Charlie The Juggling Clown
Creating Happy Memories that Last a Lifetime
by Bruce "Charlie" JohnsonStressing multicultural awareness is a trend in education today. If you are involved in clown education, you can fit this trend. Most cultures have had their clown characters. Being part of so many cultures indicates that clowns meet basic cultural needs.
The first known clown was a pygmy presiding as a court fool at the court of Pharaoh Dadkeri-Assi during Egypt's Fifth Dynasty.
In 1818 B.C., one of China's rulers, neglecting ancient religious rites, filled his court with clowns. His successors restored the rites, but also kept the clowns.
One of China's Jesters, Yu Sze, is remembered as a national hero because he saved the lives of thousands of laborers when he kidded the Emperor Shih Huang-Ti out of having the enemy side of the Great Wall whitewashed in 300 B.C.
Other Asian Clowns
Clowns played an important role in the religious lives of Asian societies. In India, Sanskrit Dramas based on the epic stories "Mahabharata" and "Ramayan" began about 100 A.D. Most of the dialogue was in the Sanskrit language spoken only by gods, kings, ministers, generals, and sages. According to Clowns, by John Towsen, in the past, Vidhushaka (also spelled Vidhusaka or Vidusaka) was a clown playing the hero's servant and confidant. Vidhusaka, spoke Prakrit, the language of the general population, and interpreted the action for the audience. According to Nazu Tonse, a clown in India, Vidhusaka is the Sanskrit word for clown and not the name of a particular clown character.
When the kingdom of Pagan, in Burma, was destroyed by a Civil War in 1257 A.D., the scholars and writers fled into the countryside, and inspired the country folk to hold pageants representing the life of Buddha. The roles of the royal attendants were transformed into clown characters called Lu-byet (frivolous men).
Native American Clowns
The clowns of Native American cultures also played a religious role. In some tribes, a religious ceremony can't begin until the clowns have made everybody laugh because they believe laughter lowers their defenses making them more open to learning. The actions of some of the clowns would be considered obscene by the WASP culture, but they were part of the clown's function for insuring fertility for the tribes crops and women.
In one ceremony, men of the tribe impersonate animals while wearing robes. Children hide inside the robes. Clowns grab the children, and try to run away with them. Other members of the tribe chase after the clown and try to rescue the children. The clowns let some of the children be rescued, but escape with others. The children represent the spirits of the animals the tribe will be hunting during the year. The ones the clowns escape with, represent those animals that will give up their lives so the tribe can live. The children who are rescued represent the animals that will get away to insure that the species will live to provide food in future years.
The Native American clowns frequently had a teaching function. They taught children the proper way to perform the tribe's ceremonies. They also taught people to follow the tribes social rules by satirizing the people who broke them.
Names Of Clowns
Clowns have been called many different names, and their appearance has varied, but their actions and functions have been similar. Here are some of the names that have been used for clowns throughout history and around the world.
Badin (Medieval France)
Bobo (Spain c. 1500's)
Cabotin (Italy c. 1500's)
Charlie (European Tramp)
Claune (France 1800's)
Columbine (Commedia Del Arte & English Pantomime Female Clown)
Contrary (Plains Native American Tribes)
Excentrique (France, Solo Clown)
Franceschina (Commedia Del Arte Female Clown)
Gleeman (England, Medieval)
Gleemaden (England, Medieval Female Clown)
Gracioso (Spain, c. late 1500's)
Grotesque (France, acrobatic clown, 1820-1850)
Hano (Native American)
Hanswurst (Germany & Austria c. 1700)
Harlequin (Commedia Del Arte & English Pantomime)
Harlequina (Commedia Del Arte Female Clown)
Jack Pudding (England, 1600's)
Jongleur (Europe ninth century)
Koshare (Native American)
Koyemsi (Hopi Native American Tribe)
Merry Andrew (England 1600 & 1700's)
Minnesinger (German 1100-1400)
Minstrel (Europe Medieval, also America 1800 & 1900)
Narr (Germany c. 1600)
Newekwe (Zuni Native American Tribe)
Nulth-Ma (a.k.a. Nutamat) (translates as Big Nose) Pacific Northwest Native American Tribes
Pantalone (Commedia Del Arte & English Pantomime)
Pedrolino ((Commedia Del Arte)
Pickle Herring (Holland & Germany, 1600 & 1700's)
Rizhii (Russia 1800's)
Skomorokhi (Russia c. 1000)
Smeraldina (Commedia Del Arte Female Clown)
Trickster (Mythology of many cultures)
Troubadour (France, medieval)
Vidhushaka (also spelled Vidhusaka or Vidusaka) (India)
Wayang Orang (Indonesia)
Reprinted from The Clown In Times Volume One Issue One
© Copyright 1994 by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson. All rights reserved.
Corrected March 11, 2009 based on information supplied by Nazu Tonse and George David