colonialism in children's literature
Judging from the popularity of last week's post on Babar's colonial metaphor, some of you might be interested in another portrayal of the colonial experiment in children's literature: Tintin au Congo. Tintin is a beloved character in Belgium; there's a museum dedicated to his creator in Brussels and it may be the last place on the planet where you can still walk into a store to purchase a copy of Tintin au Congo, a book originally published in 1931 that holds no punches when it comes to portraying the era's ideas about Africa and its relationship to Europe.
There's a good reason that some stores refuse to stock Tintin au Congo. Not only does it uphold the motif of a noble savage being civilized by a white man (or, in this case, a mischievous white boy), but the cartoon Congolese portrayed in the book bear a striking resemblance to gorillas.
What's fascinating about Tintin au Congo is its wholehearted embrace of Belgian policy towards the Congo. Unlike the Babar series, the idea of colonialism here is explicit. This panel, in which Tintin speaks Congolese schoolchildren about "your country: Belgium" is a prime example. Belgian education policy in the Congo was centered around the development of loyalty to the state and obedience to authority. What's laughable here, however, is the idea that any Congolese child could ever hope to grow up to have Belgium as his or her state. While the Belgians did allow some Congolese to become educated evolues (literally, the evolved), they were never afforded the opportunities to assimilate into Belgian culture in the same way that some Senegalese and Ivoirians were. In fact, the vast majority of Congolese were explicitly prohibited from gaining an education past the sixth-grade level. Most primary-level schooling focused on preparing boys to be laborers and girls to be domestic servants.
Another interesting point here is that many Belgians, especially those of the generations that were around during the country's colonization of the Congo, are either unaware of or don't acknowledge the horrors perpetrated by their government in central Africa. You could view Tintin au Congo as part of upholding the myth of the benevolent, civilizing mission in Belgian society. Although the country gives huge sums of money in foreign aid to the DRC each year, there hasn't been a massive mea cupla in Belgium along the lines of Germany's repentance (and reparations) for the Holocaust.
Of course, Congo is not the only place Tintin had adventures in stereotyping.
Tintin au Congo is controversial and offensive, but you can still buy a copy from Amazon if you want to have a look for yourself. And if you happen to find yourself in the eastern Congo, there's a guy in either Bunia or Bukavu who'll paint you an exact replica of the cover that will say "[Your name] au Congo." I'll choose to decline the opportunity.