Tag Archives: kanaka

The strange racism and sexism of Fergus Hume

Fergus Hume - The Green MummyFergus Hume (1859-1932) wrote some of the most popular novels of his period, not excluding Arthur Conan Doyle. They aren’t quite so popular anymore, but easily found now that many are public domain. His most famous book was The Mystery of a Hansome Cab (1886 — and which supposedly inspired Doyle to start his Sherlock Holmes stories with A Study in Scarlet), but the particularly egregious samples of racism I’m exploring today are from The Green Mummy (1908).

It’s not all bad. I quite loved this…

“Oh, it’s all very well asking questions as can’t be answered nohow, my lady, but I be all of a mubble-fubble, that I be.”

“What is a mubble-fubble?” asked Hope, staring.

“It’s a queer-like feeling of death and sorrow and tears of blood and not lifting your head for groans,” said Widow Anne incoherently, “and there’s meanings in mubble-fubbles, as we’re told in Scripture.

My frustrated dreams of archaeology also mean I quite liked this too:

It is to be feared that Braddock was somewhat selfish in his views, but the fixed idea of archaeological research made him egotistical.

There are occasional other gems scattered throughout:

Like a geographical Lord Byron, the isolated village of Gartley awoke one morning to find itself famous.

But on to his view of women — it is not at all nice.

Thus Mrs. Jasher found no one in the drawing-room to welcome her, and, taking the privilege of old friendship, descended to beard Braddock in his den. The Professor raised his eyes from a newly bought scarabeus to behold a stout little lady smiling on him from the doorway. He did not appear to be grateful for the interruption, but Mrs. Jasher was not at all dismayed, being a man-hunter by profession. Besides, she saw that Braddock was in the clouds as usual, and would have received the King himself in the same absent-minded manner.

She’s not the only woman moved by material desires:

Donna Inez clapped her hands and her eyes flashed, for, like every woman, she had a profound love for jewels.

There is much more of the same, but it doesn’t quite compare to the racism reserved for the native of the Solomon Islands (Hume was born in England, but raised after the age of three in New Zealand, only returning to England after several decades).

One member of the Braddock household was not included in the general staff, being a mere appendage of the Professor himself. This was a dwarfish, misshapen Kanaka, a pigmy in height, but a giant in breadth, with short, thick legs, and long, powerful arms. He had a large head, and a somewhat handsome face, with melancholy black eyes and a fine set of white teeth…But the most noticeable thing about him was his huge mop of frizzled hair, which, by some process, known only to himself, he usually dyed a vivid yellow. The flaring locks streaming from his head made him resemble a Peruvian image of the sun, and it was this peculiar coiffure which had procured for him the odd name of Cockatoo. The fact that this grotesque creature invariably wore a white drill suit, emphasized still more the suggestion of his likeness to an Australian parrot.

1st – a mere appendage? 2nd – Kanaka — I know so little about this part of the world, I looked up the term and found this word’s connection with all the horrors and dislocations of Empire: (apologies it’s wikipedia, but for further exploration):

Kanaka was the term for a worker from various Pacific Islands employed in British colonies …. “Kanaka”, sometimes used as a derogatory name,[1]

They were most often indentured laborers. Cockatoo is really more a kind of slave, though apparently some kind of voluntary one.

Cockatoo had come from the Solomon Islands in his teens to the colony of Queensland, to work on the plantations, and there the Professor had picked him up as his body servant. When Braddock returned to marry Mrs. Kendal, the boy had refused to leave him, although it was represented to the young savage that he was somewhat too barbaric for sober England. Finally, the Professor had consented to bring him over seas, and had never regretted doing so, for Cockatoo, finding his scientific master a true friend, worshiped him as a visible god. Having been captured when young by Pacific black-birders, he talked excellent English, and from contact with the necessary restraints of civilization was, on the whole, extremely well behaved. Occasionally, when teased by the villagers and his fellow-servants, he would break into childish rages, which bordered on the dangerous. But a word from Braddock always quieted him, and when penitent he would crawl like a whipped dog to the feet of his divinity. For the most part he lived entirely in the museum, looking after the collection and guarding it from harm. Lucy—who had a horror of the creature’s uncanny looks—objected to Cockatoo waiting at the table, and it was only on rare occasions that he was permitted to assist the harassed parlormaid. On this night the Kanaka acted excellently as a butler, and crept softly round the table, attending to the needs of the diners. He was an admirable servant, deft and handy, but his blue-lined face and squat figure together with the obtrusively golden halo, rather worried Mrs. Jasher.

