In the early 19th Century, it was fashionable for Europeans to collect wild animals from around the globe, bring them home and put them on display. One French dealer went further, bringing back the body of an African warrior. Dutch writer Frank Westerman came across the exhibit in a Spanish museum 30 years ago, and was determined to trace the man’s history. This was not Madame Tussaud’s. I was not staring at an illusion of authenticity – this black man was neither a cast nor some kind of mummy. He was a human being, displayed like yet another wildlife specimen. History dictated that the taxidermist was a white European and his object a black African. The reverse was unimaginable. I flushed and felt the roots of my hair prickling – simply from a diffuse sense of shame.
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