The project has solved an enduring mystery for me at Bexhill Museum. An object that is very familiar but which I had no idea what it really is. I’ve been working at the museum for a very long time, but this thing, like a long woven sock has always sat on a shelf and dared me to comprehend what it really was. I had a couple of pet theories which lasted for a while before I eventually gave up on them, maybe it was a fish trap (admittedly it would have to be for very small fish, who were living in a stream no bigger than a drainpipe) or maybe it was a rather cosy spear holder?
So it was a great delight when Len took one look at it and pronounced that it was a South American manioc squeezer and went on to describe it’s form and function.
As well as satisfying my curatorial curiosity and plugging a gap in my knowledge it also unlocks the potential of that artefact – it would have been problematic to display an item which I had no idea (or rather no correct idea) what it was. I guess I could have tried the “We don’t know what this is, why don’t you try and guess?” label trick but without even knowing which continent it was from, there was no context in which to display it beyond that of ‘mystery object’.
Now you may be wondering what a manioc squeezer is, or even why it is a necessity to squeeze maniocs. Manioc (also known as cassava) is a staple food in many parts of the world but is poisonous in its raw state, the tubers need to be peeled, shredded and then soaked to remove the toxins – and this is where the squeezer comes into the story. The wet, shreds of manioc are packed into the squeezer at the open end and then it is suspended from a beam or bough by the loop end. By pulling down or hanging weights from the ring at the other end the structure constricts and squeezes out the poisonous juices.
Although this may seem a world away from our daily lives one product derived from manioc that we may be more familiar with is tapioca and of course that classic dish, tapioca pudding!
Julian Porter, Curator at Bexhill Museum