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When they used to display people in zoos

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2012

In 1880, the top attraction at a zoo in Hamburg, Germany was an Inuit family who performed seal hunts and other Eskimo-like activities for huge crowds.

At the Hagenbeck Tiergarten — a private zoo in Hamburg — the Inuit were the top attraction. The crowds likely viewed them as primitives, inferior to the cultured men and women of the Old World. “Who knows what these children of the roughest North may be thinking about their highly educated European fellow humans,” wrote one German newspaperman. He was right about one thing: The Germans had no idea. Even as they gawked at the Inuit, the Inuit were peering back at them — and taking notes.

Abraham Ulrikab was, in fact, more accomplished than most of the people paying to stare at him. Raised at a mission in Hebron, Labrador, he was 35 years old, spoke three languages, dabbled in cartography, and played a mean fiddle. He was also a church-going Christian who, in his real life, had long since abandoned the sealskin boots and parka that were his costume at the zoo. Since he could read and write, he kept a diary, documenting his experience as a human exhibit.

As with many other interactions between Europeans and native North Americans, this zoo experiment ended quickly and very badly. (thx, eva)

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