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#5252: dignity... a haitian calls for redress (fwd)

From: Nancy Dorsinville <ndorsinv@hsph.harvard.edu>

thought this might be of interest to readership...
Bushman's body returned to Africa after 170 years  
GABORONE, Oct. 4  Solemn prayers and enthusiastic crowds greeted the body
of a 19th century bushman on Wednesday when he was returned to Africa
after being on display in France and Spain for nearly two centuries.  
       More than 1,000 onlookers in Botswana's capital Gaborone gathered
to catch a glimpse of the shrivelled remains of a man believed to have
been dug up by white grave robbers 170 years ago and stuffed with straw
and grass. 
       The body had been the main exhibit in a small museum in Spain where
he was known as ''El Negro'' -- and nearly led to an African boycott of
the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. 
       Historians believe the 27-year-old man died of natural causes and
was stolen from his grave by two celebrated French taxidermists, Jules and
Eduoard Verraux. 
       His corpse was shipped to France and put on exhibition for the next
50 years before being sold to a Spanish naturalist, who later bequeathed
the remains to a museum in the town of Banyoles, near the city of
       ''I am so delighted that he is an African and he is back. A human
being is not an animal,'' an elderly woman said after peering at the man's
skull through a tiny window in the coffin. 
       The body was greeted at Gaborone airport by a military honour guard
and will lie in state overnight, only the second person to receive such an
honour since Botswana's independence in 1996. 
       An elaborate funeral attended by Spanish and African diplomats is
planned for Thursday. 

       ''We accept him as a citizen of this country,'' Minister of Foreign
Affairs Mompati Merafhe told reporters. ''Botswana was angered by the way
he was displayed like a stuffed antelope.'' 
       A scandal erupted in the early 1990s when a local doctor of Haitian
origin objected to the exhibit on the eve of the Barcelona games. Alphonse
Arcelin, who is expected to attend Thursday's funeral, said the display
was racist and urged African countries to boycott the games. 
       ''It is incredible that at the end of the 20th Century, someone
still dares to show a stuffed human being in a show case, as if it were an
exotic animal,'' Arcelin said at the time. 
       The town council initially defended the exhibit, and some townsfolk
took to wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan ''Banyoles loves you El Negro.
Don't go!.'' 
       But the outrage eventually forced the mayor to remove the body from
the exhibition in 1998 and the Spanish government agreed to pay for its
repatriation to Botswana. 
       The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) had asked Botswana, home to
around 55,000 San bushmen, to accept the body on behalf of Africa. But
some historians say the man may not have been a native of the vast, arid
southern African country. 
       Neil Parsons, professor of history at the University of Botswana,
argues that El Negro's grave was from the village of Kgatane on the Vaal
River in what is now South Africa. 
       The publicity over the return of body has also focused attention on
the plight of bushmen in southern Africa, fighting for ancestral desert
homelands seized from them centuries ago. 
       For thousands of years the small, wizened people roamed the dunes,
plains and mountains of the region, hunting game and foraging for
succulent plants in the semi-desert. 
       Then came European and African settlers who laid claim to the vast
tracts of land -- from Angola, through Namibia and Botswana, down to South
Africa -- and fenced it off for farms. 
       At best, the bushman were used as trackers, cattle-herders and
shepherds. At worst, bounties were paid to eradicate them, and in some
cases they were hunted as trophies. 
       Bushmen still living in Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve
have over the years battled the government over its plans to resettle them
and make way for tourist development. 
Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited.