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Human zoos, also called ethnological expositions, were 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century public exhibitions of humans, usually in a so-called natural or primitive state . The displays often emphasized the cultural differences between Europeans of Western civilization and non-European peoples or with other Europeans who practiced a lifestyle deemed more primitive. Some of them placed indigenous populations in a continuum somewhere between the great apes and Europeans. Ethnological expositions are now seen as highly degrading and racist, depending on the show and individuals involved.
In the late 19th century German ethnographic museums were an attempt at empirical study of human culture. They contained artifacts from cultures around the world organized by continent allowing visitors to see the similarities and differences between the groups and form their own ideas. The ethnographic museums of Germany were explicitly designed to steer away from projecting certain principles or instructing its viewers to interpret the material in a particular manner. They were instead left open for museum guests to form their own opinions.
The directors of Germany's ethnographic museums intended to create a unifying history of mankind, to show how humans had progressed to the cosmopolitan creatures that walked the halls of these museums.
Ethnology studies in Germany took a new approach in the 1870s as human displays were incorporated into zoos. These exhibits were lauded as educational to the general population by the scientific community of the time, because they were informing of the way people lived across the world. Very quickly the exhibits were used as a way to show that Europeans had evolved into a superior cosmopolitan life.
As Ethnogenic expositions were discontinued in Germany around 1931, there were many repercussions for the performers. Many of the people brought from their homelands to work in the exhibits had created families in Germany, and there were many children that had been born in Germany. Once they no longer worked in the zoos or for performance acts these people were stuck living in Germany where they had no rights and were harshly discriminated against. During the rise of the Nazi party the foreign actors in these stage shows were typically able to stay out of concentration camps because there were so few of them that the Nazis did not see them as a real threat. Although they were able to avoid concentration camps, they were not able to participate in German life as citizens of ethnically German origin could. The Hitler Youth did not allow children of foreign parents to participate, and adults were rejected as German soldiers. Many ended up working in war industry factories or foreign laborer camps. After WWII ended, racism in Germany became more concealed or invisible but did not go away. Many people of foreign descent intended to leave after the war, but because of their German nationality, it was difficult for them to emigrate.
Carl Hagenbeck was a German exotic animal businessman, who became famous for his conquering of the animal trade market during the mid to late 1800's. Due to the costs of acquiring and keeping animals, the financial implications started to worry Hagenbeck, and he began looking for other ways to alleviate the company's monetary strains. Heinrich Leutemann, an old friend of Hagenbeck suggested bringing along the people from the foreign lands to accompany the animals. The idea struck Hagenbeck as brilliant and he had a group of Laplanders accompany his next shipment of Reindeer. They set up traditional houses and went about their business as usual on the Hagenbeck property. The display was so successful that Carl was organizing his second show before the first was over. Although the concept of parading peoples captured from conquered lands goes back to the Romans, Hagenbeck claimed to have the first shows displaying "cultures" from foreign lands. Carl Hagenbeck continued to bring indigenous people along with the animals he was importing from across the globe. The people would come with their hunting equipment, homes, and other facets of their daily life. Hagenbeck's displays evolved in complexity as the years went by. In 1876 Hagenbeck had a group of 6 Sami accompany a herd of reindeer, and by 1874 his acts included close to 67 men, women, and children in his Ceylon show performing with 25 elephants. The performances also expanded from showing every day activities such as milking reindeer and building huts, to displaying some of the more extravagant parts of the cultures such as magicians, jugglers, and devil dancers.
The notion of the human curiosity has a history at least as long as colonialism. For instance, in the Western Hemisphere, one of the earliest-known zoos, that of Moctezuma in Mexico, consisted not only of a vast collection of animals, but also exhibited humans, for example, dwarves, albinos and hunchbacks.
