Robot 6

Tintin in the Congo: It’s complicated

A youth library in Stockholm pulled Tintin comics from its shelves on the grounds that the racial caricatures of Africans and Arabs are not suitable for children before quickly backpedaling after the removal triggered a media firestorm in Sweden.

“I wanted to highlight an opinion piece about issues of discrimination, but realize now that it’s wrong to ban books,” explained Behrang Miri, the Kulturhuset library’s youth director.

Although the articles don’t specify which Tintin books were pulled, it’s safe to say the primary culprit was Tintin in the Congo, published in 1930, in which the Belgian creator Herge depicted Africans in crudely stereotyped ways. The book has come under heavy criticism in the United States and in Europe, and several attempts have been made, some successful, to remove it from libraries and bookstores (in February, a Belgian court rejected a five-year-old bid to ban the book).

So it’s something of a surprise to learn that Tintin is actually quite popular in the Congo, with locally made statues of the characters and mockups of the covers selling briskly to European tourists. While the director of the national museum objects to the proliferation of Tintinabilia, preferring to focus on the rich native heritage of the country, artisan Auguy Kakese, who makes and sells Tintin figures for a living is more sanguine:

“It’s humor, it’s not racist… for those who say it’s racist I say that in the comic strip, you never see images which show him trying to kill the Congolese,” Kakese said in his workshop, which employs 10 people and produces thousands of Tintin statues.

Although most of the statues Kakese sells are of the comic’s European characters, he does not shy away from depicting the Africans as well, despite them seeming uncomfortably stereotyped for modern tastes.

“We were a Belgian colony, if we work with Tintin now it’s to say that the Belgians are still our brothers,” he added.



Having got my copy of Tintin in the Congo from the UK with a paper band around the book stating this was a product of it’s time I expected the worst. There were the stereotypical depcictions of the people of the Congo for sure. But was it book slammingly offensive? No. Well not for me, since YMMV. But regardless hiding a book because it came out long ago makes no sense.

I also wonder why Tintin in the Land of the Soviets has never seen the American collections. Commies?

Doubt that. Tintin in the Land of the Soviets gave communism and the Soviet Union a well-deserved unflattering portrayal.

Johnny Helicopter

September 25, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Re: Curry Crabb

I am not sure how you can read TinTin Au Congo with modern eyes and not see it as “slammingly offensive.” The Congolese were depicted as stupid, superstitious, cowardly, and completely subordinate to white people.

Fun Fact: Some editing was done sometime after WWII to make it less offensive. For example, when TinTin steps in to teach the locals some rudimentary mathematics, the original text was that TinTin was to begin a lesson on the fatherland, Belgium. (Also the edit was still pretty bad. TinTin asks “What is 2 + 2?” and nobody answered before the leopard or whatever entered the frame.)

Regardless, I don’t think it should be banned or anything. But, we just need to remember the context in which it was written (and re-written.)

Belgiums involvement in Congo was not complicated at all, it was nothing short of genocide. Today however the memories are gone and since the historical link to Belgium provides Congo with markets and a European ally, the dark history is rarely brought up. While that tendency is natural for a cnation that is slowly exiting a civil war, I am unsure why You decided to omit that detail, which is very much at the center of the controversy. Tintin in the Congo is nothing more than a whitewash of a genocide. I assume you are consistent and also believe that Mein Kampf should be a part of the childrens section of the library? Or do you only think some genocides should be glorified or ignored?

Tintin in Congo was not, I repeat NOT, among the pulled Tintin books. That book had never been a part of this library’s books. Which is one reason the debate in Sweden quickly turned against the library, since the pulled books were among the best and undisputedly least racist Tintin books. The original statement from the youth direcor included factual errors, such as claiming that the Tintin books portrayed “arabs on flying carpets”, which is something that never has appeared in a Tintin story.

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