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The Shameful Period of Human Zoos.

Updated on August 25, 2020
Poster 1904 St. Louis World Fair
Poster 1904 St. Louis World Fair | Source
Paris 1892 Poster
Paris 1892 Poster

The Shameful Period of Exhibiting Indigenous Natives

From the four corners of the world, thousands of so-called "savages" were collected and displayed for the public's thirst for considering themselves superior to another race. What may have started as curiosity turned out to be the image of physical evidence that researchers could prove their theory of the races and racism.

There is no question these human zoos were nothing more than exploitation and demoralizing of another race. It is appalling to think this kind of entertainment ever had a place in history.

Christopher Columbus and Vespucci lured native natives back to Europe, where they were flaunted and paraded like trophies. History acknowledges that African civilization came before the caucasian race. Until recently, it was assumed humans quickly adapted to paler skin. Now, science is showing us about genetic markers for the pigmentation of color.

As early as 1836, P.T. Barnum, the well-known showman, exhibited Joice Heath as a 161-year-old nurse to General George Washington. Later, it was determined this was a hoax, yet Barnum continued to have an illustrious career as a showman.

The French were famous for their Expositions with a site called Jardia Tropical. The grounds are in disrepair, and the French are attempting to end the quiet shame of the exhibitions once held there.

In 1904, in St. Louis, Missouri, the village of the Igorot natives surpassed revenue from all of the other displays combined. The backlash from protestors finally forced the US government to ban the shows in 1914. Another exhibit was of Ota Benga, who displayed him in monkey houses with displays of bones to make him appear threatening.

Over the years, billions of people flocked to see these exhibits not just of curiosity, but perhaps with a degree of superiority, Many of the indigenous natives did not survive. Many had no immunity to the diseases of mankind. Some were turned loose to the streets with no means of support, food, or shelter.

A Few of the Exhibits

In 1904, at the St. Louis Fair, a young fellow, Ota Benga, was exhibited but later taken to the Bronx Zoo and exhibited in a monkey cage. His teeth were filed to points to make him appear dangerous. Bones were littered on the floor to make it seem he was threatening. The New York Times lead their article "Bushman Shares a Cage With Bronx Apes."

South African Sarah "Sartjio" Bartman was put on display in London. Sarah suffered from a genetic condition, steatopygia-protuberant buttock. Eventually, she became a prostitute and an alcoholic, and she died in poverty. Her skeleton was on display at the Museum of Mankind, Paris, until 1974. In 2002, President Mandela requested her remains be returned, and in 2002 she was sent home, some 80 years after her death. A news article from the BBC quoted President Mbeki as saying "It was not the lonely African woman in Europe, alienated from her homeland who was the barbarian, but those who treated her with barbaric cruelty."

The last human zoo was at the Brussels World Fair in 1958. It featured a Congolese Village with the natives living their daily lives.

Today, the Jarawa Tribe lives in the Indian Andaman Islands. It is a nature preserve with signs prohibiting 'feeding' the natives and no videos. Police are on hand but sometimes look the other way as hundreds of visitors ignore the signs. That has forced the government to crack down and, in 2013, ordered a ban on safaris.

Sarah Baartman
Sarah Baartman
Sarah Baartman
Sarah Baartman
Igorot Village, St. Louis Fair 1904
Igorot Village, St. Louis Fair 1904
Ota Benga
Ota Benga
Jarawa Tribe, Andaman Islands
Jarawa Tribe, Andaman Islands
Jarawa Tribe
Jarawa Tribe

Repatriates Are being Attempted

Thousands of bones, skulls, preserved heads of the victims of colonization are hidden in museum storage rooms. Some of those museums are; British Museum, Berlin State Museum, the French Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most of the museums are beginning to identify the rightful owners and speaking with authorities to come to agreements. However, not all are so willing to part with their acquisitions. At times, the original owners may be unknown, making it difficult to return the bones.

It was the era of television that finally ended the human zoos. No longer would there be a need to venture out. I would like to think it was also our own empathy and compassion and to treat every single human being as equal.

Sources Used



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