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The Igorots at Coney Island: A Legacy of Racism and Exploitation

The Igorots of Coney Island: A shameful chapter in American history when they were displayed in a human zoo.

 |  3 min read

Igorots displayed in Coney Island human zoo, 1905. Paid $15/month to perform for visitors. CLAIRE PRENTICE

In 1905, a total of 50 Igorots from the Mountain Province of the Philippines were brought to Coney Island and exhibited in a human zoo. The Igorots were forced to live in a replica of a traditional Igorot village, which was surrounded by a fence. They were expected to wear traditional Igorot clothing and perform mock tribal ceremonies for the amusement of visitors. The Igorots were subjected to racism and exploitation by visitors, who would often throw food at them, make fun of them, and even try to touch them without their permission.

Visitors were invited to get up as close to the fearsome, head hunting warriors as they dared CLAIRE PRENTICE

The human zoo at Coney Island was a reflection of the racist and imperialist attitudes of the time. It was a way for white Americans to view people from other cultures as less than human. The legacy of human zoos continues today in the form of cultural appropriation and exploitation. For example, some companies have been accused of using images of indigenous people in their advertising without their permission.

The Igorots who were exhibited at Coney Island were a diverse group of people, speaking over 80 different languages and dialects. They were also a proud people, with a rich culture and history.

In 1904, the American government spent $1.5m taking 1,300 Filipinos to the St. Louis Exposition. CLAIRE PRENTICE

When the Igorots arrived at Coney Island, they were met with a mixture of curiosity and disgust. Visitors were fascinated by their appearance, which was quite different from that of white Americans. They were also intrigued by their customs, such as their practice of headhunting. However, many visitors also treated the Igorots with contempt, viewing them as savages or curiosities.

The Igorots were forced to live in a small, cramped village that was surrounded by a fence. They were not allowed to leave the village without permission, and they were constantly under the watchful eye of the zoo's staff. They were also expected to perform mock tribal ceremonies for the amusement of visitors. These ceremonies were often inaccurate and stereotypical, and they served to reinforce the racist stereotypes that white Americans held about the Igorots.

The Igorrotes lived a 'village' in the middle of Luna Park, Coney Island, as visitors gaped at the 'savages' in open-mouthed wonder CLAIRE PRENTICE

The Igorots were subjected to a great deal of racism and exploitation at Coney Island. Visitors would often throw food at them, make fun of them, and even try to touch them without their permission. The zoo's staff did little to protect the Igorots from this abuse, and in some cases, they even encouraged it.

The human zoo at Coney Island was a shameful chapter in American history. It was a reminder of the racism and exploitation that indigenous people have faced throughout history. It is important to remember this history so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and work to create a more just and equitable world.

We can honor the memory of the Igorots who were exhibited at Coney Island by learning more about their culture and history. We can also support organizations that are working to protect the rights of indigenous people around the world. By working together, we can create a world where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.


  • "The Igorots of Coney Island." The New York Times, 20 June 1905.
  • "The Human Zoos of Coney Island." The History Channel, 2018.
  • "The Legacy of Human Zoos." The Smithsonian Institution, 2013.

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