The human zoos : this less known or unknown story

Over the colonial times, odd sorts of attractions came to existence in western countries: the human zoos. This is widely unknown or ignored by a majority of people.

Those attractions were made to justify the positive role of colonization. As a matter of fact, after the western States by then had gone to tour around the world, for many centuries, to explore territories (with their so called explorers), then conquer those territories, plunder them, murder and exploit the people who were living there (slavery, colonization, exterminations, etc…).

Western masses by then not very well aware about what was going on when their States were encountering nonwestern people overseas, started demanding explanations from their governments to know about the merits of those repeated long trips at sea, to know what was happening in those countries where Europeans used to go, to know about the lifestyle and civilization of the people who were living overseas… in short, the western opinion was wondering.

To content the masses who were asking more and more questions about the reasons of all this, the western elite by then invented the concept of colonial exhibitions and human zoos. In colonial exhibitions, they were bringing along everything they had seized (elephants horns, captured animals, any kind of haul, statuettes, ritual objects, etc.). In the zoos, they brought back a sample of the people they had conquered or colonized (families, members of a village or a tribe), to cage them or to put them in some kind of enclosures and exhibit them to the crowd. It is like when one goes to the zoo to see caged or enclosed animals (thus the name human zoo).

Stripped and exhibited women to the public in a human zoo in the West
Stripped and exhibited women to the public in a human zoo in the West

In those human zoos, Westerners were bringing back to The West samples of every tribe that they had conquered (e.g. Amerindians, etc.). Africans, also having been conquered, were found in those zoos.

Those zoos were savagery factories because Westerners told their peer that the people they encountered overseas were savages and the reason why they were going overseas was to bring peace, happiness and civilization to the people there (civilizing mission). As a consequence, when was coming the moment to exhibit those people in the West, Westerners were doing their best to turn the people they caged in savage beasts, or in exotic or animal curiosities. Therefore, in the enclosures where they were packing Africans, they were creating fake sceneries with huts, trees… to make people believe that those who they were putting in the zoos were savages who were living in trees or huts in Africa for example. They were making them dance to entertain the crowd, they were forcing them to imitate wild animals and climb trees or again they were stripping them, ridiculing them, humiliating them or were putting them in the same cages or enclosures as animals!!

Those exhibitions were priced. Since they were zoos or exhibitions, Europeans were rushing in masses to discover those people who used to live overseas, those sorts of exotic curiosities, etc. the activity was fetching a lot of money to the organizers of those curious shows. Hence, there were human zoos tours almost everywhere in Europe, even in the United States for several years.

These are some examples of advertisements and advertising posters in which tribes or people who were soon to be exposed were announced with great pomp to create event and sensation and attract the crowd curiosity.

Advertising poster for a human zoo in France
Advertising poster for a human zoo in France
Advertising poster for a human zoo in France. We can see the illustration of the people who are to be exhibited and their names
Advertising poster for a human zoo in France. We can see the illustration of the people who are to be exhibited and their names
Advertising poster for a human zoo in France. One can see the illustration of the people who are to be exhibited and their names
Advertising poster for a human zoo in France. One can see the illustration of the people who are to be exhibited and their names
Advertising poster for a human zoo in Germany
Advertising poster for a human zoo in Germany
People from Kongo, ridiculed and exhibited in the human zoo of Brussels, Belgium.
People from Kongo, ridiculed and exhibited in the human zoo of Brussels, Belgium.

And some famous places still existing nowadays in the West were before places where caged human beings were exhibited. For example, in France, places like the Acclimatization Garden in Paris or the site on which was built the present Quai Branly Museum in Paris were before human zoos sites.

the Gallas or the horn of Africa at the acclimatization zoological garden
The Gallas or the horn of Africa at the acclimatization zoological garden

And this image of dehumanized people has influenced the way the westerners perceive other people. Concerning black people, this is how racist stereotypes against the blacks came to existence (e.g: bamboula stereotypes, the Negro living in trees stereotype, etc.)

Poster during those times of human zoos where we can see a Black associated to the monkey’s image.
Poster during those times of human zoos where we can see a Black associated to the monkey’s image

It is in the context in which Blacks and other people were exhibited as primitive beings, animals or exotic rarities that the sad story of the Hottentot Venus was known; a story that was recently depicted in a movie and which triggered many people’s emotion and sadness.

Moulding of the Hottentot Venus’ corpse kept in the West.
Moulding of the Hottentot Venus’ corpse kept in the West

There is no need to tell you that those animalized and dehumanized people turned into circus animals were maltreated, psychologically destroyed and were dying of all those mistreatments!!!

A Black woman with her child enclosed in railings at a human zoo. Behind her, people are passing by and staring at her.
A Black woman with her child enclosed in railings at a human zoo. Behind her, people are passing by and staring at her

In that context, after having animalized Africans and other people, Westerners had started developing scientific racism through some so called racial or raciological theories to prove by all means that the white race was superior to any other race which would be inferior or primitive.

Scientific racism table by then
Scientific racism table by then

We can see the hierarchy of races according to the raciological theories by then. The white human, at the top of the creatures’ hierarchy, is represented as the human being by excellence with the perfect skull (so the perfect brains for intelligence) . The Black is represented as half human half animal, an inferior human being (meaning inferior to the White) and halfway between the Human being (here represented by a White) and the monkey. He has an intermediate skull which is not a real human being skull’s shape (then with imperfect brains less effective and less intelligent than the one of the human being by excellence, the White). It is on these fake scientific foundations that the West has developed its “Negro science” (ethnology, primitivism, etc.) and the myth of the white superiority.

That kind of human beings exhibitions began in the 19th century and ended at the dawn of the Second World War. This means that nowadays there are aged people in the West who witnessed those “freak shows” when they were kids and probably taken to the human zoos by their parents.

The animalized Negro is the image that the children by then who are nowadays aged were having about Blacks. In case they had descendants, you can imagine the perception about black people that they passed on to their children and grand-children.

Imagine what a westerner, whose parents and grandparents told him that they saw blacks in cage, can think about a black person.
Imagine what a westerner, whose parents and grandparents told him that they saw blacks in cage, can think about a black person.

This is how up to now racism still goes on even in some disguised ways.

Hotep!

By : Lisapo ya Kama © (All rights reserved. Any copying or translation of the text of this article is strictly forbbiden without the written approval of Lisapo ya Kama)

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