A Snowflake in the Barcelona Zoo, or, How to Rescue a White (Gorilla) from Equatorial Guinea

Susan Martin-Marquez
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The most famous “white” of Spain’s only sub-Saharan African colony was spirited away to the Barcelona Zoo just a year before Equatorial Guinea gained independence in 1968. The albino gorilla Snowflake was thus spared the terror suffered by the 120,000 “assimilated” Guineans who were forced to flee when their nation’s first president-cum-dictator Francisco Macías Nguema sought to purge all vestiges of Spain’s colonial presence.

In Spain the Franco regime greeted the gorilla with open arms, for he attracted millions of visitors to Barcelona. Although Snowflake’s captivity was not ideal, as a “white Equatoguinean” his experiences could not have differed more from those of his black compatriots living in exile in Spain, as the Equatoguinean writer Francisco Zamora observes in his poem “Save Snowflake.” While Snowflake dined on gourmet food in heated comfort, and communed with dignitaries, his less fortunate “brothers” struggled with the dehumanizing effects of poverty and prejudice.

Even in death, Snowflake was treated dramatically differently from his fellow African in a nearby cultural institution. The stuffed Batswana man dubbed the “Negro of Banyoles” had stood on display in a Catalan museum for a century before an international scandal finally forced repatriation of his remains in 2000. By contrast, when Snowflake died of skin cancer in 2003, zoo officials refused to consider taxidermy, deemed too undignified for the beloved gorilla.

A recent “Nature” episode devoted to Snowflake erases his colonial history, focusing instead on a neocolonially-inflected discourse of animal conservation. Modern American zoos are presented as engaged in a heroic struggle against the inhuman(e) Africans who decimate the primate population out of pure greed. As the complexities of Equatorial Africa’s colonial and post-colonial histories are stripped away, a new Civilizing Mission emerges, in which the salvation of animals requires the rhetorical animalization of Africans.

Keywords: Spain, Equatorial Guinea, Colonialism, White Gorilla, Race
Stream: Immigration, Refugees, Race, Nation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Susan Martin-Marquez

Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Rutgers University

Susan Martin-Márquez (B.A., M.A. University of Chicago; Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania) is Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and a member of the Cinema Studies and African Studies programs at Rutgers University. She specializes in modern Spanish peninsular cultural studies, with a special focus on visual and literary texts, as well as postcolonial and gender issues. Her first book, Feminist Discourse and Spanish Cinema: Sight Unseen, was published by Oxford University Press in 1999; she is currently working on a collaborative website, CD-ROM and book project, Cinema and the Mediation of Everyday Life: An Oral History of Cinema-Going in 1940s and 1950s Spain (under advanced contract with Berghahn Books), which studies the mechanisms of memory and the “performance” and practice of everyday life under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Her recently completed book manuscript, Disorientations: Spanish Colonialism in Africa and the Cultural Mapping of Identity, analyzes the ongoing reconstruction of national identities throughout the post-Enlightenment era in Spain, as Spaniards embarked on the colonization (and later, the decolonization) of Africa while coming to terms with their own African/Muslim past.

Ref: H06P0268