A stuffed, mounted African man on display at a museum in Banyoles, Spain, has sparked a one-man protest its sponsor says might lead to an African boycott of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
"El Negro," as the African has been nicknamed by residents, has been part of the collection of the city-owned Darder Natural History Museum since 1916. He stands in a glass case holding a spear and a shield. Critics charge his presence is racist and dehumanizing, especially for a city that will host the Olympic rowing competition next summer.
Reportedly, the man was a chief of the Bechuana people of southern Africa whose body was stolen from his grave just after his death by the French taxidermist Edouard Verraux in the late 19th century.
A Barcelona naturalist, Francisco de Darder, acquired the African from Verraux to add to his collection that later became the municipal museum, according to Spain's largest daily, El Pais.
"For black people, it's humiliating," said Dr. Alfonso Arcelin, a Haitian-born Spanish general practitioner who began the crusade to remove El Negro this year.
"It's not just because he's a black man," Arcelin said. "If he were yellow or white or red, my sentiments would be the same. But being a black man, it's worse. This is a human being. He should be at rest."
But Banyoles Mayor Joan Solana said El Negro is the museum collection's star attraction.
"We have mummies and skulls and even human skins on display in the museum," Solana said. "What is the difference between those things and a stuffed African? This was once a collection of a scientist, and his work involved the study of human beings."
The Banyoles city council voted Nov. 29 to keep the African on display. Arcelin responded by sending formal protest letters to Jordi Pujol, head of the regional government of Catalonia, and to International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Arcelin, who has run unsuccessfully twice for the Spanish Parliament, said he was prepared to call for an African boycott of the Games.
"I don't want a boycott of the Olympic Games," Arcelin said. Banyoles, meanwhile, is bracing for the fight. Although rumors of a compromise were circulating before the council vote -- the possible removal of El Negro for cleaning during the Olympics, for instance -- the city is now determined to keep him on exhibit.
T-shirts, buttons and bumper stickers supporting the city council decision are on sale around town, and one upscale gift shop has worked multi-colored silhouettes of El Negro into its logo.
Several Barcelona museum directors questioned by the daily La Vanguardia said they couldn't see what all the fuss was about.
"Egyptian mummies are one of the principal attractions of the British Museum," said Maite Ocana, director of the Picasso Museum. "Why can't the Banyoles museum have its own dried-up man?"
"Don't tell me he's just like a mummy -- it's not the same thing," said Arcelin, who first learned of the African from a tourist brochure in May. "To me the case is clear. These people must be made aware of what they are doing."