Sunday 15 July 2007

Pygmies in a zoo in Tintin's Congo

Congo on my mind

One event this week only makes us look at history, then see ourselves today and almost laugh at ourselves on matters too serious to be trivialised.

Now, I remember a few years ago when suffering unwarranted as if there can be warranted racial abuse; the man said he knew everything about blacks so I could not talk back at him; he being Belgian, I had to say - I am not from Belgian Congo (Once Belgian Congo and Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo) - Congo is not the black race.

But Congo (Congo-Brazzaville and the old Belgian Congo are read as the same here - referred to as The Congo) is back in the news for the wrong reasons today, we all remember the Adventures of Tintin, the memories of leafing through the "suffering sour tomatoes" swearing of Captain Haddock or the very "interesting" Thompson and Thomson detectives, well, cut to the chase.

Tintin in the Congo

Tintin in the Congo was published between 1930 and 1931, it was the second in the series of Tintin adventures where the opinion was it was racist and colonialist, portraying black people as monkeys and imbeciles.

The Centre for Racial Equality (CRE) made issue of what Hergé then later claimed "was only portraying the naïve views of the time", fair enough; as CRE asked for this particular comic to be removed from high street shops around Britain after a human-rights lawyer (David Enright) who saw it in the children's section of a Borders bookshop whilst shopping with his African wife and their kids complained.

What you need is controversy to boost the sales of an old Politically Incorrect book which should be read in its historical context and has no lien of contemporary life as we know it.

At least this should be the sensible view to take as you rush to the book store to get your copy - it is harmless commentary and comical entertainment, if not educational.

Pygmies in the Congo Zoo

The end of the story? Well, not really, travel to Congo for the Festival of Pan-African Music and see Tintin in the Congo come alive as it jumps off the pages, in something that could be only too surreal - Members of the pygmy community who arguably are the first inhabitants of Central Africa were invited to perform at the festival and then housed in a zoo.

Yes, fellow human-beings, members of the black race and citizens of the Republic of Congo who just happen to be of a shorter stature were housed in familiar surroundings similar to their forest dwellings - as the government statement says.

They were put in tents in a ZOO where as usual, people who appear to be different can be viewed as curiosities and this time photographed by tourists and visitors to the zoo.

What is so unfortunate about this matter is the fact that pygmies are not treated with any dignity by their fellow countrymen and this needs to be addressed from a national and international perspective even though prejudices die hard, there should be education that highlights the humanity of these famous people and legislation that imposes stiff penalties on the discrimination and denigration of the tribe.

Intolerable impressions

Beyond this is the impressionable situation presented to children who read about imbecile blacks in comics or see pygmies in the zoo, I do not know what to make of this, but this 76-year old comic is not as benign as it seems and it is probably best off the shelves.

Even though the comic juxtaposes smart white men with "dumb" black people, the underlying current is man's injustice and emasculation of other men be it between races or within the same race.

Basically, regardless of the historical context or setting of anything that portrays prejudice, we cannot allow the liberal/conservative divide to give oxygen to the prejudice, because what might be the past in one society might as well be contemporaneous in other societies and we have the responsibility to ensure that no part of the human race is treated with any less humanity than ourselves.

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