In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Western world was desperate to see the “savage,” “primitive” peoples described by explorers and adventurers scouting out new lands for colonial exploitation. To feed the frenzy, thousands of indigenous individuals from Africa, Asia, and the Americas were brought to the United States and Europe, often under dubious circumstances, to be put on display in a quasi-captive life in “human zoos.”
These indigenous men, women, and children were brought to the fair to perform their “backwards,” “primitive” culture for eager American masses who could leave feeling a renewed sense of racial superiority. At the fair, the indigenous people on display faced a number of challenges over the eight long months of their stay. African tribal members were required to wear traditional clothing intended for the equatorial heat, even in freezing December temperatures, and Filipino villagers were made to perform a seasonal dog-eating ritual over and over to shock the audience.
A lack of drinking water and appalling sanitary conditions led to rampant dysentery and other illnesses. Two “performers” died on the fairgrounds that season, Filipinos whose bodies still reside at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C. Others, including kindergartners from Arizona’s Pima Indian tribe, were shipped home at the first sign of sickness — what happened after their return was not the fair’s concern.
In most cases, there were no bars to keep those in human zoos from escaping, but the vast majority, especially those brought from foreign continents, had nowhere else to go. Set up in mock “ethnic villages,” indigenous people were asked to perform typical daily tasks, show off “primitive” skills like making stone tools, and pantomime rituals. In some shows, indigenous performers engaged in fake battles or tests of strength. (Source)
This makes me so angry