In 1886 the Cameroonian Samson Dido (Mambingo Eyum) from Douala arrived in Germany to perform in a human zoo with seven of his compatriots. This included two of his wives and one of his children. The group was under contract with the well-known Hamburg impresario Carl Hagenbeck and over the course of just over four months it toured several German cities. While Dido and his group were undoubtedly exploited by Hagenbeck for economic gain, Dido was far from a passive victim. He used the context of the human zoo as means of travelling to Europe where he shrewdly exploited the German fascination with the exotic to restyle himself as Prince Dido. In Germany this self-styling as a ‘Prince’ opened up both commercial and political opportunities and extended to him being granted an audience with the German Crown Prince Wilhelm, a visit which greatly angered the German colonial administration in Cameroon. Governor von Soden was furious, believing that this conferred upon Dido an undeserved status and that it called into question the very notions of German superiority upon which German colonial rule rested.
These newspaper reports provide some insight into the staging of Dido’s ‘performances’ as well as the varying reactions to the Dido group from the German media and German audiences.
With wives and children, though without animals, and with a very attractive collection of African products, ‘Prince Dido from Didotauwn’ [sic] came to Germany in 1886 at H’s instigation, along with some other blacks from Cameroon, which since 1885 is referred to all over Germany as a German African colonial acquisition. Attractive, at times herculean figures of flawless blackness, they too could not fail to cause a sensation, particularly as evidence of the spectacle offered by those who are now no more than semi-savage. At any rate the ‘Prince’ with his top hat, his European tailcoat and the loincloth round his otherwise naked legs was a very amusing image of the semi-savage Neger, which in the end he himself must have recognised, because in Leipzig he finally put trousers on.
Source: Heinrich Leutemann, Lebensbeschreibung des Thierhändlers Carl Hagenbeck (Hamburg: Selbstverlag Carl Hagenbeck, 1887), 67–68, trans. by Robbie Aitken.
Prince Dido from Cameroon arrived here at half past five on the Berlin Railway and was greeted by the Director of the Zoological Gardens Herr Prinkert. Accompanied by Herr Prinkert the brownskinned Prince took his place alongside his two wives and his son in a spectacular carriage drawn by four horses with an outrider; the entourage as well as representatives of Hagenbeck and the African agent sat in the two following carriages. […] Naturally the journey to the Zoological Gardens was the object of great public interest.
Source: Leipziger Tageblatt, No. 229, 17 August 1886, 4547, trans. by Robbie Aitken.
Early Monday afternoon the brown Prince Dido of Didotown visited the hat making factory of Herr Haugl, supplier to the court, here in the Rosenthalgasse. Herr Haugl, who personally took the Prince on a tour of his establishment, provided the latter with an in-depth introduction to art of hat making. The production of a piece of felt awakened great interest in the Cameroonian chief. Herr Haugl inserted a packet of wool into one side of the machine, and a piece of felt came out the other side. The fulling room and the finishing workshop also caught the excited attention of the Prince. As a memento Herr Haugl honoured his guest with the gift of a collapsible top hat, a type of headgear which we understand has not yet been introduced in Cameroon. Through his interpreter the Prince thanked Herr Haugl for this kind gesture and amid-the delighted shouts of the waiting crowd, who in the meantime had gathered out front, the Prince left for a visit to one of the larger local printing houses.
Source: Leipziger Tageblatt, No. 236, 24 August 1886, p. 4773, trans. by Robbie Aitken.
Tomorrow, Monday, towards evening a strange guest is making a festive entrance into our town: Prince Dido from the land of Cameroon with his two wives and his whole entourage. From the outset it should be remarked that what we have here is not one of those exotic guests who stray our way from time to time in order to be stared at. No, the lineage of Prince Dido is completely beyond question, he is in fact a prince in the new German imperial territory and is a near blood relation to the very King Bell who is so popular here and throughout Germany. This Duala Prince has come to us in order to get to know this country, whose greatness and power people are already talking about on the Dark Continent. He wants to make contact with the people who are rightly being called his imperial brothers [Reichsbrüder] and he will return to his homeland with much to report about all he has seen and experienced in Germany. In this way Prince Dido has a cultural mission to fulfil, whose meaning and significance has also been recognised in Berlin, because here this exotic guest was ceremonially received and welcomed by the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of the German Empire.
Source: Leipziger Tageblatt, Nr. 227, Sunday, 15 August 1886, p. 4617, trans. by Robbie Aitken.
Reactions to the visit of Samson Dido to Germany (1886) by Robbie Aitken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blackcentraleurope.com/who-we-are/.