Time was, the most riveting object you could show a 10-year-old at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts was a bowl from Hawaii studded with human teeth, the teeth of slain enemies. 10-year-olds are bloodthirsty little ghouls.
You can’t do that anymore because Peabody Essex protected our delicate sensitivities by hiding their human tooth bowls in storage when they renovated in 2003. They don’t even seem to have photos of the bowls on their web site. You can still see such bowls on display at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, or, if you’re not in Honolulu, in this photo from the British Museum. As conceptual art, it’s pretty compelling.
Like rinking from a cup made of a dead enemy’s skull, serving punch from bowls studded with human teeth has gone out of style. We still fight wars – sometimes for just cause, and sometimes not – but we no longer post the heads of dead enemies on city gates or wear necklaces made of their teeth. For the curious here’s a photo of such a necklace from the website of the Museum Victoria and the Fiji Museum.
All of this came to mind today when I read a tweet by anti-Israel activist Steven Salaita written on the second day of the recent Israel-Hamas war:
Such a thing is inconceivable, as Salaita certainly knew when he sent his vicious tweet. To its credit, the University of Illinois today withdrew an employment offer after following his hate-filled tweets.