Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Amazon Rubber Slavery

New York Times, "Empire of Savagery in the Amazon," by Greg Grandin, 12 February 2010 -- The 19th-century doctrine of progress held slavery and capitalism to be incompatible. Coercion, liberals believed, violated the ideals of natural rights and free labor. Wage work, Marxists thought, was more profitable than forced work, and that alone would doom slavery. Then in 1904, nearly four decades after Appomattox, Roger Casement, an Irish-born career diplomat in the British Foreign Office, wrote his Congo report, revealing that King Leopold of Belgium had enriched himself by presiding over a rubber trade founded on pure cruelty. “What has civilization itself been to them?” Casement asked of Leopold’s Congolese victims, 10 million of whom, by some estimates, had perished in but two decades. He himself had the answer: “A thing of horror.”

“The Devil and Mr. Casement,” by Jordan Goodman, the author of several works of history, reconstructs the Casement investigation in the Putumayo region of the Amazon rain forest that followed the Congo report. There, the Peruvian Julio César Arana ruled over a rubber empire of 10,000 square miles, and from 1910 to 1913, Casement exhausted himself trying to force the British government to take action against Arana and his London-incorporated Peruvian Amazon Company. He twice traveled to the Amazon, collecting evi­dence of whipping, torture, mass rape, mutilation, executions and the hunting of the region’s Indians, whose population Casement calculated had fallen to 8,000 in 1911 from 50,000 in 1906.

Goodman’s book adds to Casement’s reputation as a pioneer of the human rights movement’s tactics, including the on-the-spot investigation, the gathering of victims’ testimony and the leveraging of public outrage to spur reform. Casement was one of the first to use the phrase “crime against humanity,” and he judged Arana to be guilty of “not merely slavery but extermination” — what later would be called genocide.

But Casement’s moral trajectory ran opposite to that of many modern human rights activists. France’s current foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, for example, dropped his youthful support for national liberation movements to embrace what some have criticized as “humanitarian imperialism.” Casement tried at first to use the services of a foreign office to ease suffering. Yet he veered off what he called the “high road to being a regular Imperialist jingo.” His time in Congo and the Amazon deepened his sense of anti­colonial solidarity. “I was looking at this tragedy,” he said of Congolese slavery, “with the eyes of another race” — the Irish — “a people once hunted themselves.” Knighted in 1911 for his humanitarian work, he was hanged by the British five years later for conspiring with the Germans on behalf of Irish independence.

Casement’s execution is not the climax of Goodman’s story, because this book doesn’t have a climax. It tapers off without resolution. The British directors of Arana’s company are interrogated by members of Parliament. Reports are issued, sermons are preached, politicians are outraged. Arana appears before Parliament’s committee on the Putumayo, after which he boards a steamer back to Peru untouched. The reader is left to ponder the fate of his indigenous victims.

This is an apt ending to a fine and meticulous book, for a kind of slavery still remains in force in the Amazon. Thousands of workers, for instance, trapped in conditions nearly as dismal as those documented a century ago in the Putumayo, make the charcoal used to forge pig iron, which is then purchased by international corporations to produce the steel used in everyday products, including popular makes of cars.

Arana ultimately lost his company and died broke. Yet the devil continues to get the better of Mr. Casement. (

African Colonization: Serial Enslavers

As reported by the BBC "Slavery and the 'Scramble for Africa'" by Dr Saul David on 17 February 2011 -- What were the motives behind the European colonization of Africa at the end of the 19th century? Did the stamping out of slavery really play a part?

European colonisation

Until the 19th century, Britain and the other European powers confined their imperial ambitions in Africa to the odd coastal outpost from which they could exert their economic and military influence. British activity on the West African coast was centred around the lucrative slave trade.

Between 1562 and 1807, when the slave trade was abolished, British ships carried up to three million people into slavery in the Americas. In total, European ships took more than 11 million people into slavery from the West African coast, and European traders grew rich on the profits while the population of Africa's west coast was devastated.

As late as the 1870s, only 10% of the continent was under direct European control, with Algeria held by France, the Cape Colony and Natal (both in modern South Africa) by Britain, and Angola by Portugal. And yet by 1900, European nations had added almost 10 million square miles of Africa - one-fifth of the land mass of the globe - to their overseas colonial possessions. Europeans ruled more than 90% of the African continent.

