Paris’ Dark Past

There’s something about the macabre that is always fascinating. Now I’m no goth, I still get scared of the dark, but there are some things that you just can’t help but be attracted to.

In the time between discovering Victorian postmortem photos and the Japanese suicide forest (look into these in broad daylight, I beg you!), I stumbled across a disturbing remnant of France’s colonial past.
The Human Zoo.

Hidden in Paris’ Bois de Vincennes are the crumbling ruins of the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale, a Parisian attraction that peaked in popularity around 1907. This is what happened:

As France was expanding it’s colonial empire, people back home became more and more intrigued by the exotic places that were now “part of France”. The gardens were set up with six different villages, each with native plants, structures and other exotica from around Asia, Africa and the Pacific. But it didn’t stop there; how could the French public really feel like they were experiencing these distant lands without the people who made them so unique?

Yup. It happened. The “Natives” were brought over to populate these exhibits while Parisians marveled at their alien way of life. Essentially a zoo for humans. And this wasn’t uncommon. Marseilles and many other cities around Europe had these “exotic” spectacles where colonized families were given replica costumes and paid to put on shows for the marveling public.

Please, don't feed the people
Please, don’t feed the people

These days the garden has been forgotten. The structures have been left to rot while the signs and information boards have faded to obscurity. It’s certainly true that colonialism is something everyone, not just the French, wish to forget. And the degradation of this place is a very physical sign of that.

Never the less, this is one place that is definitely on my to-visit list, and an experience that I’m sure will haunt me for a long while afterwards.


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