Thoughts and Ideas for updating cultural exhibits.

Something I have seen my entre time at Museums is the old version of the ethnographic exhibit. These older exhibits, like the ones I experienced were depicting the people as not a civilized as the American population. I see a lot of museums such as the Field in Chicago still maintaining and operating these exhibits.

One specific exhibit that I remember from when I was a Kid is the exhibit involving lions the at ate people on the African Savanna. They are called the Lions of Tsavo, They killed over 30 people When they were alive, I remember my dad telling me the story of them when I was a little girl. I never really noticed the brass statues until I was older.

The Brass statues portray the African ribal people trying to fight off the Lions. Not only are they portrayed as primitive it actually never happened that way. The lions attacked the construction workers building a railroad. They were killed by 2 men leading an expedition for the railroad.

These people were not helpless. They have been living on the African savanna for a while and the portrayal of them being helpless is not accrate at all. I think that this is one of the most interesting old exhibit at the museum. I think that the prtrayel of the tribal people is the most interesting point because these lions were killed in 1891. That this is one of the interesting parts to me how the age of the exhibit effects portrayal


2 thoughts on “Thoughts and Ideas for updating cultural exhibits.

  1. I agree that there are numerous museum exhibits that are problematic in the way they display cultures. However, I have seen the Lions of Tsavo exhibit at the Field Museum and I do not recall any brass statues of lions or local people. I do remember seeing two taxidermy mounts reconstructed from the lions’ skins which were originally used as floor rugs after the “man-eaters” were killed by a British colonel. (on a side note, this is a very interesting museum object conservation question. At what point does an object no longer have curatorial value due to excessive damage? Or can we always find a way to restore the object?) This portion of the exhibit discussed the killings of dozens of railway workers by the lions.

    Another portion of the exhibit did discuss another “man-eater” in Mfuwe in 1991. In this part of the exhibit I believe they did discuss the local human populations a bit more. There were important social implications of this lion because local people wanted to kill the lion to protect their community, but it was illegal to protect themselves and their families because the government only allowed safari hunting because it generated a lot of income. A man from Chicago went on a safari in the area and was able to kill the lion. Although I do not recall exactly how they discussed this hunt, I believe this part of the exhibit could be problematic. The local people wanted to kill the lion to protect themselves, but due to laws and regulations the problem could not be solved until an American paid to hunt the lion. This may perpetuate the very dangerous “white savior” complex.


  2. You bring up a good point about museums treating non-white peoples as inferior or helpless. This example is an especially poignant one. The movie about these lions and the effort to kill them takes a similar sensationalist and “white savior” stance. This is a case where we can look at museums as a perpetuating force of racism. The problem therefore becomes how to deal with that racism. I think you were very right to emphasize accuracy as a way to improve this particular exhibit. Showing what the railroad workers actually did and how they actually treated their situation would have probably done a lot to alleviate the racist environment present in the exhibit.


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