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Tintin In The Congo: The ‘White Gods’ Have Spoken

by | 13th, July 2007

TINTIN is banned. Dizzy writes :

I’ve never particularly liked Tintin stories, never really read them much and to be honest I always preferred the satirising of them in comics like Viz. However, it seems that the question over whether a specific Tintin book should be banned as been raised, and I have to admit I find the arguments in favour of such actions slightly worrying.

The book in question is Tintin in the Congo, a book that is, so the argument goes, racist in its entirety. Now I admit, here and now, that I have not read it all, you are therefore free to dismiss everything I about to write on that basis but I would say hear me out first.

I have seen one specific scene from the book, thanks to a reprint in this morning’s Times which shows Tin Tin dispensing quinine to a man who presumably has malaria and then being praised like a white God by the wife of the man who’s life has been saved meaning he can return to hunting.

I have searched this section a number of times and I am trying to figure out where the actual racism lies in it. To be honest with you I imagine some people might find the answer to such a question obvious, the last image of the scene is, after all, an African woman on her knees worshipping the white man and saying how wonderful he is.

However, I find myself wondering, what exactly would have happened all those years ago in a similar situation? David Livingstone, for example, was as I understand it, renowned for doing just this sort of thing with quinine. This makes me ask myself the following.

If I were a native African in the deepest “heart of darkness” as Joseph Conrad called it, and I lived in a pre-Enlightenment culture, what would be my reaction to a strange looking guy appearing, wearing odd clothes, who was also a completely different skin colour to me and miraculously saving the life of my spouse?

What I’m saying here is that, in at least the very specific cartoon I have seen, I don’t think the situation itself is entirely unbelievable, when contextualised into our historical and scientific understanding of Western medicine in comparison to the pre-Enlightenment culture of deepest Africa at the time.

So if the situation itself is not racist, could it be the translation into English of Herge’s characters? The African characters do, after all, speak in a manner that to some might appear negatively disparaging. There could be an implication that they’re in some way backward. However again I find myself thinking, you’re a western European, you’ve just stumbled upon people living in Africa in almost seclusion, are they likely to speak fluent English?

In fact, even today, the prevalence of Pidgin English around the world suggests that some people do indeed sound like the words in the speech bubbles. It doesn’t mean they are stupid though; it is just the nature of linguistic development. If you visit a vast number of African nations that were formerly British colonies you will find the most richest and diverse hybridisations of English anywhere.

One thing that could be offensive I imagine, but not because of race, is the Belgian connection. This is an historical point though rather than a racial one. It is pretty well documented that the Belgian Empire were, to say the least, complete bastards through and through. A quick look at the way the different European empires had

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Posted: 13th, July 2007 | In: News Comments (4) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink