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George Psalmanazar
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Oddity
    (circa 1679-May 3, 1763)
    Born in France
    Birth name is unknown
    Impostor
    Claimed to be a native of Formosa (Taiwan)
    After wandering Europe, settled in England (1703)
    Wrote 'An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island subject to the Emperor of Japan' (1704)
    He initially claimed to be an Irish pilgrim on his way to Rome, but discovered too many people were familiar with Ireland and could tell he was a fraud.
    He then claimed to be Japanese, before going with the even more remote island of Formosa.
    He adopted a number of odd customs to enhance his claim, ranging from worshiping the sun and moon to eating raw meat.
    His book about Formosa revealed that the main food was a snake captured with branches, that Formosan men were allowed to kill and eat their wives for adultery, and that each year the hearts of 18,000 young boys were sacrificed to the gods.
    He was able to get away with inventing details partly because the main experts on Formosa at the time were Jesuit missionaries, who were largely ignored in England due to anti-Catholic prejudice.
    Even the posthumously published memoirs in which he confessed his imposture never revealed his real name.
    He must have been a persuasive talker, since he convinced many people despite not looking one bit Asian.
    He invented a Formosan alphabet and language.
    He contributed an accurate chapter about Formosa to the book 'A Complete System of Geography,' pointedly criticizing his earlier hoax.
    While they were both working as hack writers on Grub Street, he became friends with Samuel Johnson, who called him one the finest people he ever knew.

Credit: C. Fishel


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