HHHHHH    HHHHHH
HHHHHH    HHHHHH
HHHHHH    HHHHHH
HHHHHH    HHHHHH
HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
HHHHHHHHHHH HH H EEEE TTTTT     Humanities
HHHHHH    H  H H E      T       OnLine
HHHHHH    H H  H EEE    T       Web Site
HHHHHH    H HH H E      T       
HHHHHH    H HH H EEEE   T       H-AFRICA

African Trophy Heads


>>> Item number 859, dated 95/11/23 12:22:21 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 23 Nov 1995 12:22:21 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      QUERY: African trophy heads

Date:           Wed, 22 Nov 1995
From:           Pippa Skotnes, University of Cape Town
                <PSKOTNES@hiddingh.uct.ac.za>

crossposted from NUAFRICA <nuafrica@listserv.acns.nwu.edu>

The British Museum (Natural History) has a collection of putative trophy heads, taken from Khoisan victims, most probably executed or killed during commando skirmishes at the beginning of the 19th Century. Most are from South Africa, one from Mozambique. The heads are dried, stuffed, with glass eyes inserted (most now missing).

I am preparing a large exhibition, and editing an accompanying volume, which examines aspects of San history and material culture and scrutinizes the construction of the category "Bushman" for the South African National Gallery in April next year. The exhibition is drawing together objects and photographs from many South African and ex-colonial museums and archives.

We have requested photographs of these heads, our reasoning being that they, once individuals, now artefacts, are pretty powerful evidence of a process that saw the Khoisan hunted, slaughtered, and subjugated. And that the EVIDENCE should be place before the public where ever possible. A number of San groups have expressed support for the showing not only of photographs, but of the heads themselves.

I saw the heads in London last month, but was not allowed to photograph them, or draw or sketch them. The British museum has refused our request for photographs, stating that they perceive that the images may cause offence to some of the viewers to the exhibition. We find this a fairly unacceptable act of censorship, an accusation they "regret".

I know that Australians have had contact with this same department on similar issues and with a similar lack of success, but I was hoping that there might be someone out there who may have negotiated for African remains, or access to photographs of them, or has any strong or useful opinion on this issue?

>>> Item number 867, dated 95/11/25 12:57:13 -- ALL

Date:         Sat, 25 Nov 1995 12:57:13 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African trophy heads

From:           Alan Kirkaldy, University of Venda
                <akirkal@ilink.nis.za>
Date sent:      Sat, 25 Nov 1995

It was with growing revulsion that I read Pippa Skotnes' request for contact with "someone out there who may have negotiated for African remains, or access to photographs of them" for exhibition.

Her assumption that what were "once individuals" are "now artefacts" is a crass example of the kind of colonialist academic thinking that should have died during the nineteenth century. Surely the point that she wishes to make in the exhibition and text can be made adequately without resorting to sensationalism and defilement of individuals' remains? Is there any qualitative difference between what she wishes to do and what those who collected the heads for display in the first place were doing?

Academics in South Africa are notoriously keen to gain permission from "the community" when they wish to embark on something which they see as potentially controversial. One would like to know which San groups she approached to gain their reactions to the showing of the photographs or the stuffed heads themselves. Who did she speak to from these groups? What were the power relationships involved in the dialogue? Were there any dissenting voices? Were these groups in any way representative of San groups as a whole?

Do we really need to resort to tactics of this nature to portray the past?

>>> Item number 869, dated 95/11/25 14:13:17 -- ALL

Date:         Sat, 25 Nov 1995 14:13:17 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: Africa Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Sat, 25 Nov 1995
From:           Timothy Burke, Swarthmore College
                <tburke1@swarthmore.edu>

It seems to me that Alan Kirkaldy misread or misunderstood Pippa Skotnes' request. The fact is, the British Museum already has the heads: they keep them as part of their collection, though not on display. That alone strikes me as a fact as the first or original outrage which should draw anger.

It seems to me to be wholly legitimate to expose the fact that the British Museum has these heads in its possession, to insist that they offer a responsible accounting of how they acquired them, to ask what implications that acquisition has for the history of the Museum as a whole and for the historical process that went into collecting its artifacts and exhibits.

To demand photographs from the British Museum is to expose the fact that these "artifacts" are unlike any other. The Museum's reluctance to provide such photographs exposes the fact that the Museum is fully aware what kinds of complicities its possession of these heads testifies to.

Or is Alan Kirkaldy suggesting that we should simply forget that the heads were ever taken, forget that contemporary museum displays have a history which is interwoven with colonial culture? Are all attempts to remember or recover images of past oppression exactly identical with past oppression merely *because* they remember?

