Bavarian Village on Display in African Zoo


That’s the suggestion of Doughnut Boy Andy in response to an e-mail about “plans to open an ‘African Village’ within the zoo of Augsburg, Germany.” Prometheus 6 has the full English version of the recently circulated e-mail. Ethno::log covered the story as well.

The only thing I’d like to add to all of this is a recommendation that people see the very fine film “Bontoc Eulogy” by Filipino-American filmmaker Marlon Fuentes. It is wonderfully rye and witty fake documentary which uses real footage from the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis to construct a fictional narrative in which the filmmaker claims his own grandfather was one of the “natives” on display. If your school doesn’t already own a copy they should buy one!

UPDATE: Links to further discussion.

12 thoughts on “Bavarian Village on Display in African Zoo

  1. The parody is very funny indeed. And thanks for reminding me of Bontoc Eulogy — I might consider showing it in my undergrad class “Culture and Identity.” I wanted to add that in Japan, stereotyping “Europe” is taken seriously (no parody here!) and is part of a huge theme park business. The most infamous park, I would say, is Huis Ten Bosch, a Dutch theme park. There are also others too: Spanish, English, German, Italian…the list goes on and on ad infinitum.

  2. And here we go again… it is amazing to observe how “human” anthropologists really are. We make fuss about this and that, and a zoo this time.
    A zoo probably made a blunder in an old-fashioned way in a soo politically correct society. Nevertheless I believe that instead of wasting our energies in criticizing a zoo and exposing limits of the quick-tempered politically correct activist-anthropologists we should rather look at the positive effects that can be extracted from this case.
    Say for example this was an attempt to change zoos from animal prisons into institutions where we can observe ourselves – homo sapiens sapiens. We love to watch other people, don’t we?
    Let us stop fooling ourselves, we are not so politically correct as some among us would want us to believe. And German-bashing in this blog my fellow anthropologists is just another proof for that…

  3. Here we go again. It is amazing to observe how “human” the commentors on this blog are — making a fuss about this and that, and a zoo this time.

    I believe that instead of criticizing African and other third world zoos and exposing the limits of a quickly-tempered politically correct activist-anthropology we should rather look at the positive effects that having Bavarians on display in third world zoological collections could provide.

    Say for example this was an attempt to change the zoos of Africa from animal prisons into institutions where we can observe ourselves – homo sapiens sapiens. We love to watch other people, don’t we?

    Let us stop fooling ourselves, not all of the commentors on this blog are as politically correct as they would want us to believe. And African-bashing in this blog is just another proof of that.

  4. And here I go again. First of all I am German, worse: Bavarian—so it is politically correct to bash my own tribe, I guess. And courteously I allow Rex to bash, too. If the payment is all right I even would don Lederhosen, of which I indeed own a pair, and have myself exhibited in the Las Vegas zoo. Given that Rex will serve as organisator and that Chris Kelty dons one of his colourful shirts and does the MC-ing of that show.

    Anyway, the critique on Augsburg Zoo’s plan is not fueled merely by so called politically correctness, but by a long story of thinking and reflecting about anthropology’s past. And this reflection is grounded on a theoretical basis drawn not only from anthropology itself. I do not think that the staff at said Zoo is “evil”—but I think that they are somewhat naive and uninformed regarding the Voelkerschauen-issue. We fought a long way, especially over here in Munich, to get rid of the colonial-science image. And we haven’t succeded fully yet. We have an interdisciplinary project on Voelkerschauen here in the house and now, more than ironically, literally next door they plan to restage such a thing. Augsburg is near Munich, The NS “capital of the movement”, and near Dachau … And I am not the only one who will have those associations sooner or later. And sooner or later my very own institute, which is called “Institut fuer Ethnologie und Afrikanistik” will be part of associations, too. Hell, we have such a hard time delivering the folks a picture of Africa which is much closer to empirical reality than their exotistic and romantisizing fantasies. Africa is not all giraffes, lions, and some huts with happy silversmiths in between—but exactly such a picture is transmitted by projects like that of the Augsburg Zoo.

    Since yesterday we try to contact the directress of the Zoo, now they faxed us more information and we will react. We have to react. Stay tuned.

  5. This is not the time or place to comment on my concept of a living zoo in which humans are locked in a cage with their favorite pets and a flint knife and a water spigot and visitors pay admission to see the drama unfold and who will emerge from the cage after a few weeks time.

  6. Interestingly, the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle opened the first part of its “African Village” to coincide with Black History Month in 2001. “The village celebrates African culture and the country’s wildlife…the exhibit will immerse visitors in a representation of a rural village in East Africa. …” reads the press release, which lists appearances by various black artists as well as crafts, African dancing and music, storytelling and puppet performances.

  7. Germans don`t feel offended by being displaced in a zoo or in any other form of stereotyping exhibition or marketing event.
    Germans feel offended by being displaced as Nazis. This is our complexe. An exhibition reducing us to Third Reich Citizens probably would raise more german protest than being bavariazed, right?
    Here I finally found something ressembling the images / the associations that I had in mind before the Áfrican Village in Augsburg had opened and local media put photographs from the inside online.
    “Lesedi is a multicultural village set amongst the pristine bushveld and rocky hills less than an hour’s drive north of Johannesburg.
    Situated at Lesedi are four traditional homesteads – The Zulus with their fighting sticks and cozy beehive huts, The Xhosa with their perfectly thatched rondawels and distinctive white blankets, the rhythmic drums and whistles of The Pedi tribe and the conical straw hats and thick, colored blankets of The Basotho.
    Families peacefully living their traditional lives inhabit each homestead at Lesedi. Additional huts for each village have been constructed in each homestead offering the unique opportunity of staying with a traditional rural African family…”

    I definitely had expected huts. And huts had also Norbert Finzsch seen. And this is the significance.
    It is the reception that has become the ´african village case`.
    I was surprised not finding any article on it in Die Zeit this week (which claims to be the leading popular german scademic / intellectual / social science related newsmagazine, as far as I know).
    So the public reflection seems to have ended before really having begun.
    The reduction on national context is misleading, as Glick Schiller gave into discussion on
    The other african village cases serve this argument, moreover I found an article in Die Zeit from 2001 on a bbc gameshow called African Village, where a british couple is put to live for a certain period in.. who wants to guess?
    Now how come these images are still alive. How are they transformed and intermediated through history. What exactly are the present representations of ethnocentrism?
    Being racist or not–it`s not that easy.

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