Natural History Image Slideshow

Evolution and Fallacies of Anthropology -1

The anthropology had a great intellectual impact on the erosion and marginalisation of Christianity, which unfortunately did not rise up to the challenge.  Furthermore, Human zoos or ethnographic exhibitions or Negro villages became objects of anthropology and an important means of bolstering "popular racism”; they were so popular from the 1870s until World War II, and the concept survived into the 21st century.

British TV Channel 4's The Human Zoo: Science's Dirty Secret documentary aired on Sunday 1st November 2009:  in the 19th and early 20th centuries, scientists were so fascinated by race that thousands of 'exotic' and indigenous people were put on display in human zoos. They were not intended as merely entertaining freak shows but also scientific demonstrations of racial difference. Across the western world millions gawped in fascination at these 'uncivilised savages' and would depart convinced of the superiority of the white race.  Some of the most spectacular were in Paris, Chicago, Hamburg and London. In 1924, King George V and Queen Mary inspected live exhibits at British Empire Exhibition at  Wembley.

As the film reveals, it was only a short step from these human zoos to the horrors of Nazi Germany as pseudo-science that underpinned one, helped legitimise the other.

This documentary explores the phenomenon of human zoos and tells the poignant story of Ota Benga (c. 1883 – March 20, 1916), a Batwa pygmy from the Belgian Congo, who was brought to the United States through a missionary and businessman: Samuel Phillips Verner, who released Benga from slave traders in 1904 from  his Belgian capturers who had attacked his village, killing Benga's wife and two children.  Ota Benga was first put on display at the 1904 St Louis World's Fair and then the Bronx Zoo (USA) where he was put in an enclosure with a chimpanzee for a companion and labelled as the 'missing link' between apes and Europeans to promote the concepts of human evolution and scientific racism. Many early anthropologists believed that pygmies, because so different to the white race, represented an earlier stage of man's evolution from the ape. Public outcry eventually led to Benga's removal from the zoo, and he was released into the custody of African American clergy.                                  

Ota Benga would pass through the hands of four of America's leading scientists: the explorer Samuel Phillips Verner, the anthropologist William McGee, the zoologist William Temple Horniday and Madison Grant - one of America's greatest racists. When the outbreak of World War I made a return to the Congo impossible, Benga became depressed. In 1916, he committed suicide with a stolen revolver.

Grant was a wealthy conservationist and amateur anthropologist who had founded the Bronx Zoo. In 1906, he arranged for Ota Benga to be exhibited at the Zoo; an event designed not as a mere a side show but as a means to educate the masses about Scientific Racism.

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Ota Benga at the Bronx Zoo in 1906              

When Madison Grant died in 1937, it is said that his family burned all of his papers. His remaining legacy is a book - The Passing of the Great Race . A bestseller when it was first published in 1916, it promoted the idea that the survival of the white master race - 'the Nordics' as Grant called them - was threatened by the lower races. A believer in eugenics, Grant argued that evolution should not be left to chance. He lobbied for laws banning interracial marriages and limiting immigration. These laws were passed by people softened up by human zoos and now susceptible to Grant's arguments.

Grant's arguments were to find followers all over the world. In 1930, after The Passing of the Great Race was translated into German, Grant was bestowed with what he regarded as one of his greatest honours.

Jon Marks, an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina explains: "Grant received a fan letter from an aspiring politician in Germany, which said, your book is my bible, signed Adolf Hitler. Grant's correspondence has disappeared; that letter is not with us anymore. But there is eyewitness testimony that he brandished this letter at, at people to show how great and how influential both he was and how seriously the Germans were taking his ideas, which is something he was proud of."

Three years later, Hitler seized power in Germany and turned his hero's ideas into policy. The Nazis set about using scientific racism as the foundation of the Third Reich taking the ideas that were promoted in human zoos further than anyone else and instituting a systematic elimination of 'inferior' races, in the defence of their own superior, Aryan race.

In 1947, at the Nuremburg War Trials, Nazi doctors named Grant and his book in their defence - arguing that the Third Reich had merely been copying American ideas. In the wake of the Holocaust, mixing race and science became taboo and the ideas of Madison Grant and the early anthropologists were buried.

Anthropologists such as Madison Grant or Alexis Carrel built their pseudo-scientific racism, inspired by Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853-55) believing in the superiority of white European race (intellectual power over others) and that race mixing led to the collapse of civilization.  In 1935, Carrel published a best-selling book titled L'Homme, cet inconnu (Man, The Unknown) which advocated, in part, that mankind could better itself by following the guidance of an elite group of intellectuals, and by implementing a regime of enforced eugenics. Carrel argued that "deviant" human types should be suppressed using techniques similar to those later employed by the Nazis (adult euthanasia). In the 1936 preface to the German edition of his book, Alexis Carrel added praise to the eugenics policies of the Third Reich, writing that: (the German government has taken energetic measures against the propagation of the defective, the mentally diseased, and the criminal).

(Retrieved from the 'Introduction to Paradise Dictionary' by Prof Dr M Al-Fallouji, Chapter 3: Racism between two Languages - A Critical Review)