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It seems impossible, but it's true. Some of the ancient inhabitants of Patagonia were once exhibited in an infausta French exhibition. Men and women from Tierra del Fuego would be trapped and locked up to be shown in Europe in 1880.
After the Conquest of the Desert , many unenarrable events took place. The abduction and transfer of eleven Argentine aborigines and thirteen Chileans to the other side of the world was the only reason for the exhibition of the inhabitants of Patagonia in Paris .
The Garden of Anthropological Acclimatization would, in short, be a human zoo . Groups of exotic ethnic groups were exhibited in order to satisfy Europeans' curiosity about populations in distant lands.
This is how Christian Báez and Peter Mason tell him in “Human Zoos” (Editorial Pehuén - Chile, 2006), where they make a very in-depth analysis of a series of photographs preserved in the National Library of the French capital. There, the authors accessed the collection of Prince Roland Napoleon Bonaparte , entitled “Representatives of the peoples of five continents”.
Located in gigantic cages where habitat was recreated from different parts of the world, Bushimans, Sudanese and Fueguinos, among numerous members of other peoples, were shown as curiosities of universal anthropology .
His skin, his physiognomy, every action, the way of dressing. Everything was included in the exhibitions of the Garden of Anthropological Acclimatization .
Unsurprisingly, overcrowding and mistreatment caused fueguinos to stop eating one day. On a winter tour of Western Europe, most of them became seriously ill. One by one, the aborigines from the south of the planet began to die. First a woman, then her son. Finally there were six left.
The businessman who devised that infamous exhibition was a zoologist named Carl Hagenbeck . In addition to him, Maurice Maitre also became well-known, who took the Human Zoo to travel the world.
It seems that, when Hagenbeck died after being bitten by a poisonous snake, then Maitre took care of the business alone.
But making fortune with others's misfortune had its price. After many complaints, Maitre was persecuted by police in several countries. Accused of having in his “ anthropological shows ” illegal foreigners, he was forced to comply with the law. The identification of Fueguino Aborigines as subjects of law eventually allowed their repatriation.
Of course, going back to Tierra del Fuego didn't mean surviving. The latter were exposed to the diseases they had acquired during their tour in Germany , Belgium, England and Switzerland. Little is known about their final destination. We even ignore their true ethnicity. It was supposed to have been Onas or Shelk-nam , names alternating the Tehuelche tribes in the south .
Tours of the Maitre Human Zoo were banned. However the exhibition of people in circuses and traveling shows, it was very profitable at least until the 1930s.
Ruthless and inhuman, far from any scientific interest, these shows actually had two real protagonists: the desperation and dehumanization of the exhibited people. Most died far from their land, sinking into misunderstanding, isolation and, of course, sadness.
The “fueguinos” would be the so-called Shelk-nam or Onas. They belonged to the Tehuelche ethnic group. There were also among the group taken to Europe, people from the Kawesqar ethnic group from Chile. Most likely they were the group taken prisoner to take to Paris between 1880 and 1883. Also, on the same occasion, a Mapuche group was arrested, who ran the same fate as the “fueguinos”.
Bookcover of Christian Báez y Peter Mason “ Zolóógicos humanos ” (Editorial Pehuén, 2006). From the photographic documentation, the authors describe the horrors of the Garden of Anthropological Acclimatization in Paris.
Photograph taken by Pierre Petit in September 1881. Garden of Anthropological Acclimatization in Paris. Pehuén Editores, 2006.
Other ethnic groups in the world were also exhibited for the same purposes as the people of Tierra del Fuego.
Publication Date: 07/08/2020
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