The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

The Hairy Family of Burma

The Hairy Family of Burma

A carte-de-visite portrait of a member of the so-called ‘Hairy Family of Burma’, later exhibited by PT Barnum. An inked inscription verso in a period hand reads ‘Hairy Woman of Mandalay’.

The Hairy Family of Burma were four generations of a nineteenth-century Burmese family who suffered from congenital hypertrichosis lanuginose [excessive hairiness]. The earlier generations of the family were kept at the royal court as entertaining curiosities and mascots, where they were believed to bring good luck if touched. The later generations entered show business and were exhibited for money, most notably by PT Barnum, who advertised them as The Sacred Hairy Family of Burma under the slogan ‘Touch them for luck!’

‘They do not come heralded as freaks or monstrosities,’ insisted Barnum, ‘but as pure, long-established types of the most weird, peculiar, distinct race of mankind of whom there is any trace or record.’

I believe that the woman seen in this portrait is Mah-Phoon, whom Barnum ‘acquired’ in 1887.

Photographer unidentified, but the portrait was certainly taken in Burma, long before the family were acquired by Barnum.


Code: 124607
  Back           Home Contact   
© Paul Frecker 2019