If so, then I assume Alan Kirkaldy is equally outraged by Peter Kallaway and Patrick Pearson's collections of archival photographs and drawings from Johannesburg and the Rand at the turn of the century: many of the images are painful reminders of racist degredation suffered by Africans, and I'm sure that Kallaway and Pearson were not able to get permission from all of the individuals (or their survivors) who appear in the photographs.

>>> Item number 871, dated 95/11/26 18:23:31 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 26 Nov 1995 18:23:31 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: Africa Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Sun, 26 Nov 1995
From:           Saul Issroff
                <Saul@swico.demon.co.uk>

Alan Kirkaldy posting appears to ignore the fact that the British Museum's collection of `trophies' exists and is part of anthropological history. To omit any mention of it in a proposed exhibition for the reasons he proposes is tantamount to censorship and revisionism.

It should be noted by those who have sensitivities to the display of corpes or parts thereof in museums that the British Museum does have Egyptian mummies on display, does have a the remains of the `bog man' etc. Many Natural History museums have skulls etc of paleantological interest ( viz Pretoria's Collection). Where is the line to be drawn?

It seems that Pippa Skotnes' request is quite reasonable; this is not an attempt at sensationalism in an exhibition. The request is being blocked for irrational and irrelevant `official' reasons.

>>> Item number 874, dated 95/11/27 11:42:53 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 27 Nov 1995 11:42:53 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: Africa Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Sun, 26 Nov 1995
From:           Morris Simon, Stillman College
                <MSIMON@UA1VM.UA.EDU>

On this subject, and the display of human remains, Saul Issroff asks: "Where is the line to be drawn?"

American archeologists, Native American groups, and government officials at both state and local levels have been trying to "draw the line" in this regard for the past forty years. Legislation now exists to protect historic Native American remains and burial sites.

The "line" is difficult to draw at times because of the variable time periods involved with different Native American peoples, but it usually falls somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 years before the present.

The matter of the San heads obviously concerns historic peoples. In an American analogy, they might be the heads of Cheyenne or Sioux killed during the very recent Plains Wars or of Ghost Dance victims. Modern Native Americans would be greatly offended by such a gruesome exhibit, and I feel certain that it horrify modern African people, both white and black.

Applications of the various laws continue to be fairly strict in the US, with many museum and laboratory collections having been given to Native American representatives for re-burial (often with funereal presentations). It would violate federal law for any individual or institution to curate organic remains of historical peoples within the consent of their "heirs" (another difficult enforcement detail).

The most common exceptions are those involving medical research, but even then the remains are considered the property of the descendants and should be re-buried when the research is concluded.

>From the ongoing dialog, it seems that the British government may not have similar legislation to protect the rights of "historic" peoples. Perhaps someone who knows British law might clarify this point. Yet the museum curators appear to be acting responsibly and sensitively in the absence of official regulations.

Might it not be more appropriate for the museum to return the remains to the descendants of those people who were killed? As with many Native American cases, it will probably not be possible to identify individual descendants, but surely the "trophies" can be traced to a region and ethnic affiliation with some certainty.

Even if they cannot be traced, or if no one wishes to claim the remains for re-burial, perhaps the British Government might invest a small amount of time and money to make a sincere gesture of cultural sensitivity to an important segment of the Commonwealth and to the world at large.

>>> Item number 877, dated 95/11/27 20:40:20 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 27 Nov 1995 20:40:20 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: Africa Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Mon, 27 Nov 1995
From:           Richard Rathbone, SOAS
                <rrath@boomslang.win-uk.net>

This has proved to be an interesting exchange. But from the initial enquiry, there seems to be some confusion about where this collection is held.

The collection is said to be in the Natural History Museum (in South Kensington) and not the British Museum (in Bloomsbury) even if the former is confusingly called the British Museum (Natural History).

So far as I know they have entirely distinct Boards of Trustees, Directors and funding lines. The British Museum's store of Egyptian and British human remains are presumably part of that Museum's archaeological research collection. If there are San remains in the Natural History Museum, these would have been collected as part of that other Museum's commitment to research in Physical Anthropology.

Readers will be able to draw their own conclusions about the state of Victorian and Edwardian scientific thinking which regarded the mortal remains of some Africans as relevant to history and archaeology (the Egyptian relics) and others as being relevant to arguments about evolution and the descent of man. Some of our predecessors were accordingly regarded as primarily interesting as biological specimens and, I suppose, formed part of their extensive collections of other primate remains.

