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snopes
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Comment: Yesterday I heard a "rumor" that the first clowns were either
poor people or people with mental and/or physical challanges. I found some
basis for this part of the rumor in certain cases, although the history of
clowns is long and varried, and definitely differs between cultures, etc.
So that assertion seemed like a generalization, but I could understand
where it might have come from.
It is the second part of the assertion that I found suspicious: the teller
stated that these "clowns" had their mouths cut open on each side (to make
them bigger?), and their legs mutilated/cut up in order to make them walk
funny.
Is there any truth to this at all?

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I'mNotDedalus
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The first historical clown that we know of was a pygmy presiding as a court fool at the court of Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi (2414-2375 B.C.E.) during Egypt's Fifth Dynasty.

In the ancient Chinese dynasties, clowns were also often included as members of the imperial court. Thus, the assertion that clowns were, by default, "poor" seems slightly doubtful (at least in Asia), as they were living in the pomp and splendor of a royal shadow.

More so, all clowns (ancient and traditional) have their roots in the Trickster god/goddess mythologies of every culture. This would account for their traditional emotional/mental oddities in the same way that a shaman is purported to have suffered a psychological break early in childhood.

Shamans are close in vocation to traditional clowns, acting as spiritual and cultural teachers for the young and old. Aside from cultural or tribal markings, in the form of paint, ink, or piercings, it seems doubtful that a traditional society would purposely mutilate a clown simply to create a permanent humorous effect, being that the clown is often a spiritual figurehead.

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educatedindian
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I'd think the claim would have to be mostly or entirely limited to the type of circus clowns or children's clowns for parties. Many Native tribes in the southwest or Mexico have sacred clowns. They're not poor and I've never heard of them being mutilated or deformed. Just the opposite, in some Indian nations they serve as "police" to keep order for some rituals, or to enforce cultual norms by mocking those who step outside them (ie, those who practice nontraditional values such as accumulating wealth.) Often they're expected to be performing for many hours at a time. So for both reasons they tend to be young and healthy. Sometimes there's even physical competitions over who gets to be the clown.
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Mother of Nanaballis
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And then there are rodeo clowns who protect the cowboys from their own stupidity.
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snapdragonfly
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quote:
Originally posted by educatedindian:
I'd think the claim would have to be mostly or entirely limited to the type of circus clowns or children's clowns for parties. Many Native tribes in the southwest or Mexico have sacred clowns. They're not poor and I've never heard of them being mutilated or deformed. Just the opposite, in some Indian nations they serve as "police" to keep order for some rituals, or to enforce cultual norms by mocking those who step outside them (ie, those who practice nontraditional values such as accumulating wealth.) Often they're expected to be performing for many hours at a time. So for both reasons they tend to be young and healthy. Sometimes there's even physical competitions over who gets to be the clown.

Are those not called "kachina"s? My dad got fascinated with those and made some of the little figurines (he's quite a craftsman) and the social function he explained, that they fulfilled, sounds just like what you are describing. One of them he did, that I recall, was The Glutton or something like that. The purpose being to rebuke that sort of inappropriate behavior. IIRC. ~ they were quite beautiful, if I may brag on my dad, and won first place in a competition.

~ He had to research it because an employee of his was all freaked out that he was making "idols." and yes, the good woman was a fundamentalist Christian, why do you ask?

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Tantei Kijo
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quote:
Originally posted by snopes:
Comment: ....
It is the second part of the assertion that I found suspicious: the teller
stated that these "clowns" had their mouths cut open on each side (to make
them bigger?),...

That's the general feeling I get when I look at some clowns [Eek!] . I'm guessing people are projecting a lot of the creepiness associated with clowns and putting it onto the origins. (Not that all clowns are creepy, of course, there's just a lot of potential with the makeup and all).

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Major D. Saster
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And then you have Chicot the Jester, Henri III of France's court fool, made famous by Alexandre Dumas.

He was a nobleman from Bearn, by name Antoine de la Roche d'Anglerais, who's clever remarks and refined political jokes often helped his master to make difficult decisions.

In fact, buffoon or not, Chicot was one of the major figures at the king's court, and one who always could say aloud what the others wouldn't dare to.

After Henri's assassination, Chicot became Henri IV's court fool, and, as his sword was as sharp as his wits, followed the new king to war, where he was heroically killed.

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Brad from Georgia
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And let us not leave out the U.S. Congress.

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Quantum Leap
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quote:
Originally posted by Brad from Georgia:
And let us not leave out the U.S. Congress.


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Quantum Leap
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Brad, you are one clever clown. I laughed so hard at your post I almost fell off the chair.
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Alex Buchet
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As I recall, from Tony Hillerman's novel "Sacred Clowns", the clowns and the Kachinas have very different roles to play in Hopi ceremony. Roughly, the division seems to be between the Kachina reflecting the perfection of the universe, while the clowns reflect the imperfection of humanity. Thus, they are given to satire and slapstick.
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