The Forgotten Story of Human Zoos – Crimes of the Colonial Era

The Forgotten Story of Human Zoos – Crimes of the Colonial Era

Humans have been taken from their native lands and taken to be exhibited in human zoos for more than a century. Alongside animals, they were displayed before fellow humans. This little known and profoundly troubling aspect of colonial history played a crucial part.

Between 1810 and 1940, in Europe, America and Japan, almost 35 thousand people were exhibited in world fairs, colonial exhibits, zoos, freak shows, circuses and relocated ethnic villages.

These activities were attended by some 1,5 billion visitors. This documentary traces how racism in these so-called ‘human zoos’ was constructed and disseminated using previously unpublished archive material.

Children, women and men were exhibited as exotic animals, and ordered in a “race” hierarchy. In a way that served to justify colonialism, they were cast as “other” and described as “savage.”

It is a little known and deeply disturbing part of colonial history. Only a handful of the thousands of men and women recruited from the four corners of the Earth ever managed to tell their experiences.

It is a part of colonial history that is little known and extremely disturbing. Just a handful of the thousands of men and women recruited from the four corners of the world have ever been able to make their experiences public.

This piece of human history becomes tangible through the biographies of six victims: Petite Capeline, an aboriginal of Tierra del Fuego; Tambo, an Australian aborigine; Moliko Kalina from French Guiana; Ota Benga, a pygmy from Congo; Jean Thiam, a Wolof from Senegal; and Marius Kaloie from New Caledonia.

Their lives are represented by the work of historians and the help of their descendants in the historic context of the rise of the great colonial powers.

Analysis and commentary by experienced people also examine the origins of racism in the change from supposedly scientific racism to everyday racism.

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