During the Renaissance, the Medici developed a large menagerie in the Vatican. In the 16th century, Cardinal Hippolytus Medici had a collection of people of different races as well as exotic animals. He is reported as having a troupe of so-called Savages, speaking over twenty languages; there were also Moors, Tartars, Indians, Turks and Africans.
One of the first modern public human exhibitions was P.T. Barnum's exhibition of Joice Heth on February 25, 1835 and, subsequently, the Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker. These exhibitions were common in freak shows. Another famous example was that of Saartjie Baartman of the Namaqua, often referred to as the Hottentot Venus, who was displayed in London and France until her death in 1815.
During the 1850s, Maximo and Bartola, two microcephalic children from El Salvador, were exhibited in the US and Europe under the names Aztec Children and Aztec Lilliputians. However, human zoos would become common only in the 1870s in the midst of the New Imperialism period.
In the 1870s, exhibitions of exotic populations became popular in various countries. Human zoos could be found in Paris, Hamburg, Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Milan, and New York City. Carl Hagenbeck, a merchant in wild animals and future entrepreneur of many zoos in Europe, decided in 1874 to exhibit Samoan and Sami people as "purely natural" populations. In 1876, he sent a collaborator to the Egyptian Sudan to bring back some wild beasts and Nubians. The Nubian exhibit was very successful in Europe and toured Paris, London, and Berlin. In 1880, Hagenbeck dispatched an agent to Labrador to secure a number of Esquimaux (Eskimo / Inuit) from the moravian mission of Hebron; these Inuit were exhibited in his Hamburg Tierpark. Other ethnological expositions included Egyptian and Bedouin mock settlements. Hagenbeck would also employ agents to take part in his ethnological exhibits, with the aim of exposing his audience to various different subsistence modes and lifestyles. Among these hired workers were Hersi Egeh and his lineage from Berbera in present-day northwestern Somalia, who in the process accumulated much wealth, which they later reinvested in real estate in their homeland. The viceroy of India likewise gave Hagenbeck permission to hire local inhabitants for an exhibit, on the condition that Hagenbeck would first have to deposit funds into the royal treasury.
Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire, director of the Jardin d'acclimatation, decided in 1877 to organize two ethnological spectacles that presented Nubians and Inuit. That year, the audience of the Jardin d'acclimatation' doubled to one million. Between 1877 and 1912, approximately thirty ethnological exhibitions were presented at the Jardin zoologique d'acclimatation.
Both the 1878 and the 1889 Parisian World's Fair presented a Negro Village (village nègre). Visited by 28 million people, the 1889 World's Fair displayed 400 indigenous people as the major attraction. The 1900 World's Fair presented the famous diorama living in Madagascar, while the Colonial Exhibitions in Marseilles (1906 and 1922) and in Paris (1907 and 1931) also displayed humans in cages, often nude or semi-nude. The 1931 exhibition in Paris was so successful that 34 million people attended it in six months, while a smaller counter-exhibition entitled The Truth on the Colonies, organized by the Communist Party, attracted very few visitors--in the first room, it recalled Albert Londres and André Gide's critiques of forced labour in the colonies. Nomadic Senegalese Villages were also presented.
In the First Brazilian Anthropological Exposition (Rio de Janeiro, 1882), a group of Botocudos was characterized in a manner that can be related to the reification of the myth of the savage, an important part of the European culture that played a significant role in the construction of anthropological knowledge in the nineteenth century 
In the late 1800s, Hagenbeck organized exhibitions of indigenous populations from various parts of the globe. He staged a public display in 1886 of Sinhalese autochthones from the Sri Lanka. In 1893/1894, he also put together an exhibition of Sami/Lapps in Hamburg-Saint Paul.
At the 1901 Pan-American Exposition and at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, where Little Egypt performed bellydance, and where the photographers Charles Dudley Arnold and Harlow Higginbotham took depreciative photos, presenting indigenous people as catalogue of "types", along with sarcastic legends.
