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"El Negro of Banyoles"

Francesc Darder on "El Betchuanas" in 1888

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Francesc Darder on "El Betchuanas" in 1888

Extract from letter from Miquel Molina of La Vanguardia, Barcelona, dated 3 March 2000.

Pages from catalogue by Francesc Darder display at the 1888 Barcelona World Exhibition

Attached to this e-mail you are receiving two pages from a book written by Francesc Darder introducing his Natural History shop/museum for the Barcelona 1888 World Exhibition. These are the pages where he mentions the African Man he is exposing, introduced here as "El Betchuanas". Besides, there is a new picture of him in the place he occupied in the Darder Museum until two years ago (notice the differences between this photo and the draw included unsigned in the catalogue. According to the curator of the Darder Museum, the piece of cloth he is wearing in it was changed by another less "daring" while he was in Banyoles. The spear/harpoon seems to be the some one, but the kind of water-bag he is holding in his left hand had a kind of a sharp end, which is not in the photo. The feathers are the same, but moved from his head to his back)

Darder Catalogue (Translation into English):

[p84] [List of craniums]


[caption on illustration on p.85]: El Betchuanas. Cafre country has two seasons, winter and summer; the spring is very short.

[back to text on p.84]

This celebrated and interesting type, unique in the world, that features in our anthropological collection, is a native of one of the four divisions of the Cafre family which lives to the west of Southern Africa. This extensive region stretches about 1,100 kilometres north and south, and 400 east to west, bordering on the [Portuguese] capitancy of Mozambique, the Indian Ocean, Hottentot country, the Cape of Good Hope, and territories with little known towns [Zimbabwe etc.].

The Betchuana woman is extraordinarily fertile. She is not content with her natural colour, but paints her face and body with almazarron dust dissolved in water, as well as a preparation made of the juice of olorosas plants. Men also practice this anointment, and both sexes, after bathing, anoint themselves with a layer of tuetano and animal fat to make their skin supple. The dress of Cafre people is made from the same animals thay they hunt, usually adorning their left arm and their ears with rings of ivory or copper. The principal food of the Cafres is milk, which is taken from almost wild cattle [?]. They hunt large birds, and are addicted to tobacco. The Betchuanas abhor fish. Their drink is limited to fresh water; however they are not displeased by the brandy (aguardiente) that Europeans sell to them. The Betchuanas are vigorous and not lacking in intelligence. Eager to learn, they pester foreigners with thousands of questions; the facility of their memory is demonstrated by the ease with which they retain and pronounce [new] words that they hear.

Cafres believe in a superior and invisible Being; they conduct rituals including the circumcision of boys, the blessing of cattle, and the prediction of fortunes. They have no writing; their arithmetic is limited to counting on the fingers. The Betchuanas divide the year into thirteen months lunar, and distinguish the planets from ordinary stars. The Betchuanas, aficionados of music, spend the whole nights singing and dancing to rough instruments of little harmony.


"The famous and interesting specimen which is included in our anthropological collection -the only one in the world- comes from one of the four branches of the "cafre" family"... (cafre: according to the Spanish dictionary by María Moliner, it refers to the peple of an area located in the South East of Africa; in popular Spanish, it is still used to talk about someone wild or savage)..who lives at the West of the Southerner Africa. This wide area is 1.100 km. Lenght from North to South, and 400 from East to West, having its borders in the General Captaincy of Mozambique, the Indian Ocean, the "Hotentocia", the Cape of Good Hope and some lands inhabited by almost unknown people".

"The interesting specimen we are talking about -the only one naturalised in the world, as we said- is here thanks tothe audacity of the French taxidermist M. Edouard Verreaux. This man was in the burial of a Head of a tribe, celebrated with splendour, during one of the severeal trips he did in seardh of the remarkable specimens which have improved the collections of a lot of museums in Europe. He and his brother agreed to take the body from the grave when the familiy and the friends of the dead man would have left and take it to the Cape of Good Hope in order to prepare it, like it is today. The daring adventure of the Verreaux brothers ended in a great success".

We can find also some information about the "betchuana" people that seems to have been taken from an encyclopedia of that time. Tell me, if you think its translation could bring some light to this story. You can also read on page 84 a list of craniums from everywhere in the world...

And some facts about the Verreaux:

If we are speculating with the 1830 as the aproximate year when the body was stolen is because there is a description of the man written in november of 1831 in the French newspaper "Le Constitutionnel". It refers to the exhibition of the naturalised animals the Verreaux had just brought from "the Austral Africa", celebrated in the stores owned by "le baron Benjamin Delessert" at the 3 Rue de Saint-Fiacre. The man was exhibited as a "betjouana", with a spear and a dress made with furs of antelope.

According to the obituaries, Edouard travelled to the Cape to meet his brother Jules in 1829. Jules had asked his brother to give him some help there.

While in Cape Town, Jules Verreaux was in touch with someone called Andrew Smith. Consulting on the "Britanicca online" I red that Andrew Smith founded a museum based on his zoological collection in Cape Town in 1825. Maybe this is a good point to start a new research, due the lack of information we have in Europe about the Verreaux activities.

Jules also seems to have known there a governor called Franklin, and very important naturalists of that time, as Georges Cuvier and Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire.

He also travelled across Africa in the company of the explorer Pierre Antoine Delalande.

The robbery and naturalisation of "El Negre" is not documented by the Verreaux... as far as we know. Some years ago, In the archives of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, in Paris, there was an index card of a book entitled "Ethnographie du Cap. Recuil de dessins manuscrits rehaussÚs d'aquarelles", by Jules Verreaux. But it was "introuvable". The book we can read there is one containing some writing by Jules, narrating some adventures in Africa and including a long list of naturalised animals and their prices in the market.

When Darder bought the body - supposedly around 1880- Edouard (1868) and Jules (1873) were already dead. And the catalogue I mentioned in the begining includes the only writing by Darder about "el Negre". Where did he buy it? Who sold it?

The Verreaux published a huge book about their travel to "Cochinchine et Notasie", and also some articles in the "Revue Zoologique".

I'm waiting for some information from France, but I am not sure about it.

P.D. At the Darder Museum, they are looking forward to receiving the visit of some experts from Africa to examine the body (no one has visited it since it was removed from the Man's Room at the Museum, although visits for scientifical purposes are allowed). The curator there thinks the analysis of the straw contained inside the body would bring some light about the place where it was naturalised. And, of course, de DNA test in order to know where he came from.

The museum is in a very bad state. Last year, they received only 8,000 visitors (in 1992, during the big debate around "el negre", they got to 70,000 visitors!) There are only the curator (a biologist) and the usher working there.

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Last updated 8 October 2000