase). Over the course of just a few weeks, three out of the 43 Filipinos died, and a baby was born. They were all sleeping in Retiro Park. One of the deceased women, Dolores Nessern, was a Catholic and she was buried at La Almudena cemetery. The newspaper La Iberia described the ceremony thus: “The lifeless remains of the young island woman were taken to the East cemetery, where religion and science battled hard over them. In the name of anthropological and ethnographic studies, very profound doctors meant to snatch the body and study it in the dissection room, and later deposit the bones inside a museum hall. The priest bravely fought for those remains.”

Domingo Sánchez (second from left) listening to Santiago Ramón y Cajal at his Madrid lab in 1915.
Domingo Sánchez (second from left) listening to Santiago Ramón y Cajal at his Madrid lab in 1915.

“Body snatching was relatively common,” underscores Sánchez Gómez, of Madrid’s Complutense University. This historian brings up the case of Doctor Pedro González Velasco, founder of the National Anthropology Museum, who had a small palace built next to the old cemetery in the Basque city of Zarautz, where he would sometimes venture at night with the French anthropologist Paul Broca to steal craniums from the ossuary. It was 1862, and there were theories in vogue linking the shape of a person’s head with the alleged superiority of specific races. The skulls of Basque people, deemed to be primitive, were in high demand among some anthropologists. And if this required stealing them, then so be it. “It was clear that it was not a morally acceptable, or a legal, thing to do, regardless of whether it was being done in Europe or in ‘wild’ territory, but they assumed that it was justified because of the scientific interest involved,” explains Sánchez Gómez.

Domingo Sánchez returned definitively from the Philippines in 1898, after spending 13 years there. He fled with his wife, Encarnación, following the victory of the Filipino uprising that ended more than three centuries of Spanish rule.

The National Museum of Anthropology still stores nearly 40 human skulls sent by Sánchez, according to a list drawn up by the museum at this newspaper’s request. The National Museum of Natural Sciences, also in Madrid, holds some of the animal specimens collected by the explorer, including monkeys, bats and a tamarao.

But most of Domingo Sánchez’s “treasure” no longer exists. On April 28, 1897, the bells of Manila cathedral went off to signal a fire that ended up devouring four city blocks. The flames reached the Inspectorate General of Forestry of the Ministry of Overseas Affairs, which stored over 5,000 jars containing animals preserved in alcohol. “It was a terrible thing to watch,” wrote Sánchez. “The flames reduced to ash those beautiful collections representing my work of nearly 12 years. My anthropology collection, made up of nearly 500 skulls, a few skeletons, many pelvises and other human remains were also burnt down.”

Sánchez recalls that one time, after snatching human remains from a cemetery in the mountains in the north of Luzón, he felt remorseful: “I didn’t feel at ease in that place. It was as though my conscience was accusing me of stealing those people’s treasure, of desecrating the remains of their ancestors. Behind the naturalist, there peeked out the man who presumed to be honest and just. I was starting to be mortified by notions of consideration and charity. But it was no longer possible to go back, nor was I thinking about it. And I resolved to leave that place as soon as possible.”

The old explorer was 76 and working on a clean copy of his memoirs when the Spanish Civil War broke out. He was in Madrid, himself turned into “a walking skeleton” by hunger, and outraged by the assassinations of priests, monks and nuns “under the Reds.” Sánchez, who studied natural sciences before emigrating to the Philipines and who finished his medical studies at age 40, had started to work in 1903 at the lab of the famous neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, then located in the same building that today displays the skeleton of the Filipina woman. During the war, Sánchez studied the structure of insects’ nervous systems under the microscope.

“This pleasant task was frequently disturbed by the sound of cannon, by exploding howitzers, by the shots of anti-aircraft missiles and machine guns,” he wrote with sadness. “There is no greater ferocity than the one on display during the cruel and fratricide war we have just endured. I never could have thought that our dear, chivalrous Spain could hold so much ferocity and shamelessness, so much moral misery! Our fellow countrymen, who have sponsored and committed such repugnant crimes or witnessed them with glee, have far surpassed the most savage and bloodthirsty Igorotes from the mountains in the north of Luzón in the Philippines.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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The drama behind the Anglo-Irish Treaty

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On December 6th 1921 a document was signed that would shape Ireland for at least a century.

Throughout October, November and early December of 1921, tense negotiations on the future of the island took place in London after years of conflict.

The Irish team, led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, were untrained and badly prepared. They lacked clear instructions or guidance and had no agreed counter-proposals prepared. They were not even a united team.

They also faced some serious British political talent, including the prime minister Lloyd George and future prime minister Winston Churchill.

In the early hours of the 6th of December 1921, the talks reached a dramatic climax at Number 10 Downing Street.

With the British under increasing pressure to get a deal done, an ultimatum was issued: sign or face war again.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed. Its aim was to bring the curtain down on the war in Ireland and while it did mark the end of the War of Independence, it sparked another conflict almost immediately – the Civil War.

It also set the scene for the partition of Ireland with the devastating consequences that was to have half a century on from the signing of the Treaty.

Countless books, plays and even a Hollywood film have been made about the Treaty but what is it legacy and why is it an important story to tell?

Playwright Colin Murphy, historian Micheal O Fathartaigh, author Gretchen Friemann and Irish Times journalist Ronan McGreevy talk to In The News about the Treaty, the negotiations and the impact the document has had on Irish history.

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Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic Saudi GP to draw level with Max Verstappen

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After chaos, needle, misunderstanding and some absolutely uncompromising racing, it took a cool head to prevail and Lewis Hamilton duly delivered, his win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ensuring there is now nothing in it going into the Formula One season finale.

