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Pygmy show at zoo sparks disgust (sic)

(This is the correlation between economic poverty and mental slavery.)

Human rights campaigners call the exhibition degrading, but the performers want to stay

by Andrew Osborn, August 11, 2002, The Observer

Troubling memories of Belgium's cruel colonial past have been reawakened by an exhibition in which eight pygmies from Cameroon perform for tourists in a manner which campaigners have claimed is racist and neo-colonial.

Although the exhibition in the grounds of a private zoo is ostensibly raising money for the pygmies, anti-racism activists say it is degrading and voyeuristic. The focus of their anger is Yvoir, a small town in southern Belgium whose tourist chiefs have built a mock-up of a pygmy village and brought in eight pygmies to sing and dance for visitors.

'Discover black Africa and the pygmies,' reads the blurb. 'They have come to Belgium from Cameroon to show you their culture, their way of life and their dances.' Entrance tickets cost six euros and the organisers have pledged to contribute 2.5 euros from every ticket to the construction of wells, pharmacies and schools in south Cameroon. 'Help these people who live at the start of the third millennium as we did 2,000 years ago,' says the blurb.

The flesh-and-blood pygmies are complemented by lifesize replicas who are seen hunting, fishing and collecting honey while TV screens broadcast images of daily life in the forest.

'The pygmies are hostage to a project which purports to be humanitarian but which is a racist, discriminatory, money-making scheme,' says Joseph Aganda, of the Movement for New Migrants, a pressure group for African immigrants.

'It is scandalous and goes against all the values of human freedom and dignity.' Aganda argues that the exhibition is no different from those held in nineteenth century Belgium and France where Africans went on show like animals in a zoo.

'Remember that those who deported our ancestors so that they could appear in colonial exhibitions did not think they were doing any harm either,' says Aganda.

The movement has lodged a complaint with the country's equality watchdog about the exhibition, but to its disappointment an investigation concluded that the show was in extremely bad taste but not racist.

Belgium's human rights league has complained to the region's public prosecutor: 'There might also be a case of random kidnapping to answer, in the sense that the pygmies don't seem free to come and go as they please.'

Louis Raets, the man behind the exhibition, is perplexed at the negative publicity and insists he has done nothing wrong.

'Real pygmies are not "exhibited" anywhere on site,' he claims. 'You only see them singing and dancing in the courtyard of a farm. What really annoys me is not the criticism but the fact that the protesters have never done anything to help pygmies.'

Unfortunately for the anti-racism campaigners, the pygmies themselves seem to agree with him and profess to be perfectly happy.

One of their number, Melanie Ebate, said 'We came here to show our dancing', and added that the group would be angry if it was sent home.

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