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  • Exhibiting Indigenous Peoples: Bolivians and the Chicago Fair of 1893
  • Nancy Egan

In the graveyard of New York’s Bellevue Hospital, on May 21, 1893, a small crowd gathered around the coffin of José Santos Mamani.1 The group included Bolivian men, several Pottawatomie men from the Midwestern United States, and a white woman, Emma Sickels, who paid for the small ceremony. “Santos,” as he was nicknamed in the press, had arrived in the United States with a group of Aymara-speaking men from Bolivia bound for the World’s Fair in Chicago. Billed as the “Peruvian giant,” his rumored height of nine feet promised to attract large crowds to their performances.2 Unfortunately, once in New York, the troupe failed to secure transport to the ethnological exhibition organized in Chicago. During a tour of Philadelphia, the troupe’s managers abandoned Santos and the others and they were forced to walk back to New York City.3 Santos fell ill just outside of New Brunswick, New Jersey, after walking sixty miles in the rain, and he died shortly thereafter. Everyone present in the small cemetery joined in singing and reading from scripture as his coffin was removed.4 Afterward, the rest of the men continued to perform at Coney Island and other fairs in the area throughout 1893 before beginning an arduous journey back to Bolivia.

The few details known about the unfortunate journey of José Santos Mamani raise as many questions as answers about him and the others who traveled to and within the United States in the early 1890s. Throughout their journey, these seventeen men had experiences that provide insight into the particular form of popular scientific sideshow found at these fairs. Reconstructing the interactions between Santos and various institutions throughout his journey highlights the complicated relationships among incipient social sciences, state military expansion, and private industry. This paper approaches the events and institutions associated with these fairs as nexuses of ideas, influences, and historical trends in order to raise further research questions about the connections between colonialism, popular entertainment, and anthropology. In many ways, Santos’s experience, as curious as it first appears, typifies a set of relationships and dynamics at work during the fair and highlights the problematic relationships among expansive imperialist aspirations, salvage anthropology, and constructions of an indigenous subject as a “pre-modern other.” Santos’s experience also allows for the consideration of indigenous and colonized responses to the imperialist and national expansions of the era. [End Page 6]

Collecting Humans

The U.S. Congress authorized the formation of the World’s Columbian Exposition Commission in 1890 and set in motion events that would bring roughly 25 million people to Chicago in 1893.5 The commission, following the mold of nearly every international exposition over the previous decade, decided to include an ethnology and anthropology department, specifically modeled after the colonial villages of the Paris exposition just a few years earlier.6

The anthropological exhibits, under the direction of Frederick Ward Putnam, coalesced into plans for a show entitled “The March of the Aborigine to Civilization.”7 While Putnam, Franz Boas, and the other organizers aimed for the recruitment of ethnological “types” for the show, the task was plagued with political, ideological, and logistical challenges. The specifics of Santos’s recruitment, though difficult to identity with certainty, illustrate some of the reasons anthropologists’ ambitions for recruitment proved nearly impossible to carry through.

The fair’s administrators quickly added Bolivia to the list of nations to be visited by a World Columbian Exposition agent after initially overlooking the nation entirely.8 William E. Safford, a U.S. naval officer, traveled the Andean region with the dual responsibility of creating official linkages with national governments regarding their exhibits and collecting artifacts and peoples for Putnam’s ethnological exhibits. Safford was one of several naval officers sent on these missions to Latin America. Like many of the others, he was also a scientist, and his career highlights the intricate linkages between U.S. military expansion around the Pacific and the American Southwest and the growth of American scientific institutions.9

Safford and the other agents working in Latin America navigated multiple bureaucratic challenges. While officially working for...


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