Meet the Namibian actor who helped gross $60m for the 1980 film ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’ and was paid $300
Born in Namibia and a member of the San also known as Bushmen, N!xau Toma, famously called the African bush farmer, was an actor who spoke fluent Jul’hoan, Otjiherero, Tswana as well as some Afrikaans which are dominant languages in the south of Africa.
He shot to worldwide prominence after an appearance as the lead role of the 1980 comedy film, The Gods Must Be Crazy. He became one of the most improbable and reluctant international celebrity after taking the role.
In the movie, N!xau appearing as Xixo portrayed a gentle leader of a local tribal clan of Khoisan people. He was also a sober bushman with a comic smile who discovers a Coca-Cola bottle thrown out of an airplane. Upon discovering the bottle, he sees it as an alien object and it sets off into a comedy of errors.
This comic role endeared him to viewers especially those in Asia who were convinced that he makes three eccentric movie sequels. The movie grossed $60 million dollars and according to Jamie Uys, the South African director who discovered the actor, N!xau, did not know the value of paper money and he let his first $300 wages blow away.
Despite his inability to attract heavy financial resource in the first movie, he had learned the value of money and demanded several hundred thousand dollars before agreeing to a recast in the film. He insisted that the money was needed to build a cinder-block house with electricity and a water pump for his family comprising of three wives and their children.
With patience and good humor, he toured the world and after 10 years of the glamour life, he stressed that he has seen enough of the “civilized” world, hence his decision to return to his home in the Kalahari.
N!xau uses the local dialect when filming, however, the interpretation and interlocking plots were explained by a narrator. He made it clear that he enjoyed the film and was excited to see himself on screen.
Mr. Uys was criticized for being cruel to N!xau and not taking him out of his environment but to his defence, he said he [N!xau] was born to act. ”All Bushmen are natural actors,” he said in a 1990 interview with The Associated Press. After the sequel, N!xau appeared in Hong Kong films and the Chinese film ”The Gods Must Be Funny.”
His inability to manage his income and have less value for material things was as a result of cultural practices.
When his film career ended, N!xau returned home to a newly built brick house. He tended his cattle and raised corn and pumpkins. He had a car for a while, but had to employ a driver because he had never learned to drive, The Namibian reported.
The entertaining actor N!xau Toma was found dead in late June 2003 near his home in Namibia after he reportedly went out to collect wood. He was believed to be 59 years old, and the exact cause of his death was unknown. He had suffered from tuberculosis in the past.
His name, N!xau is pronounced with the typical Bushman click used in southern Africa.