It is summer and it is extremely hot. But it’s the middle of the night and therefore more bearable. In an apartment on Klostergården in Lund, Sweden, a 28-year-old woman with wide-open windows stares at a grainy image on the black-and-white TV. A white human-shaped figure with a big head slowly moves down a ladder. The Eagle has landed. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” I myself lie in the belly of the young woman.
My mother has often recounted how she saw the TV broadcast of the moon landing and what a big event it was. Neil Armstrong—the first man on the moon!
On the other side of the globe, another woman was taken with this 1969 event. She lived in South America and was of the seminomadic Aguaruna people living primarily in Peru och the Ecuadorian border. For a long time the Aguaruna faced off with first the Inca and then the Spaniards, but remained relatively independent until the 1950s. They are known as skilled warriors and hunters. The woman we’re talking about here had a clay pot or vessel, depicting Neil Armstrong. Whether she made it herself or if someone else made it is unknown.
For the Aguaruna, as for many other cultures, celestial bodies including the sun and moon are considered as gods. How could a person get close to them, not to mention walk on them? And yet that was exactly what happened on July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong performed the first moon landing. Whether the Aguaruna woman had the opportunity to see it on television, if she saw a picture of it, or if someone told her about it, remains unknown. Regardless, she or someone in her vicinity decided to make a vase depicting Armstrong – the first man on the moon.
To see Neil’s face and helmet, the vessel must be placed upside down, the round base thus forming Neil’s helmet. The face is clear. The eyes have eyelashes. On the stomach is a pattern drawn that I interpret as a detail of Armstrong’s spacesuit. His ears are clearly marked.
But how did the vessel end up in the collection of the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg? The same year the vessel was manufactured (1969), the woman we’re talking about, or her children, needed medical treatment. She sought up an American missionary in the area who helped her. As a thank you, the missionary received the vessel.
Three years later, in 1972, 28-year-old Swedish illustrator Bengt Arne Runnerström traveled to South America for the first time. A few years earlier he had traveled in Africa and there would eventually be many more travels which inspired his books and illustrations. Runnerström comes to the city of Puyo and meets the American missionary. During his previous travels, he has accumulated a lot of objects and memories. The meeting with the missionary results in him taking the Neil Armstrong vessel home.
Forty years later, in 2013, he donates three collections to the Museum of World Culture. One of these contains a number of items from the 1972 trip, including the Neil Armstrong vessel.