Recent, exciting revisionist work on San history along with Dubow's important contribution to our understanding of the particular history of anthropology in South Africa suggests why these 19th and early 20th C peoples (along with the aboriginal populations of Australia and New Guinea) were pragmatically constructed as being "survivals" of some putative category of "early man".

That these remains ended up in South Kensington rather than Bloomsbury is a further, eloquent example of the complexity of the elaboration of "race" in the biological sciences of that period, albeit an outrageous and depressing one.

>>> Item number 879, dated 95/11/27 20:48:05 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 27 Nov 1995 20:48:05 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African trophy heads

Date sent:      Mon, 27 Nov 1995
From:           Claire Dehon, Kansas State University
                <DEHONCL@KSUVM.KSU.EDU>

Why, may I ask, this sudden "pudeur" about the remains of the human body? We have exhibited bones, mummies, shrunken heads from Amazonia, all the organs of the human body floating in bottles. Could it be that some people want to obfuscate the past?

>>> Item number 884, dated 95/11/28 21:23:31 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 28 Nov 1995 21:23:31 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African trophy heads

Date sent:      Mon, 27 Nov 1995
From:           Paul S. Landau, Yale University
                <plandau@minerva.cis.yale.edu>

To add to Tim Burke's point, it is my understanding that Pippa Skotnes will be exhibiting the total situation of the heads, not just the heads themselves. This is what I took to be her meaning when she called them artefacts.

They are indeed artefacts of oppression and rapine, and of British Museum policy, as are each letter and hurdle she will need to cross in order to show them. In fact, I would hope that such correspondence could form part of the display.

I did not understand her to mean that the heads were not also, in other contexts, individuals or remnants of them.

Finally, we live in a world where dead bodies are displayed to us non-stop. One only need open the newspaper or watch CNN . . . What distinguishes battles such as these was discussed by D.W. Cohen in *Combing of History*: various groups establish identity-relations with artefacts/individuals and thus vest them with meaning, giving them an alternative history.

That doesn't appear to be happening here.

I should also say that I am a contributor to Skotnes' volume.

>>> Item number 888, dated 95/11/29 18:41:47 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 29 Nov 1995 18:41:47 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African trophy heads

Date sent:      Tue, 28 Nov 1995
From:           Kimberly G Hebert, Tufts University
                <khebert@emerald.tufts.edu>

No one has as yet mentioned how these heads were obtained--where they came from. That they were "collected" by great white hunters in Africa distinguishes them from Egyptian mummies or other remains from disturbed burial grounds. All around they are rather loaded "memorabilia" for the British to display--talk about hanging out dirty laundry.

Such practices by Europeans of dismembering heads from the bodies of native African peoples and placing them on display is documented in Basil Davidson's piece (film) on Africa. Even Conrad mentions it in "Heart of Darkness" though many teachers of this work have read this particular passage metaphorically.

>>> Item number 893, dated 95/11/29 19:11:25 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 29 Nov 1995 19:11:25 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African trophy heads

Date sent:      Tue, 28 Nov 1995
From:           John Boldrick
                <jlb47@columbia.edu>

It seems that the urge to tell the truth about history has once again provoked the anger of some who would rather not dredge up painful memories. What are we afraid of in the display of the heads? What is the alternative?

For myself, I want everyone to know that the heads are there and how the museum got them. I want the public to take a good long look. This is what History is supposed to do.

Were we to allow the embarrassed institutions to sweep them under the rug, we would be complicit in the coverup. I can't see any benefit in pretending that this headhunting, a favorite trope of Europeans attempting to demonstrate the "savagery" of others, ever occurred.

Better to ask what exactly is offensive about the heads: the museum's ownership? That they raise vital questions about the meaning of research, anthropology and history? The fact that the curators implicitly admit to a continuity of responsibility for their "collection?" The fact that the civilization that teh museum represents has so damaged another that we can no longer figure out whose heads they were, and who the rightful heirs might be?

Let's not hide from this behind an indignant disdain; let's engage with this.

>>> Item number 900, dated 95/12/01 20:17:09 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 1 Dec 1995 20:17:09 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: Africa Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Wed, 29 Nov 95
From:           Abdin Chande, Gettysburg College
                <Abdin.N.Chande@cc.gettysburg.edu>

I am forwarding a message below from a colleague in South Africa who responded to H-Africa postings I had sent him on the subject of Africa Trophy Heads.