One of the chief justifications for this so-called 'scramble for Africa' was a desire to stamp out slavery once and for all. Shortly before his death in May 1873 at Ilala in central Africa, the celebrated missionary-explorer David Livingstone had called for a worldwide crusade to defeat the slave trade controlled by Arabs in East Africa, that was laying waste the heart of the continent.

The only way to liberate Africa, believed Livingstone, was to introduce the 'three Cs': commerce, Christianity and civilization.

The Berlin Conference-- This was a period in history when few Europeans doubted their innate superiority over the 'lesser' races of the world.

The theory that all the peoples of Europe belonged to one white race which originated in the Caucasus (hence the term 'Caucasian') was first postulated at the turn of the 19th century by a German professor of ethnology called Johann Blumenbach.

Blumenbach's colour-coded classification of races - white, brown, yellow, black and red - was later refined by a French ethnologist, Joseph-Arthur Gobineau, to include a complete racial hierarchy with white-skinned people of European origin at the top.

Britons like Livingstone felt they had a duty to 'civilise' Africa.

Such pseudo-scientific theories were widely accepted at the time and motivated Britons like Livingstone to feel they had a duty to 'civilise' Africa.

The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, convened by Otto von Bismarck to discuss the future of Africa, had the stamping out slavery high on the agenda. The Berlin Act of 1885, signed by the 13 European powers attending the conference, included a resolution to 'help in suppressing slavery'.

In truth, the strategic and economic objectives of the colonial powers, such as protecting old markets and exploiting new ones, were far more important.

The Berlin Conference began the process of carving up Africa, paying no attention to local culture or ethnic groups, and leaving people from the same tribe on separate sides of European-imposed borders.

British interests

Britain was primarily concerned with maintaining its lines of communication with India, hence its interest in Egypt and South Africa. But once these two areas were secure, imperialist adventurers like Cecil Rhodes encouraged the acquisition of further territory with the intention of establishing a Cape-to-Cairo railway.

Britain was also interested in the commercial potential of mineral-rich territories like the Transvaal, where gold was discovered in the mid-1880s, and in preventing other European powers, particularly Germany and France, from muscling into areas they considered within their 'sphere of influence'.

Tens of thousands of Herero men, women and children fell victim to von Trotha's infamous extermination order.

As a result, during the last 20 years of the 19th century, Britain occupied or annexed Egypt, the Sudan, British East Africa (Kenya and Uganda), British Somaliland, Southern and Northern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe and Zambia), Bechuanaland (Botswana), Orange Free State and the Transvaal (South Africa), Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, British Gold Coast (Ghana) and Nyasaland (Malawi). These countries accounted for more than 30% of Africa's population.

The other chief colonisers were France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Germany had only been unified in 1871 and so was a late starter in imperial terms. Its first acquisition in 1884 was German South-West Africa (Namibia), which at the time was peopled by two semi-nomadic tribes, the Herero of the arid central plateau and the Nama of the still more arid steppes to the south.

When the two tribes went to war over cattle grazing, German traders and missionaries persuaded their government to intervene and fill the political vacuum.

A later Herero rebellion in 1904, provoked by the brutality of the German settlers, was put down by General Lothar von Trotha with savage efficiency, and tens of thousands of Herero men, women and children fell victim to his infamous 'Vernichtungsbefehl' (extermination order).

'Spirit of Berlin'

The philanthropic 'spirit of Berlin', however, was not entirely hollow. Once it became known that slavery was alive and well in the Congo, which was run as a personal fiefdom of Leopold, King of Belgium, an international anti-slavery conference was held in Brussels in 1889-1890.

By taking the women of Congolese villages hostage, Leopold had turned the men into forced labourers.

The man who exposed the existence of slavery in Leopold's Congo was a French missionary to Africa called Cardinal Charles Lavigerie. During a sermon at St Sulpice in Paris in 1888, Lavigerie had shocked his audience by describing the horrors of the Congo slave trade: villages surrounded and burnt; men captured and yoked together; women and children penned like cattle in the slave markets.

The upshot of the Brussels conference was that Leopold cynically agreed to stamp out Arab slavery in return for the right to tax imports. He thereby overturned one of the key resolutions of the Act of Berlin, which had guaranteed free trade for the region.

But while Leopold made all the right noises, his agents in the Congo used forced labour (slaves in all but name) to extract rubber, his single most profitable export. By 1902, rubber sales had risen 15 times in eight years, and were valued at 41 million francs (£1.64 million).

