In 1880, an Inuit man named Abraham Ulrikab agreed to be part of a human zoo in Germany along with his family. While he was promised money and the chance to see Europe, the family never had time for sightseeing, as they all quickly succumbed to smallpox just four months into their exhibit. This was all part of a bizarre and dehumanizing European trend of exoticizing other cultures. This may soon be rectified after more than a hundred years with the return of Abraham”s bones to Labrador, Canada.
A Norwegian scholar named Johan Adrian Jacobsen convinced Abraham to be part of his exhibit at the Berlin Zoo, telling the Inuit he would be given enough money to pay his 10 debt to Christian missionaries.
Abraham, his wife, and two young daughters boarded a schooner with another Inuit family and arrived in Hamburg on September 24, 1880. After touring around as an exhibit for three months, the other family”s 15-year-old daughter suddenly died. A week later, her mother also mysteriously perished.
The cause of death was smallpox. Jacobsen was supposed to have the Inuits vaccinated before entering Germany (as is the law), but he apparently had forgotten. Their tour made it to Paris, but by January 16, all the members of both families died. Abraham”s wife Ulrik was the last.
Despite being exhibited like an animal, Abraham was actually a literate man, a devout Christian, and an accomplished violinist. He wrote a diary about his time in Europe, which was sent back to Labrador with his belongings. The bodies of the Inuit families, however, were lost until fairly recently.
Abraham Ulrikab”s body was found in 2014 in the French Natural History Museum. There are plans in the works to send the remains back to his home, with both the French and Canadian governments offering to assist.
The Nunatsiavut Government in Labrador is currently in consultation to figure out what is best for Ulrikab”s body. They say that their goal is to, “rectify those wrongs, and bring closure to some sad stories.” It”s strange to think that after over a hundred years, Abraham Ulrikab is finally returning home.