The ethnography-spectacle

The ethnography-spectacle

  • Caribbean

    BONAPARTE Roland (1858 - 1924)

  • Zoological acclimatization garden, Hottentots

  • Zoological acclimatization garden, Lapps

© musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Quai Branly museum image - Jacques Chirac

To close

Title: Zoological acclimatization garden, Hottentots

Author :

Creation date : 1888 -

Dimensions: Height 134 cm - Width 87 cm

Technique and other indications: Lithography, paper (material)

Storage place: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (MuCEM) / Jean-Gilles BerizziLink to image

Picture reference: 05-513767 / 61.18.38F

Zoological acclimatization garden, Hottentots

© RMN-Grand Palais (MuCEM) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

To close

Title: Zoological acclimatization garden, Lapps

Author :

Creation date : 1889 -

Technique and other indications: Lithography, paper (material)

Storage place: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (MuCEM) / Jean-Gilles BerizziLink to image

Picture reference: 05-513827 / 735453F

Zoological acclimatization garden, Lapps

© RMN-Grand Palais (MuCEM) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Publication date: June 2020

Historical context

Birth of a leisure industry

The samples of exotic peoples presented at the Jardin d´Acclimatation from 1877 were the subject of a permanent staging, as shown by photographs and advertising posters. Both types of images seek to win the loyalty of viewers by promising them novelty and novelty, to become explorers a stone's throw from the City of Light.

Image Analysis

Make event

Le cliché by geographer Bonaparte organizes a staging right in the middle of the theater in which the 17 Caribbean he photographs must evolve. The composition multiplies the horizontal lines (stage, canoe, wire) and vertical lines (curtains, palm trees, paddles) and makes quite artificial this scene of crossing transplanted out of water and the Americas. The European decor of the XIXe century dominates the seated actors, massed in a craft that one imagines typical of pre-industrial times. If the older men try to imitate their natural gestures (bending their bow, rowing, imposing their authority as a leader), the line of hanging artisanal pottery, probably intended for sale moreover, completely ruins the effect of real wanted.

In vertical format, the poster Hottentots presents in the sense of height two scenes involving only men (battle, above) or women (life in the village, below). Its composition takes up a formula already proven both for theaters and other caf'conc 'and for the Zoological Garden, whose name clearly emerges at the top and in red. In the middle, the name of the people exhibited each season is here slightly stylized with a rounded shape that seems to echo the very rounded shapes of the female profiles. The poster promises visitors to be transported to the heart of the jungle with a frame of exotic vegetation that blurs the real situation at the gates of Paris. With their animal skins and their nudity, their weapons and their archaic habitat, these Africans symbolize a wild world finally within reach.

The following season sees Lapps from Röraas in Norway come to Paris. The poster announcing this event uses identical principles but this time playing on the effects of snow and ice (white clipping of the word "Acclimatization") and replacing the vegetation with a frame of cut branches used in the Lappish habitat. Instead of a re-enacted battle, the scene at the top exhibits one of the major features of their way of life: nomadism on sleds and the close connection with partly domesticated reindeer. The peaceful atmosphere and the little-typed faces, the white skin and elements of costume induce a temporal, and not ethnic, distance with the European of the late 19th century.e century. The many decorative details suggest that these people are gifted with culture, unlike the Africans who were advertised the previous year.


A profitable tourist attraction

This is the second time that Lapps have been presented in Paris, after the immense success of 1878, fueled by the Universal Exhibition (985,000 visitors for two exhibitions, Lapps in winter and Gauchos in summer). The turn towards commercial exploitation took place in 1886 with the Sinhalese: a program was printed proclaiming that the exhibition was intended to be "a trip around the world on the lawn of the Garden, a trip around the world in a few hours". The coming of the Ashantis (1887) and the vivid illustration of the colonial adventure in West Africa set the spectacular and sensational tone for the exhibitions of the following decade. The Jardin d’Acclimatation was then subjected to competition from the Champ-de-Mars and the Casino de Paris, which in 1893 welcomed Dahomeans leaving for the Chicago World's Fair. Moreover, it was in that of Paris, in 1889, that the villages of peoples colonized by Republican France appeared. If it is difficult to measure the public's support for the theses of colonialist domination, the still high attendance, the exceptional sales of postcards and the mass of newspaper articles testify to a certain enthusiasm for this meeting where the grid materializes an obvious hierarchy.

The professionalization of this attraction has several consequences. The natives gradually gain better conditions and sometimes a status. This was already the case with the Lapps, a people of northern Europe who previously "toured" in Scandinavia and whose agents negotiated a payroll. The Caribbean transplanted in 1882 were abused by a white man who had gained their trust, and the Hottentots exhibited in 1889 were probably forcibly recruited. To avoid rebellions and decrease the risk of depression, the organizers quickly demanded that entire families make the trip. As a result, some groups have specialized in the incarnation of tribes with rather vague identities and have passed on the "tips" of this new profession: wild extra. The large sums of money collected, which the founder of the Jardin Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire welcomes each year, no doubt make exhibition organizers more understanding when faced with rather limited requests. The public wants to admire wild beasts but is distraught by the sheer humanity of these men, women and children parked behind a gate. The comments published in the press denote an awareness of the great relativity of the differences between races. Integration into a well-established entertainment industry therefore fuels explicit racism as much as it implicitly challenges it.

  • ethnography
  • Paris
  • Acclimatization garden
  • poster
  • publicity
  • geography
  • Hobbies
  • Southern Africa
  • Lapland


Nicolas Bancel, Pascal Blanchard, Gilles Boëtsch, Sandrine Lemaire (dir.), Human zoos and colonial exhibitions : 150 years of inventions by the Other, Paris, La Découverte, 2011.

Pascal Blanchard, Gilles Boëtsch, Nanette Jacomijn Snoep (dir.), Exhibitions : The invention of the savage, Paris, Actes Sud, Quai Branly Museum, 2011.

Catherine Hodeir, Michel Pierre, The Colonial Exhibition, Brussels, Complex, 1991.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "L’ethnographie-spectacle"

Video: Ethnography in group work: Whats there to notice? Part 3