By taking the women of Congolese villages hostage, Leopold had turned the men into forced labourers, with a monthly quota of wild rubber to collect from the rain forest. The system was harsh. Many hostages starved to death and many male forced labourers were worked to death.

More people were killed as rebellions were brutally crushed. Demographers today estimate that the population of the Congo fell roughly by half over the 40-year period beginning in around 1880.

The truth behind the Congo's rubber trade - 'legalised robbery enforced by violence' - was finally exposed by Edmond Morel, an Anglo-French ex-shipping clerk, who wrote a series of accusatory articles in 'The Speaker' in 1900.

By arguing that Leopold's illegal state monopoly was robbing British merchants as well as African peasants, Morel was able to enlist the support of both businessmen and humanitarians. A British consul, Roger Casement, was sent to investigate, and the publication of his damning report in 1904 was, for Leopold, the beginning of the end.

In 1908, in return for £3.8 million, Leopold handed over control of the Congo to the Belgian state. But even then, the forced labour system continued. It took a different form during World War One, when tens of thousands of Congolese were conscripted as porters for the Belgian army.

The forced labour system significantly changed only in the early 1920s, when Belgian colonial authorities realised the population was dropping so rapidly that they soon might have no labour force left.

An end to African slavery?

The signatories of the General Act of the Brussels Conference of 1889-1890 had declared an intention to put an end to the traffic of African slaves. This was extended, by the Convention of St-Germain-en-Laye in 1919, to include the complete suppression of slavery in all its forms and of the slave trade by land and sea.

Under all the colonial powers, forced labour remained in place into the 1940s.

In September 1926, the International Slavery Convention was signed at Geneva under the auspices of the League of Nations 'to find a means of giving practical effect throughout the world to such intentions'.

It defined a slave as a 'person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised', and undertook 'to bring about, progressively and as soon as possible, the complete abolition of slavery in all its forms'.

But this was never applied against the practice of forced labour in colonial Africa, for example, requiring a village to provide men to work on roads and other public works. Under all the colonial powers, forced labour of one kind or another remained in place into the 1940s, and the imposition of taxes forced people into low-paid mining, industry or agribusiness jobs when they might otherwise have remained farmers.

The first practical consequence of the convention was that Ethiopia became the last African state to abolish slavery in 1932. All colonial regimes had long since done the same. Yet even today slavery is not unknown in Africa, particularly in countries such as the Sudan where law and order are often absent.

Nor have the colonists ever really gone away. White-owned businesses still dominate the mining of Africa's most valuable natural resources - particularly gold and diamonds - and in the eyes of some the continent has never stopped being plundered.
(source: BBC)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

“The Sweet Hell Inside” by Edward Ball

From Salon on 26 February 2002, a book review “The Sweet Hell Inside” by Edward Ball From the author of "Slaves in the Family" comes an inside look at the relatively easy life among the elite mixed-race families of the Deep South by Jonelle Bonta --“My father,” wrote Edward Ball, a descendant of South Carolinian plantation owners, in the opening of his National Book Award-winning “Slaves in the Family,” “had a little joke that made light of our legacy as a family that had once owned slaves. ‘There are five things we don’t talk about in the Ball family,’ he would say. ‘Religion, sex, death, money, and the Negroes.’”

Three hundred years after his family acquired their first slaves, Ball, a former columnist for the Village Voice, decided it was time to talk. Leaving New York for his native Charleston, Ball combed the accumulated records of 10 generations of family papers. He interviewed relatives and in the process discovered quite a few he never dreamed he had. For instance, while researching “Slaves in the Family,” he received a phone call from one Edwina Harleston Whitlock, who turned out to be an elderly, elegant, light-skinned black woman who was also a journalist. Edwina informed Ball that they were cousins. Welcome to the New South, Mr. Ball.
Born in Charleston in 1882, Edwin Augustus Harleston was the third of six children of Edwin Galliard and Louisa Moultrie Harleston.

Ball’s follow-up book, “The Sweet Hell Inside,” is the result of his fortuitous meeting with his newfound cousin. Based on a roomful — literally — of material preserved by Mrs. Whitlock, “The Sweet Hell Inside” is the history of the Harleston family of Charleston, specifically the family of Edwin “Captain” Harleston, one of eight children born to William Harleston, owner of “The Hut” plantation, and his slave, Kate Wilson. After the Civil War, William Harleston bought his mulatto family a house in Charleston that proved to be their haven after his nephew bilked Kate out of the inheritance William intended for her. Despite this setback, Kate and William’s offspring fared well by the standards of their color and the day; they were educated and employed in the more professional jobs available to blacks in Southern cities during Reconstruction. Their fifth child, Edwin “Captain” Harleston, succeeded in a shipping business and eventually founded a successful funeral home.

