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  • Written by Lajos Endrédi
  • Category: History
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The Dark Side of the History of Zoos – The Human Zoo

An ad for a "Peoples Show" (Völkerschau) in Stuttgart (Germany), 1928 (source: Wikipedia)Creating a human exhibit – in modern zoos it looks like a somewhat boring cliché which may be funny only for newborns. However, it was a common practice in the era of colonisation when ‘primitive’ indigenous people were regarded as a part of the exotic fauna. It was pure racism, even in the 1950s. Although racism is still a living problem in the world, fortunately this idea is not acceptable, neither presentable in modern zoos. Let’s take a look at the history of human zoos.

During Antiquity and the Middle Ages expeditions collected strange living creatures, including the different people of far countries. The Greeks mentioned small people who always fought cranes – the pygmies. Small, giant or particularly hairy people played an important role in myths as magical creatures, so they were collected and used for cultic and ritual-orgiastic purposes. It is an interesting question whether the ancestors of modern humans did or did not meet other human species while conquering the world – for example the ‘hobbits’ in Flores (and some believe in meeting late Gigantopithecus blacki individuals as well in Southeast Asia).

Enter the zoo world!