University of Botswana History Department
"El Negro of Banyoles"
The Return of El Negro:
A new book by Caitlin Davies, entitled The Return of El Negro, has just been published in Southern Africa by Penguin (South Africa) (ISBN 0-670-04793-7). It covers not only the history of El Negro and his return to Botswana but also wider issues about the treatment of human remains in museums and scientific research.
El Negro was the name given to a southern African man whose body was stolen from his grave in the early 19th century by two respected French naturalists.
The body was stuffed in the same way that trophy animals are stuffed and sent to Europe to further the cause of scientific racism and and to entertain the public. It eventually ended up in a glass case in a museum in a small Spanish town.
In the 1990s, after a decade of protest and protracted political and diplomatic exchanges, it was finally agreed that the body be repatriated to Botswana. In October 2000, El Negro was laid to rest in a sombre state burial in Gaborone, capital of Botswana. It was then that the triumph for Africa turned sour.
Although the true identity of the man has never been established, he has come to symbolise all those who were murdered, excavated and stolen from Africa by 19th century explorers and naturalists and taken to Europe in the name of science and for entertainment.
In this carefully researched and immensely readable book, Caitlin Davies throws wide-open the debate about what is appropriate in the name of "science" where human remains are concerned. In the process she retraces El Negro's fateful journey to Europe, including a search for the missing grave goods without which it is believed the stolen man cannot rest in peace.
Caitlin Davies was born in England in 1964. She moved to Botswana as a teacher in 1990, later becoming a citizen and a noted journalist and human rights campaigner. A former editor of the Okavango Observer, she was arrested for "causing fear and alarm" through a newspaper report, put on trial, but later acquitted. She has published a novel, Jamestown Blues, and has carried out ground-breaking research on violence against women in Northern Botswana. She now lives in England.
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Copyright © 2003 Caitlin Davies
Last updated 11 November 2003