Date:          Mon, 27 Nov 1995 07:16:08 +0000
Subject:       bodies and all
From:          S. Fakir <lapc@wn.apc.org>
Organization:  Land & Agriculture Policy Centre, South
                Africa

As a South African I share the concerns raised by Alan Kirkaldy. I did read with interest, if not horror, the debacle that the British Museum has gotten itself into by owning heads of San people killed in the extermination policies of the colonialists in Africa.

It does not also surprise me that they have in their possession such collections of historical artifacts. In the era when brown and black people were mere sights/objects of curiosity, and caricatures of British fantasy, people were collections of specimens, not human beings.

I relate to you a story of a San woman who it was claimed had the largest labia in the world. She was fat and was regarded as a freek by the British. She was taken from South Africa and paraded around Britain naked, to show the world what 'freeks' exist in South Africa. When she died they cut-off the labia, and I think this is now preserved in the British Museum.

>>> Item number 920, dated 95/12/03 00:10:10 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 3 Dec 1995 00:10:10 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Fri, 01 Dec 1995
From:           John Wright, University of Natal
                <wright@history.unp.ac.za>

The postings on the trophy heads raise complex issues about who, in these times, has what kinds of right to make constructions of Khoisan history. It was useful to have Morris Simon's run-down on how very similar issues have been handled in the US: the big contrast is that here in South Africa problems of this kind have as yet hardly begun to be adequately debated, whether by academics or the general public.

This is because a) in the past, in white- dominated South Africa, discussions of this sort were hardly encouraged, and because b) in the post-apartheid present these issues have become politically hugely sensitive. They relate directly to the re-assertion of distinct ethnic identities in some coloured communities, and hence to national politics - a government dominated by the African National Congress, which has minority support in the coloured electorate in the Western Cape, where the majority of the country's coloured people live, is going to tread very carefully when it comes to discussion of Khoisan pasts.

I disagree with Alan Kirkaldy's notion that there is little difference between the original collecting and displaying of the heads and what Pippa Skotnes is doing. But he raises very pertinent points about the whole excruciatingly delicate business of negotiating rights, consents, approvals, and permissions, points which need to be considered further.

Pippa Skotnes raises the specific case of her being refused permission to photograph the heads in the possession of the Natural History Museum in London. In this case, she tells us, a number of San groups had expressed support for her project. I imagine that most of us discussing the issue would agree that it was of the greatest importance that the opinions of such groups should be heard.

But we need to know much more about the identities of the specific groups spoken to by Skotnes, and of the circumstances in which their approval was obtained. It seems to me quite likely, judging by the totally contrary opinions among Khoisan- speakers today about use of the terms 'San' and 'Bushman', that there are other San groups which might well have objected to exhibiting the heads. How much weighting do we give to whose opinions?

There is another case relating to Pippa Skotnes's exhibition which seems to me pertinent to this discussion. I understand - correct me if I am wrong on this, Pippa - that some time ago she was refused permission by the South African Museum in Cape Town to make copies of its collection of photographs, taken in the northern Cape early this century if I remember right, of the genitalia of a number of Khoisan women. (I might say that permission has similarly been refused to Dr Miklos Szalay of the University of Zurich.)

I understand that one of the factors shaping the Museum's policy on this issue is that influential members of coloured communities in Cape Town who claim Khoisan descent are opposed to public display of these photographs. Again, who draws the line, and where?

It seems to me not enough for academics simply to cry `Censorship!' in cases like these. Of course censorship is involved, and yes, it is very important for the power relations involved in the policies of the Natural History Museum and the South African Museum (and other public institutions, for that matter) to be exposed and debated. But that is a separate issue: my point here is that there are no clear and simple 'rights' involved in these cases.

If museum practice has its own politics, so too does the mounting of historical exhibitions. However differently Pippa Skotnes's exhibition might be conceived, and however laudable her motives and aims might be, we need to bear in mind that it stands as the latest in a long succession of `Bushman' exhibitions that goes back to colonial times.

There is a heavy responsibility on her, as she is no doubt fully aware, to get it as right as she can, not simply to keep critical academics quiet, but to meet the needs, hopes, aspirations, fears, likes, dislikes of South Africa's fractured - and fractious - communities in the mid-1990s, which is not a job I would like to have to do.

For my own part, let me say that I think there is a place for a thoroughly low-keyed and thoroughly historicized display of photographs of heads and of genitalia in the exhibition. But then I am not of Khoisan descent: if I was I might very well disagree.

In the circumstances, to pick up a point from Paul Landau's posting, it seems to me that more important than Pippa Skotnes's being able or not being able to exhibit the photographs is for her to give full publicity to the range of opinions which exists on the issue. If her exhibition helps to get a reasonably informed public debate off the ground, then it can be counted a major success.

