The Philippines and Filipinos were among several countries featured

CBC-TV, February 11, 2016

In the late 1800s, colonial exhibits became popular in the western world — exhibits that not only showcased artifacts but actual people. In the era before cinema, these shows allowed westerners to see the foreigners they’d only heard of, and led to huge audiences clamouring for these tableaux vivants.

Or, as they are now called, “Human Zoos.”

1904: St. Louis World’s Fair
Human zoos were not merely a product of the old world; North America had its own. The St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 was an international exhibition in Missouri that, consistent with other world fairs of the time, was an entertaining spectacle, as well as a means of promotion for both products and industry.

The event boasted a variety of displays, including a 260-ft. Ferris wheel, a pavilion made of corn, and a number of scaled “living exhibits,” including recreated Filipino villages, an initiative of the US Government in the Philippines. The fair featured a 47-acre area of more than 1,000 Filipinos from dozens of tribes.

The Igorot Village

One of the most popular exhibits was the Igorot village, an ethnic group perceived as the least civilized of those on display. An audience success; the revenue from this attraction was said to have surpassed that of all the other villages combined.

This exhibition featured indigenous people in minimal clothing and who could often be found eating dog as the audience clamoured for a better look.

While the eating of dog was a sensational curiosity for western audience, it was also a misrepresentation. The Igorot did eat dog, but only did for ceremonial reasons. Yet during the seven months of the fair, dogs were fed to the Igorot daily.

The tribespeople also performed infrequent sacred rituals, such as crowing a chief, as daily entertainment, to their delight of the parasol-spinning audience.

Once the fair ended, the popularity of the show continued and members of the Igorot group became fixtures in fairs and carnivals in North America and beyond. But not everyone was charmed.

After protests by Filipinos, the US government in the Philippines banned the shows in 1914.