Christopher Leary: stories, photographs and some history lessons

the Attic: lostkiwi's museum of pretty pictures and the telling detail

Mr Wurundjeri returns from walkabout to discover somebody has built Flinders Street Station on his land. Australia 1934.

I found this comic book in Athens. I thought it might be old but it’s only from 2015. The last time the Greeks went a-colonising was a couple of thousand years ago but here for the delectation of Greek children we have a classic colonial tale. Given the palm trees, I’m guessing the white man is visiting an island that doesn’t belong to him. It would seem the black guy here has read his Fanon, especially the bit about ‘violent resistance’, because he is very fierce and is about to plunge his dagger into the rather concerned-looking white man. Although 19th century Greeks were too busy being colonised by the Ottomans to be colonisers themselves, it seems that today’s Greeks still enjoy colonial tales where the white guy always wins (as Mister No does here). Perhaps Hollywood has something to do with this.

"Au travail, vite!" The white boy is boss and the garishly-clad natives are lazy. Elsewhere in this colonial primer the Africans are shown to be exotic, cute, savage, ridiculous, primitive, simple-minded and credulous. When he's not awing the locals, Tintin massacres the local wildlife. Still in print, it is available in French, English, Spanish, Russian and Chinese. It is not available in Arabic. Detail from Tintin au Congo, Belgium, 1946.
The only thing scarier than a Red Indian is a 50-foot Indian who has no nipples. The hero of this series is called Tomahawk but he's not an Indian. USA, 1959.
A Wampanoag chief. From Indians of America, USA, 1935. This little picture book describes 74 Indian tribes from Apaches to Zuni. The tone is sympathetic and respectful - the indigenes have been conquered, now they can be admired. The Wampanoag fought the English settlers in 1675 in what was called King Philip's War. King Philip was the English name of Metacom, chief of the Wampanoag. The colonists were decimated in a conflict that saw them experience proportionally the worst losses ever in all the North American colonial wars. The Wampanoag lost worse of course and Metacom died at the hand of a native ally of the English. In the time-honoured tradition the war is ascribed to the natives who had been rude enough to react violently to the depredations of the settlers. Thus we have Zulu Wars, Indian Wars, Maori Wars and so on. Colonisers don't start wars, natives start wars. This tradition is still with us today.
Spot the difference. Algeria became independent in 1962.
Detail from a 1943 British War Office aero map of southern Spain and Portugal.
A history textbook for American children. USA, circa 1905.
"The man of the South was free with his good things. He rode round his place once a day, to see that all was kept well. His slaves were for the most part well fed. They were as a class light of heart and fond of dance and song. When work was done they would meet at night and sing their wild songs, for which they made up their own words. They took small thought for the past or for what was to come. If they had their hoe cake and their bit of fat pork to eat with it, they were all right." From History of the United States, circa 1905.
The title is actually a provocation. The introduction opens: "Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a savage art, for the simple reason there are no savages." Quite so, and the book's collection of artefacts from the world's 'outsider' civilisations demonstrates this beautifully. The cover shows a mask inlaid with mother of pearl (Haïda, British Columbia) and an ivory statuette (Warega, Congo). USA, 1958.
Ivory mask, Benin, Nigeria. From the Art of the Savages, USA, 1958.
Cloth with design in feathers. Chimu, Peru. From the Art of the Savages, USA, 1958.
A Maori war canoe. Much is innacurate in this illustration, not least the canoe's ridiculous prow. A 'Sanella-Bilder' from Australien Neuseeland, a collecting picture book published by Margarine-Union Hamburg. West Germany, mid-1950s.
Real Maori canoe prows. From Sculpture and Design: An Outline of Maori Art, Gilbert Archey, NZ 1960.
This pair are from a 1965 series in Look and Learn about the First Crusade. The history is reasonably accurate. The fall of Jerusalem saw the Crusaders wading "in Saracen blood up to their ankles". No mention though of the slaughtered Jewish population of the Holy City.
Detail from the 1914 Geodistik Institut's survey of Iceland. It's here because I like the beautiful drafting and I like íslenzka.