>>> Item number 925, dated 95/12/03 22:21:27 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 3 Dec 1995 22:21:27 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: Africa Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Sat, 2 Dec 1995
From:           John Boldrick, Columbia University
                <jlb47@columbia.edu>

This is fascinating- the West collects heads of Africans, while telling itself stories about savage head-hunters. Now we find that it also collected women's genitals, and at this very moment, it is telling itself stories about savages performing clitoridectomies. Do we see a pattern here?

>>> Item number 928, dated 95/12/03 22:29:43 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 3 Dec 1995 22:29:43 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Sun, 3 Dec 1995
From:           John Boldrick, Columbia University
                <jlb47@columbia.edu>

Regarding the collection of San heads: I wonder whether it is still possible to display them as part of the San world to any real scholarly advantage, given their pedigree as objectified "trophies" and the lack of care taken regarding their original context. But they are surely revealing as anthropological specimens of the culture of colonialist Europe.

It would be interesting to ransack the museums of the West for an exhibit that would reconstruct the world-view, customs and assumptions of the soldiers, scholars, scientists and politicians who carried out the colonial project. Their culture is as much a part of modern Africa as any other, and yet by no examining it with all of its own instruments, including the big, exotic travelling museum "show", we tend to naturalize this culture and allow it to remain invisible.

>>> Item number 930, dated 95/12/06 16:33:44 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 6 Dec 1995 16:33:44 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Mon, 4 Dec 1995
From:           Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch
                <coquery@binghamton.edu>

Regarding the collection of San heads: I quite agree with John Boldrich. This discussion is highly irrealistic. Of course the only scientific revelation is about the colonial mind and the history of Western anthropology. To my mind, if this is not *the* idea of such an exhibition, it is absolutely useless.

>>> Item number 934, dated 95/12/06 22:09:21 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 6 Dec 1995 22:09:21 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: Africa Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Mon, 4 Dec 1995
From:           Teshai Berhane-Selassie. Middlebury College
                <TSEHAIBS@midd.middlebury.edu>

Perhaps the issue of discussions on mutilating (female and male) bodies shuld be classified into (a) selfmutilation of live bodies and (b) sacrilagious mutilations of dead bodies. As for the "West's" pattern of discussions of the woman's genitalia, perhaps it is worth reading Paula Rediger's *History's Mistress*, [I believe 1982].

In general I agree with those who argue for disclosing how the "West" behaved in parts of Africa by holding exhibitions of the trophies it took for keep. In some traditional African societies, such trophies were taken, but were subject for destruction, even when the concept of museum-like institutions existed.

The "West's" museums, which are part and parcel the system of knowledge in which "science" rules as supreme needs to be rethought in terms of an "African" system of knowledge. This requires the exhibition, but in the case of the body parts, with permission from the rightful inheritors of those whose bodies were mutilated/ removed, dead or alive.

>>> Item number 936, dated 95/12/06 22:19:58 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 6 Dec 1995 22:19:58 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Mon, 04 Dec 1995
From:           Eli Bentor, Winthrop University
                <bentore@acad.winthrop.edu>

John Boldrick suggests:

"It would be interesting to ransack the museums of the West for an exhibit that would reconstruct the world-view, customs and assumptions of the soldiers, scholars, scientists and politicians who carried out the colonial project. Their culture is as much a part of modern Africa as any other, . . . "

When something like this was attempted, it was met with much hostility and misunderstanding. I am talking about a 1989 exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum curated by Jeanne Cannizzo and titled "Into the Heart of Darkness."

It looked at the process by which different objects arrived at the ROM and the role of Canadian soldiers, missionaries, and colonialists in Africa. Perhaps because the irony in this show was too subtle, it was largely interpreted as taking the 'colonialist' side.

>>> Item number 940, dated 95/12/06 22:32:18 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 6 Dec 1995 22:32:18 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Mon, 4 Dec 1995
From:           John Boldrick, Columbia University
                <jlb47@columbia.edu>

I'm sorry but I can't find the original message or remember who posted it, but I refer to that posting about the African woman who was displayed nude in Europe and whose genitalia were "collected" after her death. I have a friend studying the history of gender and sexuality at San Francisco State who is interested in a citation for this. If anyone can help, please reply, whether to me or to the group. Thanks in advance.