Ball focuses on two of the Captain’s children — Edwin, nicknamed “Teddy,” who pursued his dream as a painter while working at the family’s funeral business (simultaneously attending art classes and embalming school), and Eloise or “Ella,” who married the Reverend Daniel Jenkins, founder of the Jenkins Orphanage for black foundlings and its touring Jenkins Orphanage Band, which became well known across the United States and in Europe and spawned several notable jazz careers. Teddy and Ella, by far the most interesting of the Captain’s children, were also the two who raised their orphaned niece Edwina, the cousin who telephoned Edward Ball.
Elise Forrest Harleston

“The Sweet Hell Inside” is invaluable for its insight into black cultural traditions of the 19th century, the history of cakewalks and minstrel shows, embalming techniques of the time, the black jazz scene in post-World War I Paris, the few successful black artists of the first 25 years or so of this century and the tightening of segregation laws throughout the South. But that doesn’t make it what much of the press is touting it as, namely a representative tale of the struggles of a black family to overcome racism. (“On Unsure Footing in a Racist Era” read the headline to the Los Angeles Times review.)

Rather, it’s a cutaway view of the life of a well-educated mixed-race family in post-Reconstruction Charleston. The Harlestons belonged to a small society of about only 50 families. In Edwina’s words, “The Harlestons were light, and we didn’t associate with people who were much darker than we were. Of course we didn’t associate with white people either. We were a kind of in-between people. But we were Negroes all the same, and everyone in our circle was colored to one degree or another.”

In fact, because the Harlestons’ livelihood was derived from the black community, “The Sweet Hell Inside” illustrates how little the members of this particular “colored elite” were restricted by race. Not that race didn’t permeate every aspect of the characters’ lives. It’s simply that this detailed study of their aspirations, triumphs, successes and failures reveals them to be a great deal less obsessed by the subject than current readers with modern sensibilities would have them be.

The only conflicted Harleston is Edwina’s uncle Teddy, and his lifelong dilemma was his desire for an art career (he was a limited artist but a notable portrait painter) vs. the economic necessity of working at the family business. His aspirations to paint full time were finally crushed when his father died in 1931 and the full responsibility of the business fell on Teddy’s shoulders. By several accounts he died of a broken heart, aided by pneumonia caught from his father’s deathbed, and died less than two weeks after the Captain.
Rich in historical detail, “The Sweet Hell Inside” offers an inside look at a culture pretty much ignored even by period historians. But what makes parts of the book fascinating also outlines its limitations. With so many voices, “Slaves in the Family” had an epic feel to it, a sense of connections between generations of people, many of whom never met despite sharing a genealogy. (One can almost picture an enterprising black novelist working this raw material into an American version of “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”)

“The Sweet Hell Inside” is a miniature that employs only Edwina’s voice; it reads like a long footnote to “Slaves in The Family.” At times Ball seems restricted by his subject, perhaps because he didn’t come to the material on his own.

What does make “The Sweet Hell Inside” unique is its subject and its author’s access to a family member who lived with them. One can’t help but wonder, given the relative ease of the Harlestons’ lives, where the “Sweet Hell” of the book’s title may be. It comes from Walt Whitman: “the messenger there arous’d, the first, the sweet hell within, The unknown want, the destiny of me.”

Of the many Harlestons, only Teddy, who had aspirations of reaching the world beyond their insular subculture, seemed to truly suffer, forever caught between the constrictions of art and commerce and Jim Crow. When the world seemed on the verge of being able to acknowledge his talent, he found himself left behind by the bigotry of modernism. He is both a noble and tragic figure, the true hero of the story and, regrettably, neither Edward Ball nor Edwina Whitlock seems to be fully aware of that fact. (source:

Empire: From Conquest to Control

Empire: From Conquest to Control: Gresham College Professor Richard J Evans (24 January 2012)

In 1884, the Berlin Conference that set off the scramble for colonies in Africa and other parts of the world laid down the basic principle that in order to establish the formal right of rule over a colony, a European power had to establish ‘effective occupation’. This applied, however, only to coastal areas, which at the time were the main concern of most European powers in Africa. The hinterland of continental Africa, which was the subject of the main phase of the ‘scramble’, was a different matter. Here, European states drew straight lines across the map with complete disregard for geographical features, delimiting the territories they claimed from one another but leaving them still to be brought under real control. In many ways the story of colonization in the 1890s and 1900s is the story of how European empires tried to convert paper colonies into real colonies.

