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Historians Uncover Photos Showing Human Zoos From 200 Years Ago

Andrei Tapalaga

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Filipinos are pictured in loincloths sitting in a circle together at Coney Island in New York in the early 20th centuryRareHistoricalPhotos

Many people are not aware, but Human Zoos used to be quite a common thing in the western world during the 19th and early 20th centuries. What these Zoos consisted of were tribesmen from various corners of the world put on display for the entertainment of others. Instead of cages, these indigenous people were placed in habitats that were similar to their place of origin, and in exchange for this cruel slavery, they were given the bare minimum to survive.

These people were treated like animals and in some cases, even worse. The man behind this idea was Carl Hagenbeck, a German animal merchant who even started the famous Hagebeck Zoo in Hamburg, Germany. During the 19th century, he had the idea of exhibiting tribes from around the world in a similar way as animals. He knew that the western population would pay good money to see exotic tribes in their “natural habitat” for their own entertainment. 

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A Congolese Pygmy tribe dances at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904Rare Historical Photos

It was not long until these Zoos started to open all around Europe, as well as the United States. Over the years many pictures taken by tourists who have visited Human Zoos were uncovered by historians who were amazed at how abnormal those people in “cages” were treated and the reactions of the western society as if they were looking at animals and not human beings.

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A young Filipino girl is pictured sitting on a wooden bench in an enclosure in Coney Island, New York in another horrifying 1906 'exhibit'.Rare Historical Photos

Just like a zoo had every type of exotic animal, so did Human Zoos house exotic tribes. Those in America even housed Native Americans.

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Chief Yellow Hair and his council standing in front of replicas of teepees at a human zoo at the 1904 World's Fair in St Louis, MissouriRare Historical Photos

It was not only the way that these people were treated by tourists who came to see them but the idea that a lot of money was being made off these indigenous people which shows just how cruel humanity can be. 

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An African girl is shown at the 1958 Expo in Brussels, Belgium that featured a 'Congo Village' with visitors watching her from behind fencesRare Historical Photos

Some of these indigenous people were even forced to hunt within these Zoos just for the entertainment of others. Many of them had big places built with huts and surrounded by wild animals to simulate their original habitat and enforce their cultural lifestyle for the amusement of western society. 

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indigenous people are shown participating in archery in 1904 in St Louis, Missouri, at an event named the 'Savage Olympics Exhibition.Rare Historical Photos

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German zoologist Professor Lutz Heck is pictured (left) with an elephant and a family he brought to the Berlin Zoo, in Germany in 1931.Rare Historical Photos

Some of them were taken out of the Zoos and made to walk around towns in order to market the Zoos and attract more tourists. This was also done by the newspapers from the time brought a lot of attention, as well as a lot of popularity to this cruel venture. 

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Original caption: "'Cannibals carrying their master', World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Ill." 1893.Rare Historical Photos

Right now an official website has been created named “Humanzoos.net” which houses a digital archive of all the information behind Human Zoos and it constantly updates with new photos that are being uncovered by historians.

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