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Creation 33(4):54–55, October 2011

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Abraham Ulrikab—the ‘zoo exhibit’ who could write


Abraham Ulrikab

Creation readers may recall the story of Ota Benga—the pygmy taken from his home in Africa in 1904 and showcased in a US zoo as an example of an evolutionarily ‘primitive’ race.1 His story was not unique; from about 1870 to 1940, “travelling exhibits of non-European natives were recurring features of zoological gardens where they eclipsed the drawing power of the more usual animal exhibits.”2

Abraham Ulrikab was an Inuit (formerly called ‘Eskimo’) whom Moravian missionaries in Hebron, Labrador (Canada), counted among their converts. He and several of his fellow Inuit were one of many so-called ‘primitive’ people to be shown in zoos throughout Europe and North America in that era, showcased as examples of inferior stages of ‘evolutionary progress’.3

Abraham’s ill-fated Atlantic trip

He and several of his fellow Inuit were one of many so-called ‘primitive’ people to be shown in zoos throughout Europe and North America in that era, showcased as examples of inferior stages of ‘evolutionary progress’.

Adrian Jacobsen, a Norwegian trader in people and artefacts from other cultures, had made a fortune in 1877 by exhibiting Inuit from Greenland around Europe, returning them home safely after a successful tour. However, the Danish government subsequently forbade him from using Greenland Inuit anymore for such purposes. So Jacobsen looked to Labrador, on the North American continent.

However, the missionaries in Hebron were steadfastly against the idea of Jacobsen taking their Inuit parishioners away. So he hired Abraham Ulrikab as an interpreter, and set sail for a nearby Inuit colony that had refused Christianization. With Abraham’s help Jacobsen managed to convince Terrianiak and Paingo, a young couple with a teenage daughter, to come with him. But still short on numbers, he asked Abraham and his family to come.

Abraham knew the missionaries were against the idea. For one thing, they believed that exhibiting people like zoo animals was immoral.4 But the 35-year-old Abraham had a sense of curiosity and adventure. He also had a debt of 10 pounds to the mission, and saw the trip as a way of paying it off.

Abraham Ulrikab
Left to right: Ulrike, Tobias, Maria (baby), Abraham & Sara

So along with his wife 24-year-old Ulrike, their two young children, his nephew Tobias and Terrianiak’s family, they set sail for Germany in August of 1880. Abraham, who has been described as “literate and honest … admired for his penmanship, drawing skills, and work ethic”, began keeping a diary, full of “strength and sorrow”. The voyage soon caused him concern and disappointment; his nephew Tobias was severely beaten with a dog whip by a “furious Jacobsen” for “disobedience”.4

Despite this, the Inuit were excited upon their arrival in Europe. But it didn’t take long for them to become both sick and homesick, and tired of their expedition, especially the zoo crowds. Contrary to promises of a ‘scientific purpose’, it soon became clear that the real purpose was to be an exhibit for paying customers. “They were exposed in public zoos much the same as animals.”4 Not long after their first appearance at the Berlin zoo, even one of the local newspapers wrote an editorial against the practice, as “decidedly repulsive”.4

Failure to vaccinate

Unfortunately, for various reasons, Jacobsen had failed to immunize the eight Inuit against smallpox. After the teenage daughter of the Terrianiak family and her mother had succumbed to the fatal disease in mid-December 1880, his efforts to then vaccinate were too late. About four weeks later, they had all died of smallpox, with Abraham’s 24-year-old wife Ulrike the last to go.

We would probably have no knowledge of this ill-fated venture if Abraham Ulrikab had not kept a diary record of his perceptions and experiences.3 He and his family were devout Christians, and this comes through prominently in his words. An intelligent man, he had been taught to read and write by the Moravian missionaries, and was the violinist for the Hebron congregation. As well as a being a fluent writer in his native Inuktitut (his diary was in this language, later translated by one of the missionaries), he could speak some German and English.