In my last lecture I noted how in some cases this attempt met with failure, most notably with the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1896. Similarly, the Boxer rebellion in China deterred European powers from converting treaty ports into hubs of real colonization. But these were exceptions. In most of Africa, and many parts of the Pacific, European powers moved from the 1890s onwards to establish their control over the land they now claimed as their own.

What drove them to do so were two separate but ultimately intermeshing influences. The first was ideological. The 1880s ushered in the age of empire, the decades of imperialism – a word that first entered the English language in the 1870s and was, as J. A. Hobson noted in 1900, ‘on everybody’s lips…used to denote the most powerful movement in the current politics of the western world’. Imperialism was propagated by governments keen to gain popular support for the principle of maintaining, usually at some cost, overseas possessions. The cult of empire began in Britain already in the 1870s with the proclamation of Queen Victoria as empress of India. Within a few years, British royal ceremonies, including Queen Victoria’s golden and diamond jubilees and the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, were featuring maharajas and colonial troops. As the Daily Mail reported in 1897, the diamond jubilee procession displayed ‘new types, new realms at every couple of yards, an anthropological museum – a living gazetteer of the British Empire. With them came their English officers, whom they obey and follow like children’. Huge publicity was given to the ceremonies – durbars – held in India in 1877 to proclaim Queen Victoria Empress of India, and in 1902 and 1911 to celebrate the coronation of her successors. 1902 saw the inauguration of ‘Empire Day’ in Britain, especially directed at schools, and imperial propaganda could be found everywhere, on railway bookstalls, in political meetings, in novels, magazines and history books and even in the ‘empire plate’ manufactured for the Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The coronation of Edward VII in particular was given a strong imperial flavour, to celebrate, as a contemporary put it, ‘the recognition, by a free democracy, of a hereditary crown, as a symbol of the world-wide dominion of their race’.

International expositions, a tradition inaugurated by Britain’s Great Exhibition of 1851, began to include ‘colonial pavilions’ – 18 of them at the Paris exposition of 1889, clustering around the Eiffel Tower that had been specially built for the occasion.Colonial museums opened in most European countries to display looted artifacts, and most remarkably perhaps, zoos began to include ‘native villages’ among their exhibits. Hagenbeck’s Tierpark in Hamburg for example showed a series of African and other indigenous groups to gawping crowds of visitors who – at a safe distance, to avoid the danger of physical contact - could observe the ‘primitive world’ that Germany had conquered in Africa.

In Belgium in the 1880s and 1890s exhibitions were held including a typical Congolese village, where imported Africans were told to do what they normally did at home, which was mostly not much, since at home they would have been out hunting or in the fields. A pool was provided and stocked with fish, and spectators threw coins in for the Congolese to dive for. Sometimes they threw in bottles of gin and brandy too, to make them drunk. Sometimes stages were set up for the men to re-enact battles with spears and shields. The Congolese had to go around half-naked in a display of ‘authenticity’ and in cold weather many of them became ill. Such displays were put on to underline European superiority, so there was no interest in, for example, getting the villagers to make or display artworks or put on musical events. In a similar way, Buffalo Bill’s enormously popular Wild West Show, which toured Europe at this time, demonstrated the inferiority of Native Americans, doomed to extinction in battle with the better armed forces of civilization.

European notions of superiority were caricatured but also reaffirmed in cartoons of the time: here for example is one portraying a new governor of German East Africa as a ‘new idol’ replacing or perhaps just adding to the ones already worshipped by the native heathens.All this served to enlist the middle classes and potentially too the working classes in patriotic enthusiasm for the ideals of empire, a tactic that was more successful in some countries, notably Britain, than others. The press followed colonial campaigns closely and whipped up jingoistic sentiment, expressed in events such as the triumph of the British over the Ashanti in the 1870s.Imperial enthusiasm reached new heights with the emergence of mass-circulation newspapers like the Daily Mail, fuelling events such as the popular celebrations in London of the relief of Mafeking during the Boer War.The age of high imperialism coincided with the coming of the age of mass communications and the popular press, and both fed off each other.

