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Tambo Tambo, Circus Performer, Dies (February 23, 1884)

Today in Odd History, Jimmy Tambo, an Australian Aborigine who performed in Barnum & Bailey's Circus under the name Tambo Tambo, died of pneumonia at the age of 23. 109 years later, his mummified body was found in the basement of a funeral parlor in Cleveland, Ohio.

Tambo and 8 other Aborigines had been lured (some say kidnapped) from their homes on Palm Island, in North Queensland, in 1883, and brought to the United States as performers. After a year of being exhibited as an untamed cannibal, Tambo contracted pneumonia and died. His companions were not allowed to give him the proper funereal rites. Instead, his body was sold to the owner of a dime museum, who mummified it and put it on display. 5 more members of the group, including Tambo's widow, died within the next year; the fates of the others are unknown.

It is unclear for how long Tambo remained as a mummified exhibit. What is known is that in October 1993, his remains were discovered and identified. Three representatives from Palm Island travelled to the United States to bring Tambo home. On February 23, 1994, 110 years after his death, Tambo was finally laid to rest.

Today-in-History Page of Scopes Systems
Sir William Dean's Peace Prize Lecture--The University of Sydney
Museum of Tropical Queensland: "Captive Lives Exhibition Reclaims History"
The National Library of Australia: "Captive Lives: Looking for Tambo and his companions"
Asia Pacific Media Educator: Bad News About Palm Island? Press Accounts Of An Indigenous Community, by Jane Selby


More about the unfortunate history of human exhibits:
Freak ShowFreak Show : Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit, by Robert Bogdan.
A sympathetic and often shocking discussion of the old carnival freakshow, with chapters on people with disabilities, people from other cultures, and the modern freakshow--daytime television talk shows.


More about the odd collections that housed such relics as Tambo's mummified remains:
Cabinets of Curiosities Cabinets of Curiosities, by Patrick Mauries.
A lavishly illustrated tour of the historical "Cabinet of Curiosities," from its probable origin in the reliquaries of medieval churches to its adoption by the Surrealists in 20th century France.

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