Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Tintin in the Congo

"I portrayed these Africans according to ... this purely paternalistic spirit of the time."

Georges Prosper Remi (1907-1983), known by the pen name Hergé, was a Belgian cartoonist who became famous for creating "Tintin". His first Tintin adventures were published in the conservative Catholic newspaper "Le Petit Vingtième" whose editor-in-chief was Norbert Wallez (1882-1952), a great admirer of Mussolini whose signed portrait he had on his office wall, supporter of the far-right Catholic, nationalist political Rexist Party, a man who was sentenced to four years prison for having collaborated with Germany (via), and who had advised Hergé to create "The Adventures of Tintin" (via). Later, Hergé regretted his early work that was very much influenced by his editor-in-chief's nationalist and racist attitudes.
“The fact is that while I was growing up, I was being fed the prejudices of the bourgeois society that surrounded me. It’s true that Soviets and Congo were youthful sins. I’m not rejecting them. However, if I were to do it again, they would be different.” Hergé

Tintin in the Congo shows blackface Africans resembling monkeys, people who were savage before the arrival of white men, hence grateful for being colonialised.

Colonialism, by the way,  knows no limits. The 1939 Portuguese version of "Tintin in the Congo" was turned into "Tintin in Angola" (Tim-Tim em Angola) as the "Portuguese publisher clearly felt that their country's superiority over its colony Angola was identical to Belgium's superiority over the Congo" (via). Angola was decolonised and became an autonomous state only in 1972 (via).

The following geography lesson was later changed into a maths class. In the original version (Hergé made several changes before publishing a colour version of the album in 1946), Tintin said:
"My dear friends, today I'm going to talk to you about your fatherland: Belgium!"

"I do not want to risk...losing a fine chance to secure for ourselves a slice of this magnificent African cake."
Leopold II

