Early African Entertainments Abroad
From the Hottentot Venus to Africa’s First Olympians
Africa and the Diaspora:
History, Politics, Culture
Thomas Spear, Neil Kodesh, Tejumola
Olaniyan, Michael G. Schatzberg, and
James H. Sweet, Series Editors
“This book will surprise you and may shock you. Its fascinating case studies
reveal how Africans and people of color were exhibited as freaks, or
became genuine entertainers enjoying their craft, in nineteenth- and early
twentieth-century Europe and America. It is also a serious study showing
how ‘racial science’ was popularized to justify to the European and American
masses the conquest and subjugation of Africa and Africans.”
—Neil Parsons, author of Clicko: The Wild Dancing Bushman
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries African and pseudo-African performers
were displayed as curiosities throughout Europe and America. Appearing
in circuses, ethnographic exhibitions, and traveling shows, these individuals
and troupes drew large crowds. As Bernth Lindfors shows, the showmen, impresarios,
and even scientists who brought supposedly representative inhabitants of
the “Dark Continent” to a gaping public often selected the performers for their
sensational impact. Spotlighting and exaggerating physical, mental, or cultural
differences, the resulting displays reinforced pernicious racial stereotypes and left
a disturbing legacy.
Using period illustrations and texts, Early African Entertainments Abroad
illuminates the mindset of the era’s largely white audiences as they viewed wax
models of Africans with tails and watched athletic competitions showcasing
hungry cannibals. White spectators were thus assured of their racial superiority.
And blacks were made to appear less than fully human precisely at the time when
abolitionists were fighting to end slavery and establish equality.
Bernth Lindfors is a professor emeritus of English and African literatures at The
University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of a number of books on African
literature and folklore, including Early Soyinka and Early Achebe.
“Highly recommended, undergraduates though faculty; general readers.”
“A poignant affirmative history of early African entertainments in Europe and the United States and an important contribution to studies of African performative agency at a time in which it was severely constrained both corporeally and discursively.”
“Lindfors’s deliberately thin theorizing of the archives shows that Africans were present and alive as capable humans even during the most clamorous European denials of such.”
—Adélékè Adéèkó, Ohio State University
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LC: 2014007282 DT
262 pp. 6 x 9
56 b/w illus.