The events of the Boer War pointed to the other major force apart from imperialist ideology driving forward European powers’ establishment of control over their colonies, and that was, the actions and policies of men on the ground, in the colonies themselves. For most of the nineteenth century it was missionaries, traders and explorers who brought in the colonizing state to further their interests or, more frequently, to rescue them when they got into trouble with indigenous peoples. In some colonies, however, in the age of high imperialism, European settlers began arriving in ever increasing numbers and, with or without the approval of the colonial state, seizing land for cattle farming or rubber or palm oil plantations. The clashes such actions sparked were among the most violent in the history of European empire. And nowhere were they more dramatic than in the German colony of South-west Africa, today’s Namibia.

South-west Africa had begun as a protectorate run by a limited company, but as early as 1888 the company failed and the state was obliged to take over. Much of the land was desert or semi-arid and was inhabited by nomadic cattle herders of the Herero and Nama tribes. During the 1890s German settlers moved in and began setting up cattle ranches, fencing off the land from the nomads, whose livelihood was also being undermined by an outbreak of a fatal cattle disease, Rinderpest, at the end of the 1890s. The rapidly mounting pace of land seizures by the colonial government in the early 1900s led eventually to attacks on German farmers, resulting in around 150 settler deaths by 1904, when the attacks reached a peak. Kaiser Wilhelm II took this as a provocation, even a personal insult. Germany was not going to be humiliated as Italy had been in Ethiopia in 1896.

14,000 German troops were dispatched from Berlin under General Lothar von Trotha, a hard-line Prussian army officer with previous colonial experience. ‘I know’ he said, ‘that African tribes yield only to violence. To exercise this violence with crass terrorism and even with gruesomeness was and is my policy.’ After defeating a Herero force at Waterberg, Trotha announced: ‘Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed.’ Herero cattle-herders caught in the action were shot or hanged on the spot, while the remaining men, along with Herero women and children, were driven into the desert and left to starve. The few who emerged alive were little more than skeletons, as this contemporary photograph shows (see powerpoint).The Chief of the General Staff in Berlin, Alfred von Schlieffen, in thrall, like all Prussian officers, to the supposedly Clausewitzian doctrine that the aim of a war must be the total annihilation of the enemy force, praised von Trotha’s campaign as ‘brilliant’, especially his use of the desert to complete what he called approvingly ‘the extermination of the Herero nation’. Popular commemorative books were printed celebrating the triumph of German arms in the war. (source: Gresham College, UK)

Empire: From Conquest to Control - Professor Richard J Evans FBA

Monday, February 27, 2012

Tintin's Racist Past

Traveling in a hammock, Belgian Congo [Photograph taken or provided by Émile Gorlia (1887-1966)] Hammocks carried by African porters were an important means of transportation for Europeans during the colonial period. Some African leaders also used palanquins and other carrying devices as symbols of their status.

From Forbes Magazine, "Tintin's Racist Past," by Lionel Laurent, on 23 July 2007 --LONDON - When British lawyer David Enright opened the pages of a comic book entitled Tintin In The Congo while in a shop with his wife and two young boys, he was probably expecting a benign adventure story full of fun for all the family.

Instead what he found was a "highly offensive" collection of racist caricatures of Africans, from superstitious natives to incoherent simpletons, and in a letter of complaint he demanded that the Borders bookstore in his hometown of St. Albans stop selling the comic book.

Tintin is Belgium's most famous export, with over 200 million copies of his adventures sold worldwide. In May Variety even reported that co-founder of DreamWorks Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson were planning a Tintin trilogy, no doubt tempted by the $3 billion gross raked in by Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. Could one angry British lawyer derail the reputation of a true comic book hero?

The incident has snowballed into a very British scandal, with the Commission for Racial Equality backing Enright and demanding that all Borders stores take Tintin's Congolese adventures off their shelves. Now even the police are involved, with the Hertfordshire police deciding to record Enright's complaint as a "racist incident."

Borders' response has been to move all copies of the comic to the "adult graphic" section of the store from the childrens' section, but the book seller refused to stop selling it outright.

It's not the first time accusations of racism have been leveled against Hergé, the late Belgian cartoonist who created the iconic orange-haired reporter known as Tintin. When the character first appeared in Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets at the end of the 1920s, he stood for conservative, Catholic values, showing up the godless credo of communism. It is no accident that in his second adventure in 1931, Tintin In The Congo, the intrepid reporter is saved from the snapping jaws of angry crocodiles by a bearded Catholic missionary dressed in white.