Abraham Ulrikab’s records

A constant theme of Abraham’s recollections was the large size of the crowds. They seemed very condescending, being astonished that this ‘primitive’ man could even write his own name. Yet those same crowds often displayed unruly behaviour that shamed this so-called ‘primitive’ person.

One episode in particular stands out in his diary. A crowd had gone right out of control:

“… everything was filled with people and it was impossible to move anymore. Both our masters Schoepf and Jacobsen shouted with big voices and some of the higher-ranking soldiers left but most of them had no ears. Since our two masters did not achieve anything, they came to me and sent me to drive them out. So I did what I could. Taking my whip and the Greenland seal harpoon, I made myself terrible. One of the gentlemen was like a crier. Others quickly shook hands with me when I chased them out. Others went and jumped over the fence because there were so many. … Ulrike had also locked our house from the inside and plugged up the entrance so that nobody would go in, and those who wanted to look in through the windows were pushed away with a piece of wood.”

He was forced to act in a manner that reinforced the popular perception of him and his people as ‘uncivilized brutes’ in spite of the fact that if any were acting like animals, it was the European crowd.

Maintaining faith

‘I do not long for earthly possessions but this is what I long for: to see my relatives again, who are over there, to talk to them of the name of God as long as I live.’—Abraham Ulrikab.

When the first of his small group started dying of smallpox, Abraham saw that he too was likely to die. By this time weary of Europe, he wrote:

“I do not long for earthly possessions but this is what I long for: to see my relatives again, who are over there, to talk to them of the name of God as long as I live.”

Nevertheless, he committed his way to the Lord, whether he lived or died:

“My dear teacher Elsner, pray for us to the Lord that the evil sickness will stop if it is His will; but God’s will be fulfilled. I am a poor man who’s dust.”

In the circumstances, Abraham’s courage and faith were admirable despite the obvious sadness in his words. He maintained faith in the Lord throughout, even with his family perishing from smallpox around him.

Abraham’s words offer a sobering gaze at the effects of evolution on human relations. He and his fellow Inuit, like so many other people groups, were treated as subhuman commodities on the basis of ‘science’, to be gawked at for profit.

The irony is, that of the thousands with whom he came in contact on his journey, Abraham Ulrikab was perhaps the most civilized of them all.


  1. Note this further change by Carl. Bergman, J., Ota Benga, Creation 16(1):48–50, 1993; creation.com/ota-benga. Return to text.
  2. Jonassohn, K, On A Neglected Aspect Of Western Racism, presented to the Association of Genocide Scholars meeting in Minneapolis, 9-12 June 2001, migs.concordia.ca/occpapers/zoo.htm. Return to text.
  3. Lutz, H. (ed.), The Diary of Abraham Ulrikab: Text and Context, University of Ottawa Press, Ottawa, Canada, 2005. Return to text.
  4. www.suite101.com/content/inuit-peoples-recruitment-from-labrador-canada-a173014, accessed 5 February 2011. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Dennis H.
What you sow will grow. And so it is with evolution. While I taught history in the public school system of Georgia, USA, I would challenge the students to think about the “caveman” idea that evolution and Hollywood had so carefully placed into their heads over the years. The question I would ask was simple enough. Does living in a cave prove you are dumb and not highly evolved? When the students studiously contemplated this question, they discovered how momentous a cave dwelling would be. A cave would furnish more or less heat and air conditioning year around. It provided protection from bad weather events. Plus it would be easy to defend from intruders. And finally, it would be useful to stow food too. And so, the Inuit’s knew instinctively how to survive in their environment after the Great world Flood. Inuit’s like cavemen are very highly-developed, and therefore it is not surprising to me that they could learn to read or write.

But Ulrikab teaches us still one more lesson. That is never fail to take the advice of God, which the missionaries gave. “Don’t go.” Like many Christians, he did not listen and paid the price. Yet through it all, he like David accepted God’s reproof and continued to follow Him. This only can happen to a human. May we be like Ulrikab, when reproved, continue to follow God.

