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Zemi Gigante
Learning can be re-enforced through special learning artifacts. In culturally specific museums opportunities for hands on learning exhibits must be created to help young visitors understand concepts that different objects carry and their place in rituals of other cultures, both present and past. The Zemi is an ancient, pre-contact, three cornered artifact that was made by the people living on the Carabbean Islands.
One of the most numerous artifacts discovered on the Caribbean islands attesting to the earliest settlements of the islands, Zemis were small stone objects elaborately carved, that were typically just large enough to fit in the palm of the hand. Known as Zemis these anthropomorphic figurines are etched with two faces, one looking forward, and one looking back, each resembling a frog. Zemis are shaped like 3 corners hats or voluminous, inflated, three dimensional triangles. Because there are many zemis in El Museo del Barrio’s archeological collection and they are often on display where children asked questions about them, it was decided that a Zemi that the children could touch would be a fine learning artifact.

Zemis are central to understanding pre-columbian Caribbean mythology, therefore there is a story telling element about them. In order to make the small characteristic objects accessible to tactile manipulation by school children a fiberglass triangular shell was cast that measures 5 ft. high by 6 ft long and swings open to reveal shelves of Caribbean teaching artifacts on one side and maps of the night sky on the other. The night sky is important because to the ancient peoples the night sky was a watery reproduction of the sea that surrounded them by day. Stars were eyes of their ancestors looking down on them. Star clusters were seen as boats, and sea creatures floating above them.

The Zemi Gigante, that exactly replicates the small 12 inch Zemi figurines in El Museo del Barrio’s collection, is an excellent learning exhibit because it is a big sculpture that children can easily see, touch, walk around, and push as it is on wheels. It also tells a story that connects to the learning in the galleries. It re-enforces concepts introduced on tours.

When school children arrive at El Museo the first thing they see is the Giant Zemi that is used to introduce them to the culture of the Caribbean. The giant artifact is so large that the children are invited to walk around it, tracing the etched lines of the frog face and legs with their fingers. One side can swing open so that educators can tell the story of the night sky and pass around learning artifacts to help familiarize the visitors with artifacts they will see in the galleries. This is also an excellent learning experience for diverse learners.