But Hergé himself regretted his early work, as well as his personal attachment to a Catholic abbot with fascist sympathies called Norbert Wallez. In an interview released in 1983, the artist said: "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."

Democratic Republic of Congo (Belgian Congo) - Kuba King "Dr. William Henry Sheppard (1865-1927), an African American missionary for the American Presbyterian Congo Mission, who later became an outspoken critic of King Léopold's regime, was the first overseas visitor to reach the kingdom's capital in 1890. The Kuba, famous for their arts, subsequently attracted many visitors, ranging from anthropologists to photographers, who sought to depict the legendary kings, the visual splendor of the royal court and important chiefs, among them Chief Ndombe of Bieeng. Casimir Zagourski, who traveled through the royal capital in the 1930s, took a classic, often-published portrait of then ruler Kot Mabiinc (ruled 1919-1939), who was paralyzed. Eliot Elisofon (1911-1973), an American photographer who worked for Life magazine, followed in Zagourski's footsteps in 1947, creating evocative portraits of Kot Mabiinc's successor, Mbop Mabiinc maMbeky (ruled 1939-1969). Photographic encounters in the capital became commonplace and orchestrated--grand performances for the cameras of the Westerners. Kuba kings used the opportunity to further the reputation of the Kuba as the foremost artists in central Africa." (flicker)

Tintin In The Congo did not even make it to the U.K. until 2005, over 70 years after its first appearance in French, because of the controversy surrounding it. When the publisher Egmont finally released the English version, it billed it as an "essential volume for collectors," making sure to wrap a label around the comic that warned readers of its potentially "offensive" content.

And the huge divide between post-colonial Britain and Belgium in the 1930s, when the kingdom still owned the Congo, adds to the shock of today's reader discovering Tintin's adventure for the first time. The story is filled with witch doctors, lazy natives who need to be put to work and over-the-top violence against animals.

According to Mark Rodwell, representative of Moulinsart--the firm that manages Hergé's estate--this explains why children ignorant of the past don't have the same reaction.

"The criticism is that it's not suitable for children," he told "But it's the adults that have the problem with it. It's a book of its time." (source: Forbes)

Virginia's First Africans In 1619

Mystery of Va.'s first slaves is unlocked: New scholarship shows how group of '20 and odd' came to America by bjtindle

From the Washington Post, "Mystery of Va.'s First Slaves Is Unlocked 400 Years Later," by Lisa Rein, on 3 September 2006--JAMESTOWN -- They were known as the "20 and odd," the first African slaves to set foot in North America at the English colony settled in 1607.

For nearly 400 years, historians believed they were transported to Virginia from the West Indies on a Dutch warship. Little else was known of the Africans, who left no trace.

Now, new scholarship and transatlantic detective work have solved the puzzle of who they were and where their forced journey across the Atlantic Ocean began.

The slaves were herded onto a Portuguese slave ship in Angola, in Southwest Africa. The ship was seized by British pirates on the high seas -- not brought to Virginia after a period of time in the Caribbean. The slaves represented one ethnic group, not many, as historians first believed.

The discovery has tapped a rich vein of history that will go on public view next month at the Jamestown Settlement. The museum and living history program will commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown's founding by revamping the exhibits and artifacts -- as well as the story of the settlement itself.

Although historians have thoroughly documented the direct slave trade from Africa starting in the 1700s, far less was known of the first blacks who arrived in Virginia and other colonies a century earlier. A story of memory and cultural connections between Africa and the early New World is being unearthed in a state whose plantation economy set the course for the Civil War.

"We went entirely back to the drawing board," said Tom Davidson, senior curator of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. "The problem has always been that all of the things that make for a human story [of the Africans] were missing. . . . Now we can talk about the Africans with the same richness we talk about the English and the Powhatans."

Behind him, an Angolan man was depicted stripping bark from a baobab tree in a re-created village featured in the museum's new 30,000-square-foot gallery, which will open Oct. 16. It's double the space of the previous one, to cover a long span of the 17th century and the African story, which was barely featured before.

How the story of the charter generation of Africans in Virginia has come to life in a new $25 million museum wing is a tale of two scholars who helped connect two coasts of the Atlantic Ocean.

The early 1600s was a time of war and empire-building in Southwest Africa; Portuguese traders under the rule of the king of Spain had established the colony of Angola. The exporting of slaves to the Spanish New World was a profitable enterprise. The Portuguese waged war against the kingdoms of Ndongo and Kongo to the north, capturing and deporting thousands of men and women. They passed through a slave fortress at the port city of Luanda, still Angola's capital.