>>> Item number 948, dated 95/12/08 16:39:32 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 8 Dec 1995 16:39:32 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Thu, 7 Dec 1995
From:           Eugenia Herbert, Mt. Holyoke College
                <eherbert@mhc.mtholyoke.edu>

Apropros of the references to exhibiting African women nude and then preserving genitalia after death: these seem to be references to the so-called Hottentot Venus, at least among others. More information can be found in Sander Gilman's essay, "Black Bodies, White Bodies" in *Race, Writing and Difference*, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr.

>>> Item number 950, dated 95/12/09 17:07:38 -- ALL

Date:         Sat, 9 Dec 1995 17:07:38 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Thu, 07 Dec 1995
From:           Robert Ross, Leiden University
                <ROSS@rullet.LeidenUniv.nl>

                *********************************
                Editor's Note:
                Robert Ross correctly points out
                that this discussion has moved
                beyond "trophy heads."  Some may
                wonder why the message titles
                are kept the same.  This is done
                to ensure that those wanting to
                see this discussion can find them
                in our listserv archive, and that
                they can be retreived for the
                H-AFRICA gopher and WWW.
                                            mep
                *********************************

This debate has now been widened from African trophy heads to include other portions of Khoisan anatomy. I hope that it may be useful to add a few comments with regard to Saartjie Baartman, aka "The Hottentot Venus", (who has unfortunately been depersonalised by loosing her name in this exchange) and a number of related matters.

  1. As recorded by Seymour Drescher in *Capitalism and Antislavery*, British abolitionists launched a court action when Saartjie Baartman was exhibiting herself in London. They were afraid that she had been brought to Britain as a slave. She however made it plain that had come there of her own free will, was attended by two servants and by contract received half the profits of the enterprise.
  2. As Rob Gordon and Carmel Schrire have pointed out, among the Khoisan "flashing", particularly by women, was a recognised and major way of insulting and shaming the voyeur. Khoisan women who displayed themselves to Europeans at the Cape are recorded as having gone away creased up with laughter.
  3. Saartjie Baartman's genitalia are preserved not in London but in the Muse de l'Homme [sic] in Paris, where she died. Apparently, they are to be found together with a whole variety of anatomical specimens, which however include the heads of several of France's leading scientists in the nineteenth century. Indeed, after his own death Georges Cuvier, the great French naturalist who dissected Saartjie Baartman's body, was himself dissected.

His brain was measured, though subsequently lost. (I am here taking information from two essays by Stephen Jay Gould, "Wide hats and narrow minds" in *The Panda's Thumb* and "The Hottentot Venus" in *The Flamingo's Smile*; see also Rob Gordon's article on "The venal Hottentot Venus and the great chain of being" *African Studies* 51, 1992, and a chapter in Carmel Schrire's new book, *Digging through darkness: chronicles of an archeologist*, University of Virginia Press, and Wits UP, 1995)

4. At the Khoisan conference near Munich last year, Prof Miklos Szalay showed (bad) copies of the photos of Khoisan genitalia which John Wright mentions. Projected onto the screen at three times life size, they elicited the comment from one of the participants that they made her feel "uncomfortable". I am sure that she was expressing in an understated way the reactions of most of the audience.

My comment, though, (which I must admit I was not quick enough in thought to make at the time) was that no-one has any right to expect that the study of the Khoisan past would be a comfortable experience. Quite the contrary.

The problems with such matters are at least two-fold. First, how do we deal with the ethical and interpretative problems which Saartjie Baartman's experience present? I have tried to present matters drily in this note, but it should be clear that they are not simple or uncomplicated. After all, preserving someone's brain and preserving their genitalia does witness to a rather different appreciation of them.

Secondly, how do we present visual evidence of colonial barbarities in such a way that they elicit feelings of rage and shame among those who observe them? I was slightly worried by Pippa Skotnes's initial comment that the heads in the British Museum (Natural History) were "once people, now artifacts." The point is surely to show how people, and their physical remains, and representations of them, have become artifacts, and how racist was (and still is) the treatment of some people as objects.

I should end by declaring two interests: like Paul Landau I am contributing to the catalogue of the exhibition that Pippa is organising and my father spent all his working life in the British Museum (Natural History), albeit in the department of Botany.

>>> Item number 953, dated 95/12/09 18:06:08 -- ALL

Date:         Sat, 9 Dec 1995 18:06:08 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLIES [2]: African Trophy Heads

[1]

Date sent:      Fri, 8 Dec 1995
From:           Cora Presley, Tulane University
                <c7623@mailhost.tcs.tulane.edu>

The African woman who was displayed nude was known as "Hottentot Venus". Sander Gilman refers to her in his work. Stanlie James has also written a paper which discusses this and places the exhibition of her in the context of the objectification of African women by these " trophy" seekers. Stanlie James' e-mail is:

Stanlie.James@Colorado.edu

Sander Gilman is at the Univesity of Chicago.

