A Snowflake in the Barcelona Zoo, or, How to Rescue a White (Gorilla) from Equatorial Guinea
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
Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Rutgers University