Thanks CMI and a tip of the old cowboy hat to you for stimulating our Spiritual cogitative processes.
John C.
This sad business is not so much a result of evolutionary thinking as it is of plain unvarnished RACISM. It is no isolated instance. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley, in their conquest of the Philippines and in the unwarranted invasion of Cuba, justified much of their imperialist behavior with a racism that most modern history books have largely missed or purposely omitted. Those who doubt this should read The Imperial Cruise, by the noted historian, James Bradley.
Dean Y.
This is precisely the type of behaviour that can be expected from people who do not understand that all humans are created in the image of God. It's still happening today. In SA, white racists call blacks "Monkeys" because their noses are flatter and broader, while black racists call whites "Neanderthals" because their noses are longer and sharper. Both groups are buying into the evolutionary lie, whether they realize it or not. When Phillip testified to the Ethiopian Eunuch, he was led by the Spirit of God to a man, not an evolved ape!
Hans G.
Evolution isn't the only way to apply different values to humans. It is the power one can have over an other one. And if you can't hear a cry from a fetus then it doesn't effect. If there is a cry, it can be stopped....even permanently.
The stronger one is always right, see after the wars and it looks like that the hard working Cain was stronger than the shepard Abel.
"We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak (not having the technology) and not to please ourselves." (Rom. 15/1)
R. P.
Evolution is another form of man made legalism that not only takes away people's humanity, but assumes that we are animals in no need of a Savior or the grace of God or that sin even exists. It also allows for the legalism and the blindness of pride puffing up the Europeans like leavened bread so that in their legalistic compromise they impose a fear of themselves on the natives they exhibit as animals. It's only by the Grace of God that Abraham could record this atrocity for future generations to this day and it not be lost to us.
dean R.
Evolutionary ideas rule out God which leads to the manipulation of intended morals which can lead to heartlessness & hatred...but a knowledge of God & His ways is not enough. They have to be loved & cherished as intended, shaping behaviour in how we treat each other, creatures & creation.
R. D.
Unlike so many of the terrible stories of injustice meted-out on the basis of the terrible philosophies constructed on the false history of evolution, this at least has a happy ending. We can take great comfort in the fact that Abraham Ulrikab and his family have an eternity with the Lord to look forward to; a time when He will "wipe every tear from their eyes".

His story is an inspiration to anyone suffering under the tyranny of the un-Christ-like. Being a believer, he would have known that he need not fear those who (and that which) could kill the body but not the soul.

I look forward to meeting him in eternity someday!
Don R.
Thanks for this article. Information like this needs to get out!
tony B.
Interesting article.
In 1830 Robert Fitzroy took 4 Fuegian Amerindians back to England where they met the king and queen. Fitzroy wanted them to become Christians so when returned to their country they would welcome sailors and visitors.
The Fuegians were returned the following year when Darwin was with them. They reverted to their original state. Fitzroy was a humane man and made sure they had smallpox vaccination, but the race was almost wiped out by measles later.
An article on this would be of great interest.
john P.
This shows up as just one of evolution's evil fruits, along with communism, Naziism, eugenics, genocide etc Many indigenous Australians were murdered and their bodies sent to museums for evolutionary "study"
Try as they might, the modern atheists and evolutionists can not disassociate themselves from their history- this is the consistent results of what is the devil's lie, his scam as one of my friends says.
Australian indigenous people were classified amongst the flora and fauna of this country, for example, by evolutionists. Now they're said to have been here anything from 40 to 70000 years or so, clearly nonsense. They arrived soon after Babel, which still makes them the first Australians. They may well have been here 4000 years or longer. If, as Bill Cooper says in his book "After the Flood", Japheth is known as Yaperi, in some accounts, they could be his descendants.
We need to confidently continue to expose the lie of evolution and its accompanying humanism for the false religion it is. We are on the front line, spiritually, and the battle is already won on the Cross, by our dear Saviour, Jesus.
Basil B.
What can one say? What additional words could be written, to further illustrate the depths of human depravity? Evolution must confidently rank as one of the most evil of religions.

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