In 1904, Apaches and Igorots (from the Philippines) were displayed at the Saint Louis World Fair in association with the 1904 Summer Olympics. The US had just acquired, following the Spanish-American War, new territories such as Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, allowing them to "display" some of the native inhabitants. According to the Rev. Sequoyah Ade:
To further illustrate the indignities heaped upon the Philippine people following their eventual loss to the Americans, the United States made the Philippine campaign the centrepoint of the 1904 World's Fair held that year in St. Louis, MI [sic]. In what was enthusiastically termed a "parade of evolutionary progress," visitors could inspect the "primitives" that represented the counterbalance to "Civilisation" justifying Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden". Pygmies from New Guinea and Africa, who were later displayed in the Primate section of the Bronx Zoo, were paraded next to American Indians such as Apache warrior Geronimo, who sold his autograph. But the main draw was the Philippine exhibition complete with full size replicas of Indigenous living quarters erected to exhibit the inherent backwardness of the Philippine people. The purpose was to highlight both the "civilising" influence of American rule and the economic potential of the island chains' natural resources on the heels of the Philippine-American War. It was, reportedly, the largest specific Aboriginal exhibition displayed in the exposition. As one pleased visitor commented, the human zoo exhibition displayed "the race narrative of odd peoples who mark time while the world advances, and of savages made, by American methods, into civilized workers."
In 1906, Madison Grant--socialite, eugenicist, amateur anthropologist, and head of the New York Zoological Society--had Congolese pygmy Ota Benga put on display at the Bronx Zoo in New York City alongside apes and other animals . At the behest of Grant, the zoo director William Hornaday placed Benga displayed in a cage with the chimpanzees, then with an orangutan named Dohong, and a parrot, and labeled him The Missing Link, suggesting that in evolutionary terms Africans like Benga were closer to apes than were Europeans. It triggered protests from the city's clergymen, but the public reportedly flocked to see it.
Benga shot targets with a bow and arrow, wove twine, and wrestled with an orangutan. Although, according to The New York Times, "few expressed audible objection to the sight of a human being in a cage with monkeys as companions", controversy erupted as black clergymen in the city took great offense. "Our race, we think, is depressed enough, without exhibiting one of us with the apes", said the Reverend James H. Gordon, superintendent of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn. "We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls."
New York City Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. refused to meet with the clergymen, drawing the praise of Hornaday, who wrote to him: "When the history of the Zoological Park is written, this incident will form its most amusing passage."
As the controversy continued, Hornaday remained unapologetic, insisting that his only intention was to put on an ethnological exhibition. In another letter, he said that he and Grant--who ten years later would publish the racist tract The Passing of the Great Race--considered it "imperative that the society should not even seem to be dictated to" by the black clergymen.
On Monday, September 8, 1906, after just two days, Hornaday decided to close the exhibition, and Benga could be found walking the zoo grounds, often followed by a crowd "howling, jeering and yelling."
By the 1930s, a new kind of human zoo appeared in America, nude shows masquerading as education. These included the Zoro Garden Nudist Colony at the Pacific International Exposition in San Diego, California (1935-6) and the Sally Rand Nude Ranch at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco (1939). The former was supposedly a real nudist colony, which used hired performers instead of actual nudists. The latter featured nude women performing in western attire. The Golden Gate fair also featured a "Greenwich Village" show, described in the Official Guide Book as "Model artists' colony and revue theatre."
In 2007, Adelaide Zoo ran a Human Zoo exhibition which consisted of a group of people who, as part of a study exercise, had applied to be housed in the former ape enclosure by day, but then returned home by night. The inhabitants took part in several exercises, and spectators were asked for donations towards a new ape enclosure.
Also in 2007, pygmy performers at the Festival of Pan-African Music (Fespam) were housed at a zoo in Brazzaville, Congo. Although members of the group of twenty people - among them an infant, age three-months - were not officially on display, it was necessary for them to "collect firewood in the zoo to cook their food, and [they] were being stared at and filmed by tourists and passers-by".