An exhibit featuring singing and dancing pygmies in a small Belgian town has enraged African immigrants and sparked a protest involving some 100 people, local media reported Saturday.
Some 10 pygmies were flown in from Cameroon by a man who swears to be trying to improve their lot, but the display in the southwestern town of Yvoir has drawn criticism as a “scandalous” exploitation of human beings.
“This exhibit is scandalous,” Joseph Anganda, a coordinator of the New Immigrants Movement, an activists group, told local RTBF television Saturday while protesting outside the park where the exhibition was set up.
“It’s a mistreatment of humans. It’s a hostage-taking.”
African immigrants say it harks back to the days of colonialism when European countries put Africans on display in a humiliating way at world expositions in the late 1800s.
The exhibit also features pygmy mannequins in a makeshift village to show visitors about their way of life.
Leon Raets, the exhibit’s coordinator, insists that he is only trying to raise people’s awareness of the plight of the pygmies in Cameroon and raise money for humanitarian projects.
At least one pygmy, Melanie Ebate, appeared to have a pretty good idea of what she was doing there. “We came to show our…dance,” she told Impact Lab.
Asked what her reaction would be if she and her colleagues were told to stop performing and go back home, she replied: “We would be angry.”
Marie Alem, a Cameroon representative of a development organization who accompanied the pygmies to Belgium, defended the exhibit.
“I don’t think that this exhibit is shocking,” she told Impact Lab. “We have taken measures to be respectful.”
Pygmies are a race of Central African blacks living chiefly in the great forests of the equatorial belt. They are the shortest of all known races, ranging from less than four feet to about five feet in height.
Despite the scandal, the display in Yvoir — better known for its butterfly exhibits — has had trouble attracting visitors.
Raets, who works as one of the park’s officials, told Le Soir daily that it had only received about 1,600 people since it opened at the beginning of the month.
“For the most part, visitors turn back when we tell them that they will not see the butterflies exhibit that we organized in previous years,” he said.