University of Botswana History Department

El Negro of Banyoles

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"El Negro"

"El Negro of Banyoles" is the name given to a stuffed human body that was displayed at the Francesc Darder Museum of Natural History in Banyoles, Spain, between 1916 and 1997. It was removed after protests by Africans and people of African ancestry, which began around the time of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The body was eventually repatriated to Africa, and was re-buried in Gaborone, capital of Botswana, on October 5, 2000.

Who was he? His origins were investigated by a University of Botswana research paper of April 2000. He was probably one of the Batlhaping people, who were living around the confluence of the Orange and Vaal rivers, possibly in the village of Kgatlane. He was a young man of about 27 (see post-mortem) who died in about 1830. His body was stolen and stuffed by two French taxidermists, the Verreaux brothers. They took it to Paris with thousands of other specimens of African wild life, and displayed it as the "Bechuana" (i.e. a Tswana person from South Africa/Botswana) in their shop.

The body was subsequently purchased by Frencesc Darder, a Spanish nauralist, who displayed it at the 1888 Barcelona World Exhibition. It then went with the rest of his taxidermy collection, after his death, to a new museum named after him at Banyoles. Here the body became popularly known as "El Negro" ("El Negre" in the Catalan language), because it was painted black (see pictures on page xxx). It now represented all "Negro" people, and became a symbol of Spanish exploitation and enslavement of black Africans. It also raised questions about the (re-)presentation of dead human bodies in museum displays.

The Darder museum at Banyoles resisted calls for repatriation of the body to Africa. It said that the body was not "Negro" at all, but that of a "Bushman" from the Kalahari. The confusion that this caused can be seen in press reports of mid-1992. The mystery was not cleared up until 2000, on the eve of the repatriation of the body to Africa, when it became known that it was the body of a "Bechuana". Meanwhile the Darder museum has kept the spear, bead necklace, and and other grave-goods associated with "El Negro". A replica of the previous display (see below) has also been exhibited in a Banyoles cafe.

The body was received in Botswana in a square ossiary box. All that was visible was a clean skull, with all traces of stuccoed flesh removed. Also included on these pages are further press reports on the repatriation of the body and its consequences.

On 24 May 2001 a one-day conference was held at the University of Botswana to discuss the issues raised by the repatriation of "El Negro". It is hoped to publish the proceedings as a special issue of Pula.

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Last updated 11 November 2003

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