Performers were brought to be part of a propaganda spectacle designed to stimulate colonial excitement among the public. Their job was to demonstrate “characteristic” everyday activities to visitors as well as entertain them through sensational events like mock battles and canoe races. As such they were meant to show both a diversity of “native” cultural practices and their progress toward “civilization” under the tutelage of German authorities.
The experience of being in such exhibitions brought with it many degrading aspects, not the least of which was being gawked at by audiences looking for a exotic thrill or being confined to the exhibition grounds for fear of illicit interactions with white Germans. At the same time, though, such travel offered opportunities to earn decent money, see more of the world, and learn new skills.
Slideshow of images
A “people show” in Berlin (1896) by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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