Edward Kissi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of African History
USF, Dept. of Africana Studies
Another Volkerschauen (Exhibitions of Exotic Peoples) in Germany?
Here is the voice of one African raised loudly in protest of the
"African Village" exhibition planned for July 9-12, 2005---according
to USA/Africa Dialogue No. 732. This protesting African is aware of
how and why the Holocaust happened in Nazi Germany and is also aware
of the history of racist exhibitions about Africa and Africans in
Germany in the 1870s, 1880s and 1920s and the negative impact they
had on German attitudes toward Africans and black people.
The location of this planned exhibition, closer to a Zoo, in
Augsburg, Germany, invokes unpleasant memories of similar bigoted
"Exhibitions of Exotic People" held in Germany, as a form of
entertainment, in the 19th Century by the German hunter Carl
Hagenbeck. In 1874 and 1885, to be precise, such exhibitions, in
Germany, about Africa and Africans took place in zoos. Hence, Dr.
Barbara Frau Jantschkle, Director of the Zoo, at Augsburg, should be
aware of this history of German exotic exhibitions of Africa and
realize what the imagery of the location of another exotic
exhibition, closer to a Zoo, implies for the continent and its
peoples. Africans of conscience and other human beings aware of the
racist tropes, anti-semitic fervor and genocidal mentalities that
produced the Holocaust in Germany should be offended by what is about
to take place about Africans near a Zoo.
I protest the planned exhibition because it follows an accursed
tradition of German contempt for Africans. That contempt was
exhibited again and again in the 1920s in the form of degrading and
exploitative depictions of Africans in "primal" settings. German and
international history tell us that these racist, bigoted and negative
portrayals of Africans in the 1870s, 1880s and 1920s, in Germany,
institutionalized a peculiar and negative German concept of "the
African Other." No wonder that the planned exhibition would not
celebrate the heroic contributions that Africans have made to the
making of modern Germany. And it would not take place near the finest
monuments of German heritage. Would the July "exhibition" near the
Augsburg "zoo" document the heroic sacrifices of Africans like Kwassi
Bruce (from Togo, West Africa) who fought in World War I on the side
of Germany as a war volunteer suffering, for the sake of Germany, two
years as a POW?
I protest the planned exhibition because in a post-Holocaust age
suffused with painful memories of the objectification and
dehumanization of Jews, Homosexuals and Blacks in Nazi Germany,
another exotic exhibition of Africans, for whatever purpose, is
intolerable. That is the worst tribute in honor of Africans that
Germany can give to its African compatriots in the human family. That
planned exhibition would open wounds and widen chasms rather than
heal and bridge them. The exhibition would revive stereotypes about
Africans and objectify them in the manner and mold comparable to its
19th century antecedents. The Augsburg exhibit would keep alive a
tradition of racist ethnographic depictions of Africans for
entertainment. The Good Dr Barbara Jantkische should be mindful of
the politics and implications of memory and imagery. There are many
ways of exhibiting Africa. And Africans do many things beyond
silversmithery, artisanal work, basket-weaving and hair-braiding. And
Africans pursue their economic and social affairs in other settings
beyond a "steppe landscape." That image of Africa is exotic and
colonial and stigmatizes a continent and its people in a manner
inconsistent with what is acceptable by groups in a post-Holocaust
I, threfore, join Norbert Finzsch in protesting the upcoming zoo-side
exotic exhibition of Africa. I condemn the tradition it follows and
revives in German history about Africans. And I know enough about the
history of the Holocaust, and the German objectification and
subsequent annihilation of the Hereros of South-West Africa (present
day Namibia), in 1904, and the processes of dehumanization in the
history of genocide to conclude that the July 9-12 Augsburg zoo
exhibit on Africa is part of a pattern of German racist mentality and
social attitude towards Africa and Africans deserving of condemnation.
Why should I care, and why do I protest the forthcoming exhibition?
Because, I am an African, a human being of conscience and a student
of history who has learned from the words, below, of pastor Martin
Niemoeller, a Nazi victim:
First they came for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I
wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because
I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was
Then they came for me---and by that time no one was left to speak up.