I came across this QI tweet: Meet the quagga, an extinct subspecies of zebra with only half the stripes!🦓😲#QI. There's a video clip and at around ~0:31 seconds the following is said:

I went to school in Kenya and we read early colonial books and they theorized - because they'd never seen any mixed race children. So they imagined that a child would be born with stripes, if a black person and a white person...

Were mixed race kids really theorized to look like zebras?

  • 53
    Are you asking about mainstream knowledge, or any small community? Earth's shape has been known since ancient greeks, but there are still people around who think otherwise. I can believe someone's illiterate granny shared gossips about zebra-kids.
    – Nyos
    Oct 28, 2019 at 23:27
  • 3
    For context, it sounds like the "colonial books" were probably educational materials from Kenya when it was the "Colony and Protectorate of Kenya", from 1920 to 1963. Also, Wikipedia claims that Kenya was only 1% non-African in 2018, so it seems plausible that historic Kenya didn't have as many mixed-race people as other societies.
    – Nat
    Oct 29, 2019 at 7:39
  • 7
    Wolfram von Eschenbach, in the 13th century, imagined Feirefiz, a mixed race knight, as having black skin with white spots in his poem Parzival
    – rafa11111
    Oct 29, 2019 at 11:21
  • Colonial books implies this was an assumption made by some ignorant white people who wrote textbooks published and circulated in Kenya around the 60's. Am I the only one reading it this way? None of the answers seem relevant, but then I can't find anything close to it either. Oct 30, 2019 at 7:57
  • @pipe I'm thinking from the point of view of a white person in Africa, who grew up in the 80's and read textbooks written during colonialism. Oct 31, 2019 at 5:16

3 Answers 3


Senator John W. Daniel of Virginia said 03 February 1899 of colonial Philippines:

this brew - mixed races, Chinese, Malay, Negritos— anybody who has come along in three hundred years, in all their concatenations and colors; and the travelers who have been there tell us and have written in the books that they are not only of all hues and colors, but there are spotted people there and, what I have never heard of in any other country, there are striped people there with zebra signs on them.

Senator Daniel was correct that books did describe striped people in the Philippines, although if Daniel is trying to imply that it was due to racial mixing, the books were not saying this.

The 1859 A Visit to the Philippine Islands says:

There are many Albinos in the Philippines. They are called by the natives Sons of the Sun ; some are white, some are spotted, and others have stripes on their skins.

  • 49
    Spotted/Stripped people were most likely cases of vitiligo, which is pretty evident on people of darker/tanned skin. It would be very easy to exaggerate a claim to say someone with a more widespread depigmentation had "zebra stripes"
    – T. Sar
    Oct 28, 2019 at 14:04
  • 6
    This doesn’t sound like the same material the kids in Kenya would be reading.
    – Mou某
    Oct 28, 2019 at 16:01
  • 1
    @user3306356 probably not, but some more recent books reference the senator's quote.
    – DavePhD
    Oct 28, 2019 at 16:07
  • 1
    This good but would hit the nail even better if you could find a book used in Kenya that presents this claim. Oct 29, 2019 at 12:24
  • 3
    Could they also have been referring to people using ceremonial body paint to look like zebras and various other animals? This is a practice seen in many cultures, and confused Europeans might not have recognized it as being paint and not natural skin pigmentation on first glance... Oct 29, 2019 at 19:24

Not sure if this is a valid answer- If not let me know and I will happily delete it.

From a quick bit of research I have found a PHD dissertation paper which includes a basic glossary of Maasai words, including the following:

en-kishu/in-kishu - cattle; also the Maasai as a people. The section Uas Nkishu (also spelled Uasin Kishu), now living mostly in Trans-Mara, means patchy or striped cattle.

The paper cites the Maasai Language and Culture Dictionary, Maasai Centre Lemek, 1996. for the above

I have not read the entire paper so I am not sure whether this is referenced again but it seems to me that there might have been a 'colonial' textbook of the period which mis-represented the Maasai's tribal names as a belief that people would be stripy.


Mixed-race people were certainly known of, and presumably known not to be striped, as early as the 16th century. The word "mulatto" was being applied to

"one who is the offspring of a European and a black African,"

in the 1590s.

  • 3
    I'm not sure this answers the question. That some people had a word for it, doesn't mean that there might not be large communities that didn't.
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 31, 2019 at 0:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .