“When the Cannibal King Began to Talk”: Performing Race, Class, and Ethnicity

Nadja Durbach

in Spectacle of Deformity

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780520257689
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944893 | DOI:
“When the Cannibal King Began to Talk”: Performing Race, Class, and Ethnicity

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In the late nineteenth century it was relatively common knowledge that freak show entrepreneurs who could not afford to import troupes of exotic foreigners regularly employed locals, often working-class Irishmen, to play the role of African “savages.” While scholars have examined the exhibition of non-Western peoples at freak shows and noted that many of the “cannibals” and “savages” on display were actually fakes, none have explored in earnest either the preconditions for, or the ramifications of, this particular artifice. This chapter interrogates the cultural attitudes that bound class, ethnic, and racial otherness together, and the ways in which these relationships were embodied and performed, in order to explain what made these fake African shows not only possible, but appealing to a broad public.

Keywords: Irishmen; savages; freak shows; fake Africans; cultural attitudes; class; cannibals

Chapter.  9741 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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