Tuesday, 14 May 2013

"The city of dwarfs" - A human zoo in Paris in 1906

 Dwarfs in the human zoo in Paris in 1906.

The Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris, now a children's amusement park with a zoo, was founded in 1860 by Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie as a zoo. In 1877 the zoo was converted into  "l'Acclimatation Anthropologique", which until 1912 specialized in showing the customs and lifestyles of foreign, mainly African peoples. Nubians, Bushmen, Zulus and many other Africans were "exhibited" in the human zoo. These exhibitions were a great success, doubling the number of visitors.

Another popular exhibition was the "City of dwarfs" in 1906. The Swedish weekly Hvar 8 Dag included a brief account of the exhibition "concept":

"A rather peculiar exhibition will soon be opened in the Jardin d'Acclimatation. A colony of 300 living dwarfs has been assembled, for which a small city, with its own theater and church, etc., has been built." 

A dwarf greets a visitor in front of his "dwarf city" house . The door height was 1 meter.
A carriage with dwarfs coming from the dwarf city station.


Fortunately, times have changed. This kind of human zoo is unthinkable now. However, to my  surprise, a Wikipedia article tells us that the concept of the human zoo has not completely disappeared:
Congolese village was displayed at the Brussels 1958 World's Fair.[15] In April 1994, an example of an Ivory Coast village was presented as part of an African safari in Port-Saint-Père, near Nantes, in France, later called Planète Sauvage.[16]
An African village was opened in Augsburg's zoo in Germany in July 2005.[17] In August 2005, London Zoo also displayed humans wearing fig leaves.[18] In 2007, Adelaide Zoo ran a Human Zoo exhibit which consisted of a group of people who, as part of a study exercise, had applied to be housed in the former ape enclosure by day, but then returned home by night. The inhabitants took part in several exercises, much to the amusement of onlookers, who were asked for donations towards a new ape enclosure. In 2007, Pygmy performers at the Festival of Pan-African Music were housed (although not exhibited) at a zoo in BrazzavilleCongo.[19]
Living history museums or living farm museums are somewhat reminiscent of human zoos. Living history museums seek to show patrons how people live in different times or places. Employees or volunteers dress up and perform activities of daily life in the way that another culture would. In America, living history museums showcasing pioneer life may demonstrate baking bread, raising and harvesting crops, and keeping chickens. Generally, these volunteers go home at night.


  1. Thanks for your interesting post. A difficult period of our history to come to terms with.

    I am researching these "human zoos". In particular I am trying to find out how the participants were recruited. I am not sure of the terms to use here. But my interest is in finding if these people were volunteers, impressed, or prisoners. And if they left any testimony.

    Do you have any sources that I might look into.

    1. Nick,
      Thank you for your comment. I am afraid I do not have any additional sources, but knowing your interest, I will keep an eye on the subject. Who knows, maybe something of interests for you turns up. Would appreciate, If you at a later stage would be so kind and let me know about how your work proceeds. I also visited your webpages, which contain a lot of interesting stuff.

    2. Thank you for interesting post. To Nick to answer, I know a little bit about these "Cities of Dwarfs", because of I have some short people in my friends, and I got interested about the subject.

      At times when "human-zoos" were built, there was not equal living possibilities to everyone. For example, if you were disabled in anyway (meaning, you couldn't do the normal "man's job"), you only had thin chance to earn your own living. Even though living in a dwarf city was humiliating and made the common treatment of short people even worse, those working in zoos had no chance to choose something else. They might thought, that they just had to stand the poor treatment, and they'd get their living and even environment where it was possible to them to live somehow "normal" life.

      I think it's the same thing than the "tree-men" in today's India. Performing in circuses and places like that, they'll earn much enough to survive alive, even though the environment isn't what they'd prefer as human beings if they were health.

      Sad but true, we rather pay to amuse ourselves by seeing oddity than to help those in need.