Norway's 'Human Zoo' Was Incredibly Racist. So Why Is It Reopening?

Lauren Burgoon
In 1914, Norway put Africans on display to be gawked at. A new human zoo is opening briefly in May. Here's why.

Imagine it's 1914 and you're at Norway's Jubilee Exhibition. It's the age of industrialization and you're ready to be wowed by all things modern and exotic. That's when you come across the "human zoo" of Senegalese people literally put on display for five months for Norwegians' amusement. 

Today we'd denounce this as incredibly offensive. So why is Norway planning another "human zoo" to mark the 200th anniversary of the country's constitution?

Fortunately, we've come a long way in 100 years. Organizers of the 2014 exhibit, European Attraction Limited, want to expose and debate Norway's past history of racism and colonialism, and what the organizers say is Europe's overall increasing xenophobia. Highlighting a forgotten event in Norway's history calls the whole "message of Norwegian goodness" into question, they write.

The new human zoo will be on display May 15 in Oslo. In the meantime, footage from the 1914 exhibition shows what more than half of Norwegians came to gawk at at the "Congo Village."

Africans exhibited at the 1914 Jubilee Exhibition in Oslo, Norway.

(Source: Oslo Museum via Wikipedia Commons)