Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis
Roman toilet photo courtesy François Ozan, Icône.
Your Poop has a tale to tell
and other innovative offerings at the Musée de la Civilization in Quebec, Canada
From the dawn of mankind until our Sun no longer shines upon us, there is one thing that we all have in common… we poop. The Musée de la civilization in Quebec, Canada has taken the scintillating topic of defecation and mounted an exhibition that is amusing, educational, and interactive… and with far reaching implications for humanity.
Conceived, created and produced by the museum, the exhibit immediately gets your attention with this shocking opening statement “Feces, excrement, turd, dung, caca, dump, stool, shit, defecation, bowel movement or crap… Call it what you will, poop is a taboo and misunderstood topic”.
The far-reaching exhibition is entitled “OH SHIT” and it tells the story of how our views regarding this unmentionable (in polite company) bodily function has changed throughout the ages in often funny and vulgar sketches and drawings… but then it gets down to serious “shit”. It graphically displays what our excrement can tell us about our state of health in a series of toilets that while nasty to look at, helps us to understand what we need to be aware of during our daily release of waste product. It offers an opportunity to do a smell test with a series of small hand-held cubes that serve the same purpose and a room to contribute your own effluvia should you so desire. I admit I shied away from engaging with either display, but was amused to watch a group of fashionably dressed young women approach the nose test and react with the anticipated dance of revulsion.
Did you know that ancient Romans sat next to each other over holes cut out of marble platforms to conduct business while “doing their business”? A channel with running water underneath removed the waste products. Did you know that in many places in the world defecating in the street is the only option and waste becomes part of the decaying matter contributing to contaminated soil and water and disease in the human population? Did you know that in certain cultures eating with the left hand is completely taboo? This is a good thing since the left hand is used to clean one’s bottom after defecating and without access to sanitary measures, mixing up the hands could lead to serious medical complications.
There is a hall dedicated to educating children in a fun and non-threatening way where they can play interactive games that teach them how to understand their bodily functions and to use proper hygiene.
An impressive committee including scientists in microbiology, immunology, sanitation, micro biota, and other resource recovery and reclamation experts contributed their knowledge of human waste and its management to this exhibit. And their view is to recognize that poop can be a resource instead of a contaminating waste product. Addressed are the environmental and societal issues that continuing to pollute the earth with our untreated dejecta will lead to.
As an example of forward thinking is the award winning new-age toilet resulting from the Reinvent the Toilet challenge that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched in 2018. The competition to invent a non-sewered sanitation solution for developing nations is crucial to the health and dignity of millions of poor people around the world.
It’s too late to catch this exhibit at the Musée de la civilization but it will soon be on display in a number of cities in the U.S. so watch out for it and don’t miss the opportunity to visit this creative exposition on human dejecta and its reclamation from a taboo subject to a valuable sustainable resource.
“This is Our Story” is another of the museum’s exhibits, this one will run until January 1, 2030, and is a stunning look into 12,500 years of history of the eleven Aboriginal nations living in Québec. In beautiful imagery and sound it graphically details the people’s interrelationship with nature and each other and the manner in which the several groups individually developed. Displays of original sacred and everyday items add to the story of cultural differences between the tribes. While there were periods of conflict between tribes there were also long stretches of peaceful cooperation and exchange of information.
The exhibit does not shy away from the 400 year of cultural genocide and repression of First Nations peoples and the shameful way in which Canadians of European descent tried to assimilate them by forcibly removing children from their families and putting them in the Christian ran residential school system. Families that resisted giving up their children were denied basic survival needs and often imprisoned. The children were not allowed to speak their language and were denied access to their families and culture which caused life-long damage to indigenous peoples and their tribal development. Many children suffered abuse and even death at the hands of misguided and often cruel clergy and the harsh repressive measures they employed to abolish the children’s cultural identity. Sadly this act was tragically duplicated in the U.S. with the same long-term and disastrous results. It was not until the late 21st century that attitudes regarding First Nations cultural values changed and a wondrous example can be experienced just outside of Quebec City at the Huron-Wendake community.
The Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations is an immersive experience in First Nations Culture. Entering the hotel immediately introduces you to a world attuned to nature. Its symbols and architecture are reminiscent of a world outside our familiar western culture, even the décor of the public and private rooms speak to a relationship with the natural world.
The on-site museum is beautifully designed and filled with information and artifacts. Indigenous Tourism Quebec provides educational classes along with guided tours of the Ekionkiestha’ National longhouse which is a few feet outside the hotel proper. There, around a blazing fire, we were treated to stories of myths and legends by an indigenous storyteller.
But the most wondrous treat of all was a short drive to Onhwa’ Lumina, a story-telling enchanting sound and light show set in forest clearings. On a clear, cold, starry night, in the deep snow, surrounded by the spell-binding songs and the chanting of a Wendake woman, were the sacred legends of the tribe played out in dancing colored lights. This is a never to be forgotten experience and unlike any other sound and light show I have seen around the world. Don’t miss it.
For information on current and upcoming exhibitions at the Musée de la civilisation visit: https://www.mcq.org/en
For information on the Wendake Community visit: https://hotelpremieresnations.ca/en/ and https://tourismewendake.ca/en/ and https://onhwalumina.com/
For information on Destination Quebec visit: https://quebec-cite.com/en
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