Captured, sold into slavery, his character fixed into the straight jacket of another too-common type — the savage who has become partially civilized through the influence of a white master he treats as god and would do anything in the world for. It makes me particularly sick to my stomach. The childish rages are par for the course as well.

Only the Kanaka was unmoved and squatted on his hams, indifferently surveying the living and the dead. As a savage he could not be expected to have the nerves of civilized man.

Lack of empathy. It’s curious how so much of the things attributed to to Cockatoo are clearly reflections of the white attitudes around him.

Let us move on to the Peruvians:

On a nearer view, Don Pedro proved to be a tall, lean, dry man, not unlike Dore’s conception of Don Quixote. He must have had Indian blood in his veins, judging from his very dark eyes, his stiff, lank hair, worn somewhat long, and his high cheek-bones. Also, although he was arrayed in puritanic black, his barbaric love of color betrayed itself in a red tie and in a scarlet handkerchief which was twisted loosely round a soft slouch hat, It was the hat and the brilliant red of tie and handkerchief which had caught Mrs. Jasher’s eye at so great a distance, and which had led her to pronounce the man a stranger, for Mrs. Jasher well knew that no Englishman would affect such vivid tints. All the same, in spite of this eccentricity, Don Pedro looked a thorough Castilian gentleman, and bowed gravely when presented to the ladies by Random.

Don Pedro and his daughter are partly redeemed by their Spanish blood, but I find this insistence on their love of colour as the trace of their barbarous past quite hilarious.

“Ha!” murmured the widow to herself, “then that accounts for your love of color, which is so un-English;”

and also:

Yet about Donna Inez there was the same indefinite barbaric look as characterized her father. Her face was lovely, dark and proud in expression, but there was an aloofness about it which puzzled the English girl. Donna Inez might have belonged to a race populating another planet of the solar system. She had large black, melting eyes, a straight Greek nose and perfect mouth, a well-rounded chin and magnificent hair, dark and glossy as the wing of the raven, which was arranged in the latest Parisian style of coiffure. Also, her gown—as the two women guessed in an instant—was from Paris. She was perfectly gloved and booted, and even if she betrayed somehow a barbaric taste for color in the dull ruddy hue of her dress, which was subdued with black braid, yet she looked quite a well-bred woman. All the same, her whole appearance gave an observant onlooker the idea that she would be more at home in a scanty robe and glittering with rudely wrought ornaments of gold.

The exotic other, just white enough to be suitable for fancying and even marrying. But still. More at home in scanty robes. Honestly Fergus Hume,  I am ashamed of you.

More on the innate knowledge of the native, and the odd contrast with what a young woman might desire — for her perfect lover to outshine even such an expert:

“Cockatoo is much cleverer than the average white man,” said Braddock dryly, “especially in following a trail. He, if any one, will learn the truth. I would much rather trust the Kanaka than young Hope.”

“Nonsense!” cried Lucy, standing up for her lover. “Archie is the one to discover the assassin. I’ll see him at once. And you, father?”

And of course — and SPOILER here so you can stop reading if you really want to experience Fergus Hume’s The Green Mummy in its full — it is the native who is the violent one and the murderer, even if his brains were never up to planning everything. It turns out the archaeologist Braddock and Cockatoo are behind it all, and Lucy’s fiance is quick to disavow any blood relationship with Braddock. Given the gist of the whole book and its racist reasonings, that kind of criminality is as likely to pass down from father to daughter as any barbaric love of colour:

“Call him your step-father,” he said quickly. “No, dear, I do not think he will be hanged; but as an accessory after the fact he will certainly be condemned to a long term of imprisonment. Cockatoo, however, assuredly will be hanged, and a good job too. He is only a savage, and as such is dangerous in a civilized community.

Only a savage. This boy stolen from his family and his people, sold into slavery, brought to England, made to steal and kill.

“Chuck the mummy and nigger overboard and make for the ship,” he yelled, swimming with long strokes towards the boat.

This order was quite to the sailors’ minds, as they had not reckoned on such a fight. Half a dozen willing hands clutched both Cockatoo and the case, and, in spite of the Kanaka’s cries, both were hurled overboard.

He is hated by all, and thoroughly blamed for everything.

“I don’t quite agree with you, dear. Cockatoo’s innate savagery was the cause, as Professor Braddock did not intend or desire murder. But there, dear, do not think any more about these dismal things. Dream of the time when I shall be the president of the Royal Academy, and you my lady.”

In truth, that ‘But there, dear, do not think any more about these dismal things’ seems to be a common refrain in these stories. Over a hundred years later we are still hearing it.