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Fabian White Humour

Fabian White Humour

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W.E.B. Du Bois Institute
White HumorAuthor(s): Johannes FabianSource:
Transition,
No. 55 (1992), pp. 56-61Published by: Indiana University Press on behalf of the W.E.B. Du Bois InstituteStable URL:
Accessed: 14/01/2010 08:28
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 Indiana University Press
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Transition.
http://www.jstor.org
 
TR ANSIT ION
Position
WHITE
HUMOR
JohannesFabian
The ideaofthebarbarousNegroisaEuro-peaninvention.-LeoFrobeniusWestillcarryhe markofthemastern ourmindsandspirits,ikeaformof tattooingar-riedoutin theinitiationceremoniesfthe sa-credgrove.-LeopoldSedarSenghoron LeoFrobeniusWhatI amgoingtoreportis neithergreatnews norvery entertaining,andcertainlynotfunny.Intheend,itmaynot even beilluminating.Still,itissomethingIhavebeen unabletoconsigntoacademic stor-ageto beanalyzedlater,calmlyand ob-jectively.Isimplyneedtotellaboutanextraordinary passageIcameacrossinabook written morethaneightyyears ago(ImSchattendasKongostaates,LeoFrobe-nius,1907).Two reasonsmake me believe thatIshouldtrytoexpress publiclytheprivateoutrageI feltwhenIread this extraor-dinarydocument.First,Iassume thatIam not aloneinmyconvictionthatWest-ernimperialismand the atrocities of co-lonial dominationultimatelyneedto beunderstoodby askinghow it was(howitis?)thatintelligent,sensitivepeople(likeyouandme)came toacceptthe en-terpriseas,onthewhole,justifiedandnoble.Second,Iassumethattheauthor,the eminent German Africanist LeoFrobenius(1873-1938),isknownwidely,notjust amonghisfellowan-thropologistsandotherspecialists.Manythinkofhimaspreciselythetypeofintelligentandsensitivestudent ofAf-rican culture who should make one won-der howitwaspossiblefor him to iden-tifywithcolonialism.Often citedwithapprovalandadmi-ration,Frobenius conductedhis firstfieldexpeditiontosouthwestern Zairebe-tween1904and1906.Onlyayearafter-wards,in1907,hepublisheda460-pagereport,titledIm Schatten desKongo-Staates(Inthe Shade(ortheShadow?)ofCongoState).The book ispackedwithinformation,notonlyethnographicbutalsohistorical,political,and,aboveall,economic.ItshowsFrobenius asasci-entist drivenbyadesire to know and un-derstand;he comes across ascritical,hu-mane,and oftencompassionate.Themodern reader is under thespellof this
56TRANSITION ISSUE55
 
powerfulpersonalityandwillingto at-tributetothespiritof the timesanoc-casionalexpressionof hisracism,pater-nalism,andrepeatedepisodesofactualviolence toward hisAfricanhelpersandthevillagersheencounters.Leavingthestark contradictions unresolvedratherthanselecting outrageous passagesforcheapeffect seemedto meamorepro-ductivewayofreadingthis documentofcolonial discourse(areadingwhich,atanyrate,was undertakenforaprojectlargerthanexposingasingleAfricanistasacolonialvillain).AtleastthatwasmyresolveuntilIcame tothesixteenthchap-ter,"AmongtheConquistadorsoftheKasai."Theconquistadorsinquestionare theagentsoftheCompagnieduKasai,thesemigovernmental tradingcompanyspecializinginrubberandivory.Frobe-nius accusesthiscompanyofarrogatingtoitselfpowersthatbelongto theState.Hepilesoneexampleofthe atrociousconductof itsEuropean employeesonanother. Thenhebringshisstory-quiteconsciously,asisclear from thecontext-toaclimax(mytranslation):However,the mosterrificndthe saddestn-cidentweweregoingowitnessourselves.OnOctober,duringoursecondtopatKabeya,asixthunfortunateickaninny,KaloshiUa-tobelle,wascaught.HetoowasaKapita[arubberbuyer]who had notquitecoveredhisadvance.Hewassupposedohavebeen anexcellentfellow,aChristianeducated t theMission inLuebo.Hearrivedn theeveningand nextmorninghewasthrown tothegroundand held there.Acapitatoodononeside,aEuropeanon the other.Eachwieldeda cane.It soundedikeamill:whack-whack,whack-whack.Andwhenacanebroke,an-otheronewasquicklybrought,o that therefiitiutgennbertlumo-ritijfd?cn23etracftungbcslegers:Der30y
zuiilntl?t, ba~Duil~n
als(rwtad?fenenbe,kanmbelft.
FromImSch-allevdesKongostaates,LeoFrobenius,1907.Thelegendfor thecartoonsays"Exercises inthe humoristiccontemplationoftheNegro:TheBoywantsyoutotreathimasanadult."
wasnointerruptionftheperfecthythm.Af-terthishad beengoingonfora while I stillheardanother3whack-whacks,hats,106blows. But there werecertainly150alto-gether.Whenthis hadinished,thepoorfel-low wasunabletowalk.He wascarriedaway, bleeding rom fiveserious wounds.Thatis whatwesaw withourowneyes.Af-terthemostsimpleand harmlesspunishmentit iscustomaryolet thepeopletakea bath.Inthiscase,thiswasnotpermitted.Uatobellereceivedhesamepooroodasthe otherpris-onersanddiedas aresultofthistreatmentnOctober5.Endofstory;not a word abouthisreaction-did he have theurgetointer-vene,tohelpthevictimafterwards?Not-ingafeelinghehadat least adaylater,Frobeniusdoestellsusthathefound La-bryn,theEuropean responsiblefor thekilling,"disgusting,"quicklyadding,however,"Iwasinnopositionto inter-vene."This ishardtobelieve from some-one whocontinuallyreportshisinitia-tivesinmattersof "nativepolicy"andwhoacquiredareputation amongother
WHITE HUMOR 57
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