The glorification of colonisation becomes extremely bizarre when considering the greed-induced atrocities and genocide in Congo. Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909) was the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free State (1885-1908) and its people. The Belgian government lent him money to acquire a colony as a private citizen and after failing to acquire the Philippines, he shifted his aspirations of colonisation to Africa. Leopold II organised "a private holding company disguised as an international scientific and philanthropic association, which he called the International African Society, or the International Association for the Exploration and Civilization of the Congo". Fourteen European nations and the United States recognised him as sovereign of an area 76 times larger than Belgium and Leopold II "promised to bring civilisation to the so-called dark continent". What he did, in fact, was to extract an enormous personal fortune (a fortune he left to Caroline Lacroix who was a 16 year-old sex worker when he started a liaison with her aged 65) by the collection of ivory and rubber and the unfree labour from the natives enforced by two thousand white agents. Beatings, mutilations, enforced public incest and widespread killing were methods to ensure production quotas were met. Estimates of death toll are up to fifteen million, about half the population was killed directly via shootings or indirectly via imported epidemics and starvation. Public pressure and diplomatic manoeuvres led to the end of his rule and to the annexation of the Congo as a colony of Belgium in 1908 (via and via and via and via). When Leopold II died, the king's funeral cortege was booed (via).
"The rubber question is accountable for most of the horrors perpetrated in the Congo. It has reduced the people to a state of utter despair. Each town in the district is forced to bring a certain quantity to the headquarters of the Commissary every Sunday. It is collected by force; the soldiers drive the people into the bush, if they will not go they are shot down, their left hands being cut off and taken as trophies to the Commissary. The soldiers do not care whom they shoot down, and they most often shoot poor helpless women and harmless children. These hands -- the hands of men, women and children -- are placed in rows before the Commissary, who counts them to see the soldiers have not wasted the cartridges. The Commissary is paid a commission of about a penny per pound upon all the rubber he gets; it is, therefore, to his interest to get as much as he can."
Mr. Murphy
"If the rubber does not reach the full amount required, the sentinels attack the natives. They kill some and bring the hands to the Commissary. Others are brought to the Commissary as prisoners. At the beginning they came with their smoked hands. The sentinels, or else the boys in attendance on them, put these hands on a little kiln, and after they had been smoked, they by and by put them on the top of the rubber baskets. I have on many occasions seen this done."
Mr. Sjoblom 
"The former white man (I feel ashamed of my colour every time I think of him) would stand at the door of the store to receive the rubber from the poor trembling wretches who after, in some cases, weeks of privation in the forest, had ventured in with what they had been able to collect. A man bringing rather under the proper amount, the white man flies into a rage, and seizing a rifle from one of the guards, shoots him dead on the spot. Very rarely did rubber come in but one or more were shot in that way at the door of the store -- 'to make the survivors bring more next time.' Men who had tried to run from the country and had been caught, were brought to the station and made to stand one behind the other, and an Albini bullet sent through them. 'A pity to waste cartridges on such wretches.'"
Mr. Scrivener
"I was shown round the place, and the sites of former big chiefs' settlements were pointed out. A careful estimate made the population, of say, seven years ago, to be 2,000 people in and about the post, within a radius of, say, a quarter of a mile. All told, they would not muster 200 now, and there is so much sadness and gloom that they are fast decreasing..... Lying about in the grass, within a few yards of the house I was occupying, were numbers of human bones, in some cases complete skeletons. I counted thirty-six skulls, and saw many sets of bones from which the skulls were missing. I called one of the men, and asked the meaning of it. 'When the rubber palaver began,' said he, 'the soldiers shot so many we grew tired of burying, and very often we were not allowed to bury, and so just dragged the bodies out into the grass and left them. There are hundreds all round if you would like to see them.' But I had seen more than enough, and was sickened by the stories that came from men and women alike of the awful time they had passed through. The Bulgarian atrocities might be considered as mildness itself when compared with what has been done here....
Mr. Scrivener
"Having claimed, as I have shown, the whole of the land, and therefore the whole of its products, the State -- that is, the King -- proceeded to construct a system by which these products could be gathered most rapidly and at least cost. The essence of this system was that the people who had been dispossessed (ironically called "citizens") were to be forced to gather, for the profit of the State, those very products which had been taken from them. This was to be effected by two means; the one, taxation, by which an arbitrary amount, ever growing larger until it consumed almost their whole lives in the gathering, should be claimed for nothing. The other, so-called barter, by which the natives were paid for the stuff exactly what the State chose to give, and in the form the State chose to give it, there being no competition allowed from any other purchaser. This remuneration, ridiculous in value, took the most absurd shape, the natives being compelled to take it, whatever the amount, and however little they might desire it. Consul Thesiger, in 1908, describing their so-called barter, says: 'The goods he proceeds to distribute, giving a hat to one man, or an iron hoe-head to another, and so on. Each recipient is then at the end of a month responsible for so many balls of rubber. No choice of the objects is given, no refusal is allowed. If any one makes any objection, the stuff is thrown down at his door, and whether it is taken or left, the man is responsible for so many balls at the end of the month. The total amounts are fixed by the agents at the maximum which the inhabitants are capable of producing.'"
Arthur Conan Doyle
::: King Leopold's Soliloquy, by Mark Twain, 1918: DOWNLOAD
::: The Crime of the Congo, by Arthur Conan Doyle, 1909: DOWNLOAD
::: Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, 1899: LINK
::: Leopold II of Belgium: Racism, Slavery, and Genocide in Congo, BBC: WATCH
::: Nsala of Wala in Congo looks at the severed hand and foot of his five-year old daughter, 1904: LINK

Due to the racist depictions, in 2007, the Borders chain of bookshops moved "Tintin in the Congo" to the adult graphic novels areas, Waterstones followed their example. Other retailers sell the album with a label saying that it is unsuitable for readers under the age of 16. The book's publisher Egmont UK placed a protective band around the book with a warning about the content and included an introduction explaining the historical content. The album was not published in English until 1991 and is the only Tintin album that has never been published in the United States. Some libraries have restricted public access to the album and render it available only upon request and appointment (via and via). After complaints, the South African publisher of "Tintin in the Congo" said it would cancel plans to release an Afrikaans translation of it (via).

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images via and via and via and via and via and via


  1. Excellent, thanks!

  2. Thanks, amazing posting!!!

  3. Phew, I'm glad most of Europe isn't that pc-obsessed and the original comics have always been and are still being sold without censorship or explanations. People know they are almost a century old and they also know about Belgium's history with the Congo. No wonder education is going down the drain in the US and UK because people are not left to form their own opinion due to bans or are force-fed explanations. As if kids under 16 wouldn't be able to learn from this. Stop underestimating them. I read those comic first time I was 7 and even back then, without anyone telling me what to think, I realized some of it was racist (or because most Europeans are not that obsessed with race, I felt it was depicting the Africans in a mean and condescending way). Led me to go to the library and read some stuff about Belgian colonialism in Congo.