At Jamestown, tobacco was on the verge of a boom after the British had failed at several industries. Indentured servants from England were common in the settlement, now close to 1,000 people strong.

John Rolfe, Virginia's first tobacco planter and husband of the Indian princess Pocahontas, wrote the widely held account of the African landing in a letter to the Virginia Company of London. The captain of a Dutch warship that arrived in Jamestown in August 1619 "brought not any thing but 20 and odd Negroes, wch the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victuale . . . at the best and easyest rate they could." Rolfe explained that the ship and another called the Treasurer had embarked from the West Indies.

A retired University of California at Berkeley historian, Engel Sluiter, made a startling discovery in the Spanish national archives in the late 1990s as he did research for a book on Spanish America. A colonial shipping document he uncovered in an account book identified a Portuguese slave ship called the San Juan Bautista. About 350 slaves were bound for Veracruz, on the east coast of modern-day Mexico, when the ship was robbed of its human cargo off the coast of Mexico in 1619 by two unidentified pirate ships, the record said.

Sluiter, who died in 2001, published his discovery in the William and Mary Quarterly. It caught the eye of John Thornton, an expert on the Portuguese colonies in Africa in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The outlines of the other half of the story took shape.

"I said, 'I can figure out how these people were enslaved,' " said Thornton, a Boston University professor who, with his wife, historian Linda Heywood, is publishing a book on the slave trade between Angola and the North American colonies. Previous scholarship has documented the slave trade from Ghana, Senegal and other parts of West Africa. "We know Angola was a big exporter of slaves to Brazil and the Spanish colonies, but now we know that they showed up here," Thornton said.

Through records of a legal dispute between the pirate ships, Thornton identified the British vessels as the Treasurer and the White Lion, which was flying a Dutch flag. Each took 20 to 30 slaves before the San Juan Bautista continued to Veracruz. They landed at Jamestown within four days of each other and traded the Africans for provisions. The Treasurer then sailed to Bermuda, dropping off more slaves, and returned to Virginia a few months later, trading the final nine or 10 more.

Many Angolans followed -- not just to Virginia, but to New York and New England, say Thornton and Heywood, who are consultants to the Jamestown Settlement. Their research draws a portrait of the first Africans as urban people connected by common languages, who had had contact with Europeans for many years.

Virginia's first Africans spoke Bantu languages called Kimbundu and Kikongo. Their homelands were the kingdoms of Ndongo and Kongo, regions of modern-day Angola and coastal regions of Congo. Both were conquered by the Portuguese in the 1500s. The Africans mined tar and rock salt, used shells as money and highly valued their children, holding initiation ceremonies to prepare them for adulthood.

And they most likely had been baptized as Christians, because the kingdom of Ndongo converted to Christianity in 1490. Many were literate. This background may be one reason some of Virginia's first Africans won their freedom after years as indentured servants, the historians said.

The Portuguese and Catholic roots figure prominently on a glass wall in the new gallery at the Jamestown Settlement. Mareo, Christian, Nando, Acquera, Palmena, Cuba, Salvo -- they are among 400 African names engraved on the wall, one for each anniversary year.

One is Angelo, whose name appears on a 1624 census of the colony discovered in the past decade. She is listed as a "Negro woman" who came on the Treasurer and worked as a servant in the home of Capt. William Pierce and his wife, June. Historians assume the slave's name was Angela.

It is Angela, played by a young Angolan actress, who stars in the introductory film visitors will see as they watch the new story of Jamestown unfold. The 23-minute movie was filmed on a beach in Luanda in 2004.

The film will replace a 15-year-old version that gives the first Africans only a passing mention. Now visitors will be transported to a Portuguese cathedral in Luanda, where a Jesuit priest breaks bread with the captains of the San Juan Bautista. They discuss the souls to be saved and riches to be made from the continued shipment of slaves from Massangano, an inland city. The film cuts to a hut on the shore of the Kwanza River, where Angela, a young woman in her twenties, pounds grain and smiles. Then she and thousands of others are captured and taken to a beach at Luanda. A Jesuit priest asks her if she has been baptized, and she answers yes.

"Then she is a child of God. When she dies, she will go to heaven," the priest says. And the slave ship sets sail against the evening sun. (source: The Washington Post)


Click here to return to the US Slave Home Page