[2]

From:           Brian Siegel, Furman University
                <Siegel_Brian/furman@furman.edu>
Date sent:      Fri, 8 Dec 95

The African woman mentioned in regard to the trophy heads was Saartje, the "Hottentot Venus". (Her photo is on Plate IV of William Howells' *Mankind in the Making* [Doubleday, 1967], following p.192.) She was exibited--naked, and often caged--throughout Europe, caught TB (I believe), and her pickled labia ended up in Paris's Museum of Man.

The Khoisan-speaking peoples exhibit a number of anatomical curiosities, one of these being the so-called "Hottentot apron", or very long labia. Gould [ Ed. Note: see citation in previous post on this subject] does an excellent job of explaining the 19th century preoccupation with missing links, and the anthropometric search for measureable traits that would identify which human "races" were most closely related to the apes. In Saartje's case, Europeans considered her labia and steatopygia (prominent buttocks)--i.e., supposedly sexual traits--the marks of her "beastly" inferiority.

For comparative purposes, readers might also be interested in Phillips Verner Bradford and Harvey Blume's *Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo* (St. Martin's, 1992), who was first exhibited at the St. Louis fair, was briefly exhibited with a chimp as a caged creature in the Bronx Zoo, and ended his life at the Lynchburg Seminary, where John Chilembwe had previously studied.

>>> Item number 970, dated 95/12/15 21:24:43 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 15 Dec 1995 21:24:43 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Mon, 11 Dec 95 09:51 CST
From:           Claire Dehon, Kansas State University
                <DEHONCL@KSUVM.KSU.EDU>

I would like to make two comments about Robert Ross' very interesting and thought provoking letter. First, it is not because something make us feel "uncomfortable" that we should hide it! The picture of thousand of bodies pilled up in Dachau certainly upset my stomach, but we cannot hide them! Second, what the past found interesting to preserve does not mean that it was callous or stupid or ignorant, but that it had other ideas than we have now. What we may consider as an insult, could have been taken as an honor.

>>> Item number 974, dated 95/12/15 21:38:40 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 15 Dec 1995 21:38:40 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Tue, 12 Dec 1995
From:           Diane Jeater, Univ. of the West of England
                D-JEATER@wpg.uwe.ac.uk

Re: the request for more details about the exhibition of an African woman with 'outsize' labia: I don't recall a reference to preserved labia, but a very good account of the colonial understanding of African women's bodies as objects of scientific study, which includes the story of a Khoi-San woman who was displayed in the nude because of the size of her *buttocks* is found in Sander L Gilman: 'Black Bodies, White Bodies: Towards an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late 19th-century Art, Medicine, & Literature' which is in Skip Gates' edited collection, *"Race", Writing, & Difference*, Chicago, 1986.

The piece discusses, inter alia, the links between ideas of physical evolution and ideas of sexual depravity. Sexual depravity was linked with a lower evolutionary stage. As Africans were deemed to be both evolutionary inferior to whites, and thereby more sexualized, so physical differences between Africans and whites also gained a sexual connotation.

In a two-way process (I don't recall whether Gilman actually discusses this) parts of the body deemed to be sexual were sites of particular interest for 'scientists' trying to define the presumed physical differences between whites and Africans, while areas of the body where physical differences were already deemed to be significant gained a sexual connotation. It is worth noting that the same ideas were being applied to the working classes in England at the same time. The physical degradation of working people living in squalid conditions were interpreted as evidence of their sexual depravity.

>>> Item number 989, dated 95/12/17 20:11:53 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 17 Dec 1995 20:11:53 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

From:           Caroline Jeannerat, U. of the Witwatersrand
               <031CFJ@cosmos.wits.ac.za>
Date sent:      Thu, 14 Dec 1995

This article appeared in yesterday's edition of The Star, a Johannesburg based newspaper.


"Concern over 'Hottentot Venus' of 1810: Griquas want to bury the remains of Khoi woman displayed in France as a freak"

Own Correspondent, Cape Town
*The Star*, Wednesday December 13 1995, page 11 (all rights reserved)

The Griqua National Conference of South Africa has called on the French government to return the remains of a Hottentot woman who died in France last century, after being displayed for years in Europe as a freak.

The Griquas are the most recent group to throw their weight behind a movement spearheaded by South African lawyer Mansell Upham to bring back the skeletons, genitals and brain of Saartje Baartman, a Hottentot (Khoi) woman from the Cape who died in France in 1816. Her remains, currently housed in the Musee de l'Homme in Paris, were on public display until last year.

