Cannibals by Katerina Kosma

That sunny Sunday morning, Brussel’s Zoo was full of people. Well-dressed gentlemen in suits and tall hats and elegant ladies in impressive dresses were holding their children’s hands as they all together observed various, peculiar wild animals. Suddenly, all visitors rushed to the garden’s central area, trying to secure the best view possible. There, on top of a wooden stage, stood Hendrik, a man around thirty years old who began his pompous speech.

‘Mister Chancellor, Mister President, Mister Mayor, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for honouring the opening of the new division of our zoo with your presence. I am beyond happy you and your families are visiting us today. You are extremely lucky! You are the very first to observe these strange humanoid creatures which, with much difficulty, we managed to obtain just for you and because of which, on multiple occasions, we even put our own lives in danger!’

The crowd gasped in fear.

‘Do not worry, please! I may have been in danger when I personally collected those feral creatures and brought them here in Brussels, but the situation is under control. As this zoo’s director, I have ensured that all necessary precautions are in place so you can enjoy this experience safely. We have them locked in cages. And that’s because they are not normal people like us. They are cannibals. Even so, do not fear them! The guards will constantly be by your side for your protection. They will give you bananas and peanuts to feed the savages. You will then witness their similarities with monkeys and apes.’

The visitors applaud and cheer. Hendrik slowly comes off the stage and as if performing a ritual, he commences the unveiling. He first introduced an old Indian. They had given him trousers with tassels and a hat with big feathers to wear, reflecting the image white people had for Indians. Despite the paint on his face, fear was evident in his eyes.

‘This is not just any Indian,’ Hendrick’s voice was ringing. ‘The Black Hawk is the chief of the most dangerous Indian tribe of America; the Cheyenne tribe. This bloodthirsty Indian,’ he continued with excessive theatrisism in his movements, ‘is nothing but a human shark! Can you see his teeth? They have been sharpened on a rock. He needs sharp teeth to tear his prey apart, whether that’s animals or… humans! My dear people, why are you so shocked?’ he said when he heard the attendants’ exclamation of surprise. ‘Anthropophagy is a daily habit for cannibals. Sometimes they kill and eat animals, sometimes humans. What is the difference? They are not civilised like us! Don’t animals eat other animals? Is this not the way of the animal kingdom? The same thing happens with cannibals.’

The zoo’s director revealed the rest of the indigenous people to his guests in a similar manner. He put emphasis on his “strong cards”, as he called the ones with unique characteristics and fabricated ludicrous stories about them. He devoted a big part of his presentation to Ota and Sarah. Referring to twenty-five-year-old Ota from Congo as “the human tiger”, he narrated his

experience with him. Among other things, he said that Ota was fighting with lions and tigers roaring like a beast, that he almost devoured one of the lions at the zoo, leaving a deep wound on the lion’s back.

He saved Sarah for last. A young woman from South Africa around twenty years old. Sarah was exhibited naked so that the visitors could examine her body. She had steatopygia, substantial levels of tissue on the buttocks and thighs, which rendered the visitors speechless. After the encouragement of Hendrik, who unlocked her cage, they even touched her and took full-body photos with her.

‘I want one of her back. We’ll both stand like this and we’ll just turn our heads to look at the camera,’ said a woman, demonstrating the way she wanted Sarah to pose. The African woman, embarrassed by her nakedness, tried to step back and instinctively pushed people’s hands away. Hendrik intervened though and violently pushed her out of the cage, letting her become prey to the white people’s untamed curiosity.

It was already getting dark when the last visitors of the zoo departed. The doors to the public closed. The show was over. Hendrik, in the company of three guards, walked towards the section of the indigenous people’s cages. The expression on his face had changed. It was dark and harsh. His eyes were shining fiercely. He had a whip in his hand.

‘What did I say yesterday?’ he shouted with hatred. ‘Why didn’t you do as I told you? Didn’t I tell you to behave like wild animals? To scream, jump around and scare the people? And you, Sarah, you will dance seductively among the crowd! Am I not clear? You all need a good beating!’ the zoo director said and he started whipping them furiously in their cages. He then ordered the guards to not feed the “cannibals” to teach them to perform properly next time.

This is how the days, weeks, months and years passed. The imprisoned indigenous people had no choice but to obey the director’s commands, performing to impress the white people. Every now and then, they were moved to other cities in Germany. Touring theaters were founded and travelled to local fairs in cities. “The cannibals of Brussels now in your city!” the posters read. How long can one withstand this situation though? Many died in those harsh conditions, while others decided to end their own lives to stop the insanity. Until one day, in 1958, they reached the end of their tether.

The indigenous people had been planning their revolution for a while. ‘For our freedom; for every human right we’ve been denied; to prove that we are not inferior,’ said the Black Hawk. ‘Beware though! We don’t want any losses. On either side! It must start and end without drawing blood. We only want to scare them, not harm them…’ he added sensibly.

There came a sunny Sunday morning, when the fight for the indigenous people’s freedom began. ‘The more people at the zoo, the better,’ they thought. They wanted their protest to make history. They managed to steal the keys to their cages from the guards the night before. The night shift guards were in the habit of getting drunk. While they unlocked the cages to throw food at the

indigenous people, one of them got out without being spotted and hid himself. So many people were crammed in that particular cage, the drunk guards didn’t notice him missing. Just before dawn, the hidden man had the keys in his possession.

They all remained in their cages as if they were locked up. Their behaviour only changed during the peak hour. The visitors who tried to feed the indigenous people were in for a surprise. Before they could even realise what was happening, they jumped out of their unlocked cages, grabbed as many visitors as they could, pushed them in and locked the doors.

There is panic at the zoo. The visitors scream in fear.

‘Do you see what it’s like being in a cage?’ the indigenous people shouted. ‘Why are you treating us this way? We are human too! We want to go home! To be free again!’

Soon Hendrik appeared with the guards. They all carry whips, planks of wood and knives. There is a clash. A guard tries to stab the Black Hawk but he dodges, hits the guard’s hand and the knife is thrown away. Another guard tried to attack Sarah with a big plank of wood but was prevented by Ota. He punches him and he falls to the ground. Hendrik starts panicking. He is holding a gun and starts firing shots uncontrollably. Everybody drops to the ground. A bullet finds Ota. Hendrik stands still with the gun in his hand. He looks completely lost. Sarah picks up a plank of wood and hits him in the head. He falls down unconscious. The gun escapes from his hand. The Black Hawk ties Hendrik’s hands behind his back. They do the same to the rest of the guards. As soon as everyone is immobilised, the Black Hawk and Sarah run to the wounded Ota.

‘Leave me. Run for your lives,’ he says to them in a voice weak from the pain. They urge him not to speak and they carry him away from the battlefield. Meanwhile, Hendrik appears to be coming around. The Black Hawk and Sarah exchange a quick look and start running to the exit, carrying bleeding Ota with them. Police sirens are audible in the distance.

‘They are savages. They call us feral and cannibals, but they are worse. And they think of themselves as civilised… Is this what civilised means? I’d rather live in the jungle with wild beasts than with civilised savages,’ Sarah stated some time later about white people.

Published in Issue #26

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