Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Field Museum and the Mfuwe Man Eater

This is a picture of a Man Eater of Mfuwe, who now resides in the Field Museum in Chicago. This particular maneless lion had been terrorizing the people of Mfuwe in Africa during 1991. It was the largest lion ever recorded in the area at almost 10 feet long. From the picture it's hard to see how big this lion is, but I'd compare it to a pony only a little shorter. Normally lions will not kill and eat people because humans are not their natural prey, but the Man Eaters in Africa were different. Some say that they eat humans because their regular food supply was reduced, so they were forced to turn to other alternatives. Others say that the locals did not bury their dead properly and the lions started eating corpses, developing a taste for humans. Either way, the lions were a threat to the people, especially the 10 foot long one. The big lion was so cunning that people started to believe that it was possessed by a demon. It's last victim was a woman, and when the lion finished eating her he took a clothes bag from her house and dragged it through the main street roaring. Later on, people saw the lion playing with the bag like a sack of catnip. Why didn't the citizens just kill the lion? Well, hunting was restricted in the area and the people lacked the resources to kill it. Finally a Chicagoan came in and killed the lion after a week of hunting (safari hunting was allowed because of the financial resources it generated).

The Field Museum in Chicago is one fine museum. We went there last December for a day during winter break. When you walk in at first you see the main hall that houses the dinosaur skeleton Sue and a big elephant. All the exhibits are on the sides of the building. But that doesn't mean there isn't much room for the collections. The museum is huge. We spent a couple hours there walking around the three levels just browsing. What's at the museum? A little bit of everything. Artifacts, animals (stuffed), clothing, traditional houses, plants, and art. It's just too big to see everything during one visit.

One thing I noticed on the back of my map was a little message that surprised me at first. It said, "During your visit, you may encounter exhibits that portray people or ideas that are new to you. Thank you for viewing all displays with respect for the traditions they represent." Why do they put that message on there? Who would be so dense as to pay money to visit one of the country's top museums and look down upon the exhibits. Then my mom joked that the message was for one of my instructors, who had said some negative things about certain ethnic groups without backing up the claims with facts. There are people who would say that some of the cultures displayed in the museum are stupid, confused, or backwards. But then there are others who may be educated to some degree who would make more "scientific" claims like, "Oh, that's just faulty cause effect reasoning", "They haven't accepted progress from the western world", or "The museum's trying to make those cultures seem more important than they really are." Now I understand why the museum printed that message on the map, right next to the key information about the facility.