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Clico, the Wild Dancing South African Bushman


real photograph postcard, 5.5 x 3.5 inches, circa 1928
photographer: unknown

With Clico we have one of the few instances of a sideshow act that presented the genuine article: an actual dancing Bushman from South Africa by the name of Franz Taaibosh. However, the factual portion of the entertainment ended there.

Taaibosh represents one of the not-so-subtle racist ethnographic exhibits that once fed off of the public's hunger for the exotic. According to his promotional material, Clico was discovered in the Kalahari by a Captain Hepston. Clico had been pursuing an ostrich when he fell and injured his leg. The good Captain came to the little fellow's aid, attended his wounds and later "tamed" the wild man. What actually happened is that Hepston, who had been farming in South Africa, met Taaibosh and decided he would like to mold the talented dancer into a genuine performer.

Just before the start of the First World War, Hepston presented Clico (the stage name referring to the clicking sound of the Bushman's native tongue) in England and France. Clico's Khoisan dances were a smash hit, attracting the attention of Sam Gumpertz from Coney Island's Dreamland and agents from Ringling Brothers. By 1917 Clico was appearing at Dreamland. As part of the ballyhoo surrounding his stage persona, Taaibosh claimed he never felt at ease unless he was in the company of chimpanzees. At one point Taaibosh posed for sculptors at Chicago's Field Museum, where his likeness entered the museum's anthropological collection.

After a long career as a wild man, Taaibosh retired in 1939. He died the following summer in Hudson, New York, at the age of 83.

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All Images and Text James G. Mundie 2005