Liver Birds and Lambananas

By Morgan Halane

Liverpool.  It wouldn’t be farfetched to assume that the mere reading of that name brings to mind a certain rock band called The Beatles.  While there is no doubt that The Beatles helped make  Liverpool a household name, I quickly found out during my trip to Liverpool that there is so much more that defines the city than its most famous rock band.

For example, I didn’t know that Liverpool was one of the largest slave trading ports in the world in the 18th century.  I also didn’t know that Liverpool was the home port of the largest passenger ship of its time which tragically sunk after striking an iceberg, the Titanic.  After touring the International Slavery Museum and the Merseyside Maritime Museum I had a much better grasp of Liverpool’s importance as a major port city.

The other students in my course and I had the privilege of touring these two excellent museums, located at Albert Dock.  The International Slavery Museum is one of only a handful in the world solely dedicated to the issue of slavery.  I am a descendent of slaves and currently living in a former slave state, so slavery and the Atlantic slave trade is something I’ve learned about for years.  Touring the museum had a profound effect on me because simply reading about slavery or hearing about it in a lecture inherently disconnects one from the issue at hand.  One has to imagine what the chains and whips looked like.  Viewing artifacts such as the actual chains used to transport enslaved Africans and the whips used to beat them was a sobering experience.  Located within the same complex as the International Slavery Museum is the Merseyside Maritime Museum which displays artifacts pertaining to Liverpool’s maritime history.  One of the more interesting pieces in the museum was the original builder’s model of the Titanic.  I learned that many of Titanic’s crew hailed from Liverpool.

The famous Albert Dock

After leaving the museums we were taken on a guided tour of Albert Dock and other parts of the city.  While walking we came across several interesting statues painted with different designs which looked like oddly shaped dogs but were in fact statues depicting a cross between a sheep and a banana.  These statues located around Liverpool, called lambananas, were designed by a Japanese artist named Taro Chiezo and commemorate Liverpool’s history as a port of trade, with sheep and bananas often being shipped through Liverpool’s docks.

A tethered liver bird

Our tour guide also pointed out several odd looking symbols of birds throughout our tour.  We were told these birds were called liver birds, a fictional bird which became one of the most recognizable symbols of Liverpool.  The two most prominent liver birds are in the form of a pair of statues atop Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building.  I asked our tour guide why the birds appeared to be strapped down.  She said that it was to make sure they didn’t fly away.

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