The Nigger is in the Shrank

On the 2nd of october 1997 De Volkskrant and De Morgen featured an article, “The Nigger is in the Shrank”. It was about a San, stolen from his grave by taxidermists in 1832, stuffed and shipped from Africa to Europe with a load of animals. He had been exhibited in Paris and was now on display at the museum Darder in Banyoles near Barcelona. A Haïtian doctor saw him in 1992 and alarmed the international community.

Just before the Olympic games in Barcelona -the rowing contests were held in Banyoles – the African nations demanded that the San be restored to Africa, to be properly buried. Fierce protest could not help the inhabitants of Banyoles – they even had T-shirts printed – and their ‘El Negro’ was brought to Botswana in october 2000. There, thousands of people came to greet his body. To their astonishment, looking through the small window in the coffin, they could only see a skull. They had expected to see a stuffed human but Spain had rather indelicately decided to send back to Africa what was ‘original’ of the remains: his bones and, neatly folded, his skin.

A detail: throughout the years his skin had been considered not black enough for the European public – San are rather pale – so his skin had been blackened with shoe polish!

That story left me mute, I had had no idea that people had gone this far in dehumanizing ‘others’, in treating and exhibiting them like animals!

I tried to imagine the details of the story; how those taxidermists must have stolen the corpse and treated and stuffed it. Who had smeared his skin with shoe-polish? How? Just apply the black or give it a good shiny rub?

What would the San think about that? How would this desecration of a deceased be perceived? What would the consequences be, on a shamanic level?

Imagine that by being stuffed he could not rest, but contained an active mind – that he was at the museum with a conscience and all, that he had a telepathic connection with his community… I fantasized a plan for a shamanic thriller and most of all, I wanted to learn more.