Wild Men from Borneo

SB Borneo 1911

“Wild Men of Borneo” was originally a name given to orangutans, apes who live in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Translated from Malay, the animal’s name means “person of the forest” or “man of the forest.” Hence the short journey in English to a “wild man” of the jungle. In Ohio, circa 1852, a showman, Lyman Warner, came across two brothers, each about 42 inches in height, and bought them from their mother so that he could exhibit them in “dime museums” and circus sideshows. Needing a background story, he presented them as having been found in the jungles of Borneo, had them wear chains and speak in gibberish, and began raking in the money. In 1880, their management passed to P.T. Barnum who made $200,000 with them. Given their success, every sideshow had to have its own “wild man of Borneo” and there were scores of imitators, eventually including even these tame examples in the Silver Bay circus of 1911. As such exhibits are offensive in so many ways to our 21st century sensibilities, one will probably not see them at Silver Bay again.


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