Congo questions Tintin's cultural status ahead of Francophonie

Thu Sep 20, 2012 12:35pm EDT
 
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By Jonny Hogg

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Any Tintin fan would feel at home in the small wooden shed in a back street of Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, where the shelves are crammed with brightly painted statues from the famous Belgian cartoon character's adventures.

Friendly faces are everywhere - the tufted-haired Tintin, the bearded Captain Haddock and the bumbling policemen Thomson & Thompson - lovingly carved from wood and carefully painted in bold colors.

But with Kinshasa preparing to receive a flood of visitors for an international summit of French-speaking countries next month, some are questioning whether Congo should turn its back on the boy journalist, whose fictional adventures in the then-Belgian colony depicts Africans as dull-witted and childish.

Tintin's relationship with Congo dates back to 1930 when his creator Georges Remi - better-known by his pen name Herge - first wrote "Tintin in the Congo", in which the intrepid reporter and his little white dog Snowy tackle wild animals, hunters, diamond smugglers and warlike local chieftains.

Tintin statues - which can sell for anything from $15 to $1500 - are part of Congo's roaring trade in the comic's memorabilia, business that could receive a boost next month as delegates from 56 countries across the French-speaking world gather in Kinshasa for the Francophonie summit.

Tourists can find stalls and street vendors across the riverside capital selling the figures, and can even buy personalized paintings of the book's front cover, with their names expertly added by the artist.

But it is Herge's heavily stereotyped depiction of Africans as fat-lipped, childlike savages that makes Tintin a controversial cultural figure for a country trying to turn its back on a brutal colonial past followed by decades of dictatorship and conflict, according to professor Joseph Ibongo Gilungule, the director of Congo's national museum.

"Tintin is an image created by westerners, and it proves the ignorance of these people, a lack of understanding for our values," Ibongo told Reuters.   Continued...

 
Shelves crammed with figurines from the comic strip Tintin are displayed at the workshop of Congolese artist Auguy Kakese in Kinshasa September 18, 2012. Kakese has made a career out of carving thousands of Tintin souvenirs for westerners visiting Congo. Tintin's relationship with Congo dates back to 1930 when his creator Georges Remi - better-known by his pen name Herge - first wrote "Tintin in the Congo", in which the intrepid reporter and his little white dog Snowy tackle wild animals, hunters, diamond smugglers and warlike local chieftains. REUTERS/Jonny Hogg