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Spectacle of DeformityFreak Shows and Modern British Culture$
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Nadja Durbach

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780520257689

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520257689.001.0001

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

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

(p.147) Five “When the Cannibal King Began to Talk”: Performing Race, Class, and Ethnicity
Spectacle of Deformity

Nadja Durbach

University of California Press

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

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