Beating title rival Max Verstappen into second, the pair are now level on points after a race of complexity and confusion fitting perhaps in a season that has been impossible to predict. The two protagonists endured an ill-tempered race and both left with differing views, Hamilton accusing his rival of being dangerous and Verstappen aggrieved. What it made clear is that neither will leave anything on the table next week in Abu Dhabi.

The investigations and debriefs will go on long into the night after this staccato affair interrupted by red flags, safety cars and the two leaders clashing repeatedly on track but ultimately and crucially for his title hopes it was an exhausted Hamilton who came out on top.

Hamilton had gone into the race trailing Verstappen by eight points, they are now level. The lead has changed hands five times during this enthralling season, which has ebbed and flowed between them but of course Hamilton has experience in tense showdowns, pipped to his first title in the last race of 2007 and then sealing it in a nail-biting showdown in Brazil a year later.

Verstappen is in his first title fight but has shown no indication of being intimidated, instead eagerly grasping his chance to finally compete and he still has it all to play for despite his clear disappointment at the result at the Jeddah circuit.

Hamilton admitted how hard the race been. “I’ve been racing a long time and that was incredibly tough,” he said. “I tried to be as sensible and tough as I could be and with all my experience just keeping the car on the track and staying clean. It was difficult. We had all sorts of things thrown at us.”

Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington credited his man with how he had handled it, noting: “It was the cool head that won out”. It was a necessary skill beyond that of wrestling with this tricky, high speed circuit, given the incidents that defined the race as it swung between the two rivals.

Hamilton held his lead from pole but an early red flag due to a crash left Verstappen out front when Red Bull had opted not to pit under a safety car. Thus far at least it was fairly straightforward.

When racing resumed from a standing start Hamilton, off like a bullet, had the lead into turn one but Verstappen went wide and cut the corner of two to emerge in front. Esteban Ocon took advantage to sneak into second only for the race to be stopped again immediately after several cars crashed in the midfield.

With the race stopped, the FIA race director, Michael Masi, offered Red Bull the chance for Verstappen to be dropped to third behind Hamilton because of the incident, rather than involving the stewards. In unprecedented scenes of negotiations with Masi, Red Bull accepted the offer, conceding Verstappen had to give up the place, with the order now Ocon, Hamilton.

Verstappen launched brilliantly at the restart, dove up the inside to take the lead, while Hamilton swiftly passed Ocon a lap later to move to second.

The front two immediately pulled away with Hamilton sticking to Verstappen’s tail, ferociously quick as they matched one another’s times. Repeated periods of the virtual safety car ensued to deal with debris littering the track and when racing began again on lap 37, Hamilton attempted to pass and was marginally ahead through turn one as both went off but Verstappen held the lead, lighting the touchpaper for the flashpoint.

Verstappen was told by his team to give the place back to Hamilton but when Verstappen slowed apparently looking to do so, Hamilton hit the rear of the Red Bull, damaging his front wing. Mercedes said they were unaware Verstappen was going to slow and the team had not informed Hamilton, who did not know what Verstappen was doing. Hamilton was furious, accusing Verstappen of brake-testing him. Both drivers are under investigation by the stewards for the incident and penalties may yet be applied.

Verstappen then did let Hamilton through but immediately shot back up to retake the lead but in doing so went off the track. He was then given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and a lap later Verstappen once more let his rival through, concerned he had not done so sufficiently on the previous lap. After all the chaos, Hamilton finally led and Verstappen’s tyres were wearing, unable to catch the leader who went on to secure a remarkable victory.

It was all too much for Verstappen who left the podium ceremony immediately the anthems concluded. “This sport is more about penalties than racing and for me this is not Formula One,” he said “A lot of things happened, which I don’t fully agree with.”

Both teams had diverging viewpoints on the incidents but both must now look forward. After 21 highly competitive races, the last a febrile, unpredictable drama, the season will be decided in a one-off shootout where both drivers have without doubt earned their place but just when the respect between them appears at its lowest ebb. – Guardian

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Covid testing rules for all arrivals into State come into force

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New Covid testing rules for travellers arriving into the State have come into force today.

At the start of the week the Government announced that all incoming travellers except those travelling from Northern Ireland will have to present a negative test result in order to enter the country irrespective of the vaccination status.

The move came in response to concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The test requirements were due to be introduced from midnight on Thursday. However the system was postponed at the last minute to midnight on Sunday in order to allow airlines prepare for checks.

For those with proof of vaccination they can show a negative professionally administered antigen test carried out no more than 48 hours before arrrival or a PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. Those who are unvaccinated must show a negative PCR test result.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary had described the move as “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”.

Meanwhile more than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.

The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other EU countries and the UK.

The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.

Responding to news of the flight’s departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: “Well done and thank you!”.

On Saturday the number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks, the latest official figures show. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell by 41 between Friday and Saturday. There were 5,622 further cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday.

Tweeting about the latest hospital figures on Saturday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “plan is working – 3rd doses, masks, test & isolate, physical distancing. Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t lose heart. Let’s all have a safe Christmas.”

The figures come as the Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to take immediate action in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant.

From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity. Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.

Trinity College immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill said the main reason for the new restrictions was the new Omicron variant, and he thought they were needed as the “next three to four weeks are going to be tough”. Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, he said it was “strange” that restrictions were being introduced when things are stabilising, with the lowest hospital numbers since November 6th.

Prof O’Neill said he was “hopeful” at news that the Omicron variant may have a piece of the common cold virus in it which could make it more like the common cold.

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