african village

German sociocultural anthropology indeed is engaged in contemporary issues! On 4th of July 2005 the authors Prof. Dr. Nina Glick Schiller, Dr. Data Dea, and [my friend! :-)] Markus Höhne (Ph.D. candidate) have submitted a report to the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Halle/Saale Germany) called: “African Culture and the Zoo in the 21st Century: The ‘African Village’ in the Augsburg Zoo and Its Wider Implications” [↑deep link .pdf | 1.6MB] The report (48 pages—in English) is based on ethnographic fieldwork at said zoo during the four days of the event. The executive summary:

The announcement by the zoo in Augsburg Germany that it was hosting an “African Village” set off a wave of controversy that received widespread media coverage. A global protest developed, fueled by the rapidity of e-mail communication, with concern voiced by African-German organizations, rights organizations, academic associations, a Nobel Prize winner, and concerned individuals from many countries. This report is based on attendance at the four day event, the “African Village” in the zoo from 9 June to 12 June 2005 and interviews with the various participants.

Our findings are as follows:
(1) The event was not a village displaying people but a market in the zoo augmented by African singing, drumming, and “oriental” belly dancing.
(2) The event was organized primarily to earn revenue for the zoo, the promotion company, and the exhibitors and performers.
(3) The event organizers linked the zoo and Africans in an endeavor to attract visitors by an “exotic” event; they perceived the zoo with its “African panorama” as a perfect environment for an African fair.
(4) Solidarity with African people and mutual understanding were not primary aims of the event.
(5) After visiting the zoo, visitors frequently linked Africa, Africans, wild animals and nature.
(6) Organizers and visitors were not racist but they participated in and reflected a process that has been called racialization: the daily and often taken-for-granted means by which humans are separated into supposedly biologically based and unequal categories.
(7) The questions raised by protestors about the “African Village” in the zoo took the defenders of the event by surprise; the defenders equated racism with the atrocities of Nazism and attacks on Jews, Sinti and Roma and did not reflect critically on problems dating from German colonialism.
(8) Images dating from those times contribute to contemporary exoticizing, eroticizing, or stereotyping of Africans and are sometimes promoted as multiculturalism.
(9) Against this background the Augsburg zoo was an inappropriate setting to hold a market of African crafts together with forms of “traditional” African cultural performance.
(10) The African exhibitors and performers bore the greatest financial risk and some felt exploited by the particular circumstances of the event; however in a situation of high unemployment and unequal power, they rely on the marketing of cultural difference.
(11) The promotion of zoos through special events relating African culture, people and animals is not a phenomena limited to Augsburg or Germany; it is found also in other European and US zoos.
(12) In the current global economy when marketing of difference is big business and when educational institutions such as zoos need to generate more revenues, there are incentives toward racialization.
(13) The racialization processes facilitated by the Augsburg zoo and other zoos are not benign because they can lay the ground work for discrimination, barriers to social mobility, persecution, and repression.


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