In a letter sent to the French government this week, the Griquas called for Saartje, known in Europe as the Hottentot Venus, to be returned to them for burial as they were the "guardians and custodians of continuous, uninterrupted and unbroken Cape Aboriginal Khoikhoi heritage".

In a strongly worded letter, the Griqua conference said it was concerned that despite numerous calls to secure Saartje Baartman's release for burial, there had been no action on the part of the French authorities to correct "this deplorable situation".

Secretary of the Griqua National Conference of SA, Katie Cloete, said yesterday: "When I heard the story about Saartje Baartman, it made my blood boil. We are descendants of the Khoi who I think were the most ridiculed aboriginal people in the world. The French government should set things straight with us.

"What purpose does it serve for her to be stuck away in a dark storeroom? Give her back to us so she can be properly buried. Give her back her dignity and her humanity," Cloete said. Upham said he had recently returned from Paris, where he had tried unsuccessfully to discuss the issue with the museum authorities. He had written to the museum, but got no response. When he tried to arrange a meeting personally while in Paris, he was told the relevant museum staff were unavailable.

"The French are not just going to let her go. She's part of their collection and if they give her back it will set a precedent. But she is not just an object like Cleopatra's needle. We are dealing with the post-mortem rights of a person who had an identity, and there she is with her brains and her genitals in a jar," Upham said.

Saartje Baartman, born in 1789 in the Eastern Cape, was apparently in the employ of Hendrik and Pieter Cesar in Cape Town. In 1810 she was persuaded to travel to England by a ship's surgeon, Alexander Dunlop, where he told her she could make a fortune exhibiting herself.

Once in England, she was dubbed the Hottentot Venus and her main attraction was the enormous size of her buttocks. Another curiosity to Europeans were her genitals, which had elongated labia known then as the Hottentot's apron.

Historian Percival Kirby found records describing Saartje being exhibited in London "on a stage two feet high, along which she was led by her keeper and exhibited like a wild beast, being obliged to walk, stand or sit as he ordered".

She died in Paris in 1816 of an "inflammatory and eruptive sickness", having been abandoned to a "show-man of wild animals".

>>> Item number 995, dated 95/12/18 23:24:49 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 18 Dec 1995 23:24:49 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

Date sent:      Mon, 18 Dec 1995
From:           Gordon Thomasson, SUNY-Broome
                <THOMASSON_G@sunybroome.edu>

It may be appropriate here to recall the movement in England in the late 19th century advocating clitoridectomy as a treatment for mental diseases. I suspect there is a relationship between this, the "scientific" study of sexuality among "primitive" peoples, etc. But I don't have the background to pursue this.

>>> Item number 996, dated 95/12/18 23:31:27 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 18 Dec 1995 23:31:27 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Trophy Heads

From:           Pippa Skotnes, University of Cape Town
                <PSKOTNES@hiddingh.uct.ac.za>
Date sent:      Mon, 18 Dec 1995

It is interesting to note that the exhibition of Saartjie Baartman in England aroused a good deal of anger and distress at the time. The African Association, believing she was being exhibited under duress, brought the matter before the court of the King's Bench and demanded her return home. She was interviewed, apparently for three hours, and during that time insisted that she was happy in England "which she admired", and had been guaranteed half the profits.

Saartjie Baartman also married in England and had two children, but died in Paris, without the fortune she had looked forward to. She was dissected by Cuvier himself, whose great fascination was with her buttocks and particularly with her genitals, which during her exhibition she had apparently kept scrupulously hidden.

Khoisan women's genitals were the subject of many photographic sessions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and museums in South Africa (probably elsewhere too) have collections of plaster casts of genitals. Considered a subject of medical importance, a medical journal of 1926 describes the research amongst females in "Sandfontein, South West Africa" in the following way:

" On asking a woman of these tribes to remove her loin cloth or apron, one could not, at first detect any difference between her and an ordinary woman ... On separating the lips of the vulva it was easy to grasp the labia minora with a pair of forceps and pull them out for examination. This increased exposure gave rise to a distinct accession of shyness on the part of the women ..."

(Drury and Drennan, Medical Journal of South Africa, November 1926)

> 859,867,869,871,874,877,879,884,888,893,900,920,925,928,930,934,936,940,948,950,

Invalid subcommand -
"859,867,869,871,874,877,879,884,888,893,900,920,925,928,930,934,936,940,948,95 0,".


Return to the H-AFRICA Home Page.



[an error occurred while processing this directive]