In pre-World War One Europe human zoos were often big business, with larger shows attracting thousands of visitors. Having participated in the 1896 Berlin Colonial Exhibition Nayo Bruce (J.C. Bruce), a trader and member of the Togolese coastal elite from Aného, was quick to recognise the financial opportunities such shows potentially offered. He returned to Germany in 1898 with over thirty followers including members of his family and established his own human zoo. Over a period of almost twenty years Bruce toured large parts of Europe with various incarnations of his troupe. Barbadian Charles Burkett also established a touring troupe pre-1914 which continued to perform during the interwar period.
This postcard, a souvenir from around 1904, presents Bruce, dressed in a suit and tie, as a successful impresario surrounded by his performers. His dress contrasts with the more exotic costumes the performers wear. The musical instruments, spears and swords held by some of the performers hint at the type of spectacle that audiences could anticipate.
Source: Postcard (ca. 1904), Collection Aitken.
Souvenir of the Togo-Mandingo Troupe from West Africa (ca. 1904) by Robbie Aitken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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