Human Zoos-A A +A
Saturday, October 19, 2013
IMAGINE yourself as a zoo animal –- an artificial habitat, enclosed by walls or surrounded by a moat, and deprived of contact from the outside world, except for the eyes of curious onlookers. While this is the situation of all zoo animals around the world, it was also a reality for the “exhibits” of the human zoos that were so popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Human zoos were just as they sound –- zoos which used people as exhibits. Popularized during the age of exploration, human zoos put “exotic” people of different ethnicities in artificial environments that resembled their home countries and set them up in enclosures, sometimes near the other primates like monkeys, chimpanzees or gorillas. The exhibits of these human zoos were sometimes Africans, Indigenous South Americans, or Filipinos.
The central exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri was a 19 hectare enclosure that featured “primitive savages” taken from their homeland in the Philippines and brought over to America to be gawked at like animals. Some 1,000 Filipinos of different ethnicities were forced to live in the compound that was built to resemble the Philippines, from traditional villages to a small Tagalog style town. The Igorots were paid in dog meat, based on their captors’ misconception that the Igorots had a diet based primarily on dog meat. The deal was that they were paid 20 dogs a week, but that apparently was not enough, since they started encouraging local people to bring them dogs to supplement their daily needs.
The Filipinos were exhibited in such a way that they formed a “chain of evolution”, with the Igorots being at the very bottom of the chain and the Tagalogs from Manila being at the top. The Igorots were the main attraction at the fair, due to their costumes and primitive way of life that their American viewers found so alien. A contemporary account notes:
The head-hunting, dog-eating Igorots were the greatest attraction at the Philippine Exhibit, not only because of their novelty, the scanty dressing of the males and their daily dancing to the tom-tom beats, but also because of their appetite for dog meat which is a normal part of their diet.
The city of St. Louis provided them a supply of dogs at the agreed amount of 20 dogs a week, but this did not appear to be sufficient, as they had also encouraged local people to bring them dogs which they bought to supplement their daily needs.
The poaching of dogs became so common in the area near the Igorot Village such that the neighborhood was warned to watch for their dogs; even then, many dogs were disappearing in this neighborhood, angering and upsetting many people.
There were obviously many people who objected to the supplying of dogs to the Igorots, particularly the St. Louis Women's Humane Society, but there were also many people, perhaps much more, who sympathized the Igorot's need for dog meat.
As one Missourian, who had been to the Philippines and realized the difficulty of not being able to eat the food that one is used to, noted, "Every dog has his day, and every man his meat." He donated 200 fat Missouri dogs to the Igorots!
The indigenous Filipinos were also forced to wear their traditional clothes during winter time, and not surprisingly, many of them died since none of them had ever experienced snow.
Even though human zoos were done at a time where the white race considered itself to be superior to all the other races, there was no sudden and dramatic event that killed them outright. Instead, decades of education and campaigns of racial equality convinced zoo owners and the public alike that putting people in zoos was probably a bad idea.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on October 19, 2013.