This bright story of a shameless huckster evokes a unique bit of Americana at the turn of the 20th century, when the nation dabbled in empire-building and the display of human beings as objects of curiosity was a staple of show business.
Not long after the United States took control of the Philippines, 50 members of the Igorrote tribe, indigenous to the mountains of Luzon, agreed to travel to America for a year with Dr. Truman Hunt to display salient features of their culture. The happy tribespeople’s native costume was smaller than a stripper’s final revelation, and they excelled in spear chucking and tobacco smoking. On occasion, too, they were headhunters and ready to feast on dogs. Fatherly Dr. Hunt booked his troupe into venues like Luna Park in Coney Island, where they continuously performed in G-strings for gawkers. They ate boiled mongrel until they were quite fed up with their canine diet. Managed by the ever demanding, ever drinking Hunt, the show was a great hit, playing in many cities across the continent. Of course, it was more fakery than ethnography. Journalist Prentice artfully reveals the growing mendacity of the promoter/doctor. The Igorrotes were degraded, robbed of their earnings and held against their will, unable to return home. Throughout their ordeal, the purported savages proved considerably more dignified and civilized than the many showmen charged with their care. In this nicely paced popular history, the author ably develops the diverse ancillary characters, such as the wives of bigamist Hunt, the promoters and the shady lawyers. Eventually, the government pursued the evasive Hunt. The tale ends, improbably, with strange lawsuits. Prentice presents the story of the innocent tribe with sympathy; in her telling, the Igorrotes charm and entertain us once again after more than a century.
The edifying, colorful adventures of headhunters captured in America by a sideshow rascal.