[Ads-l] Jigaboo (1910) Gigaboo (1900) Zigaboo (1896) Ji-ji-boo J. O'Shea (1909)

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Mar 3 18:26:51 UTC 2022

In March 2007, there were two threads here, one about “Jigaboo Man 1911”

and another about “Fiji Zigaboo,” which was first mentioned near the end of the Jigaboo man thread.

There was a certain amount of confusion caused by some early uses of “Jigaboo” that were different from the well known meaning (more like “bugaboo”), and speculation about how the word eventually became associated with black people.  I think I’ve found some of the missing pieces.

Both Gigaboo and Zigaboo pre-date the earliest uses of “Jigaboo” – but with different meanings.

“Zigaboo” dates to at least 1896, as the name of some sort f fraternal organization, but I have only found two references to it.

Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln), January 31, 1896, page 8. “Several members of the ‘Zigaboo’ society and their ladies were in Lincoln last evening and attended the rendition of ‘Wang’ at the Funke”

“Gigaboo,” in the sense of a large monster – a Giant Bugaboo, perhaps, dates to 1900, in the book, A New Wonderland, by L. Frank Baum, who published The Wizard of Oz that same year.  A New Wonderland was rereleased in 1903, with a different title, some new content, and the place “Wonderland” renamed as the Valley of Mo, but still had the Gigaboo.  There’s no guide to pronunciation, but I surmise it would generally have been understood as “jigaboo.”

A version of the book, entitled The Surprising Adventures of the Magical Monarch of Mo and His People, reprinted in 1968 with a forward by Martin Gardener is available for checkout on OpenLibrary.org and Archive.org.

>From that book, page 110.  “In one of the great hollows formed by the rock candy lived a monstrous Gigaboo, completely shut in by the walls of its cavern.  It had been growing and growing for so many years that it had attained an enormous size . . . . Its body was round, like that of a turtle, and on its back was a thick shell.”

It should be noted that a variant of “bugaboo” spelled “bigaboo” was common, if not frequent, during the same period.

Neither “Zigaboo” nor “Gigaboo” appear in print often before 1910.  I believe that both “Zigaboo” and “Jigaboo” after 1909 were influenced by the song, “Ji-ji-boo J. O’Shea,” which had its premier in 1909 in the show “Midnight Sons,” and that the association of both of those words with black people was derived from the story told in that song, and representations of it on stage.

Some of the early uses of “Jigaboo,” as in the song “Jigaboo Man” mentioned in the 2007 ADS-L thread, were used to mean a sort of bugaboo – or boogie man, influenced by songs like the “Yama Yama Man” and similar songs of the same period, and consistent with prior use of Gigaboo and bigaboo.

The earliest such use I’ve seen is from 1910, but not related to a song by that name.  Centralia Fireside Guard (Centralia, Missouri), November 4, 1910, page 4. “Whenever Columbia gets after an appropriation or a levy or anythi8ng to help her material prosperity or that of the school which wags the old town, she begins to bawl about the inferiority of the present things or conditions.  They try to scare us with the ‘Jigaboo Man’ into a fit and when we ‘come out of it’ we wonder how it all happened.”

As for the song, full title, “Rings on her Fingers, or Mumbo Jumbo Ji-ji-boo J. O’Shea,” it tells the story of an Irishman stranded on an East Indies island who is made the chief nabob of the island.  An advertisement for a recording of the song shows someone wearing a grass skirt, a feather in their hair, a headband, giant hoop earring, bands on the upper arm, an ankle bracelet, bare feet, and holding a giant club.  Presumably those characters were played on stage in blackface, and perhaps more like an African tribe than one in the East Indies.

Some uses of Jigaboo and Zigaboo simply relate back to the name of the song.  In 1914, an amateur baseball player with the last name Mayo was referred to as “Zigaboo” Mayo (rhymes with Ji-ji-boo J. O’).  IN 1922, a pitcher for the San Francisco Seals with the last name O’Shea was known as “Patrick Jumbo Jigaboo Jay O’Shea.”

Some uses related to a remote location, like the East Indies isle where Ji-Ji-boo J O’Shea lived.  In 1914, the left field bleachers at a baseball park in Memphis was referred to as “Zigaboo land,” which is unexplained.  But the expression “out in left field” derives from a sense of its being remote, so it could mean that here.  It might also refer to segregated seating, but that is not clear either.  The Commercial Appeal, May 25, 1914, page 9; Commercial Appeal, June 29, page 12.

In 1915, a syndicated comic strip, Lord Longbow, used “Zigaboo” as the name of an island with dark-skinned islanders.  In the first panel, it is spelled “Zizaboo Island,” but in the last panel, it refers to “the Chief Zigaboo” (drawn with dark skin).  In 1924, in the comic strip noted in the 2007 threads, a woman refers to someone as “homely as a Fiji Zigaboo,” consistent with “Zigaboo” being related to a tropical island.

In 1914, a comedy team of Claude Durkee & Billy Dayton appeared in a “Double Dutch Comedy” entitled, “The King of Gigaboo.”  Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kansas), January 9, 1914, page 8.  I found only one reference to that act, and no descriptions of the plot, but it seems plausible that it could have been about the King of some remote island.

The earliest example I’ve seen of either jigaboo or zigaboo used to refer unambiguously to a black person appeared in 1917, in poem first published in Memphis, and which was picked up and reprinted widely in Kansas and Oklahoma about six months later.  The poem ridicules a black soldier who enlisted for the infantry, but has many reasons to avoid the Navy, Air Corps, Artillery and the Cavalry.

“The Place to Serve. Sam Green is a regular soldier man, Of African descent; The world is bright when Sam can fight With a Zigaboo regiment.” Commercial Appeal (Memphis), July 8, 1917, page 5.

The earliest, apparent, “Jigaboo” I’ve seen in that sense is from 1921.
New Castle Herald (Pennsylvania), August 12, 1921, page 4. “How come? Jigaboo slashed so requires 52 stitches to close wounds, said he was ‘only foolin’.’ What’s his idea of a real good time?”

Beginning in 1922, and every year through at least 1927, the all-black comedy revue headed by Garland Howard and “Speedy” Smith performed a skit in which the main characters were transported in a dream to a place called “Zigaboo Land,” with beautiful women, cannibals and a jealous “King Zigaboo.”  In 1925, their company would become the first all-black act in decades to sign a contract with the Columbia Burlesque Circuit, which gave them more and better bookings in bigger cities and theaters.

The Boston Globe, October 31, 1922, page 6.  “The second act is much better than the first, and shows the adventures of Jack Stovall (Speedy Smith) and Hot Stuff Jackson (Garland Howard) on the inhospitable island of Zigaboo.  The dusky beauties who ‘shake a wicked hat stack’ vamp poor Stovall until he falls into the clutches of the cannibals and is sentenced to die by King Zigaboo (Sam Cook).”

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