LAST OF HUMAN ZOO
Hopes Sussy comes back to country
DESCENDANTS of a Palm Island girl lured into a “human zoo” in the late 19th century and whose remains were discovered in a German cemetery are now facing the decision of whether to return her to her homeland.
Sussy Dakaro was a teenager when she was among a group of Palm Island people lured into the travelling zoo in 1883 by Robert Cunningham, an agent for the Barnum & Bailey circus.
The group were presented as curiosities to European and American audiences and marketed as “boomerang- throwing cannibals”.
A German archivist recently discovered Sussy, who died aged 17, was buried in a Protestant cemetery in Wuppertal, east of Dusseldorf.
Townsville indigenous elder Arthur Smallwood said it was up to Sussy’s family what happened next.
“If the family want her returned, she should be brought back to country,” he said. “She’ll be put to rest because her spirit is still wandering.”
Sussy’s descendants were contacted but unable to speak to the Bulletin yesterday.
If she is repatriated, Sussy would rejoin her partner, known as “Tambo”, who was discovered in the basement of an Ohio funeral parlour in the United States in 1993.
The following year he was returned to Palm Island and buried in a traditional ceremony led by descendant Walter Palm Island.
Nywaigi man Jacob Cassady, who runs the Mungalla Station museum, which tells the story of Palm Island and Ingham people taken into human zoos, has called for Sussy’s repatriation.
Wuppertal city archivist Cesare Lazaros Borgia contacted Mr Cassady, saying he had unearthed the exact location of the girl’s remains.
He sent Mr Cassady a copy of Sussy’s death certificate, which stated she died on June 23, 1885, from anaemia and tuberculosis.
“The German people are ( fundraising) to put a plaque together to commemorate her grave,” Mr Cassady said.
“They were even asking about Aboriginal art, whether they could use Aboriginal symbols.”
The Federal Department of Communications and the Arts is responsible for facilitating “the unconditional return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains from overseas govern- ments, institutions and private holders”.
A spokeswoman said the department had undertaken two repatriations.
French production company Bonne Pioche travelled to Ingham and Palm Island last week to shoot footage for a 90- minute documentary titled Savages in the Heart of the Human Zoo.
Cinematographer Philip Rang said it was unknown how Ingham and Palm Island indigenous people were lured away from their homes, but they were soon locked up, treated as animals and toured across America and Europe.
“Their clothes were taken away, they were taken from the tropics of Queensland to North America and many of them died of pneumonia or simple colds,” he said.
Mr Cunningham returned to the region in 1893 and took a second group, Nywaigi people from near Ingham.
Mr Cassady said Tambo – named because he played the tambourine – was the first of the Palm Island group to die, possibly from pneumonia.
“Tambo’s wife ( Sussy), who was in the party too, through customary lore was laying his body out for burial,” he said.
“Cunningham told the New York Times that they were laying his body out in preparation for breakfast.”
Cunningham took Tambo, mummified him and sold him to a dime museum.
The documentary will also tell the stories of indigenous peoples from French Guiana in South America, the Congo, Senegal and French New Caledonia also in human zoos. The documentary will screen on SBS at a date to be set.