Mastery of the self⁠ translated into control of the world
June 11, 2020 7:20 PM   Subscribe

The European man who showed command over his own body would surely also be successful in dominating a “savage wilderness”—which was, of course, neither savage nor unpopulated.
Postcolonial Bodies: a short essay by David L. Chapman.
posted by Rumple (5 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I've often wondered if there any accounts of those terrible "living zoos" from the perspective of the people put on display. Anybody have a link?
posted by postel's law at 7:54 AM on June 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

For anyone else who wondered: Yes, the Sean Connery in the first photo, who entered the 1953 Mr. Universe competition, is indeed that Sean Connery.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:54 AM on June 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

The bit about Indians learning to feel more self confident and assertive because of their being influenced by Colonial & Imperial body-building is fascinating.

Great post, thank you for sharing.
posted by Fizz at 11:00 AM on June 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Many young Indian men began incorporating yoga and other homegrown disciplines into their training routines. As they grew physically stronger, they also became surer of themselves as individuals and as Indians.

Here's a similar story from WW2. In 1940, the Japanese wanted to keep troops in Vietnam (then part of French Indochina) but, as they did not want to rule the country, they left the French colonial government in place while trying to convince the Vietnamese to join the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere". The French governor, Admiral Decoux, while a Vichy supporter, did not want surrender Indochina to the Japanese, so he counteracted by making nice to the Vietnamese, and put Navy Captain Ducoroy in charge of creating a vast "youth movement" of happy, vigorous and French-loving – rather than Japanese-loving – Vietnamese (the French had long considered the Vietnamese to be physically weak). Ducoroy was efficient: the French built about 1000 stadiums, 200 swimming pools, 1000 sports clubs, trained 1000 sport coaches etc. Decoux also wanted to encourage "local patriotism" which was supposed to be different from nationalism, so those nice francophile youths sang hymns about Vietnam's "glorious past" (some French intelligence officers were getting really angsty at that point). By 1944, there were about 1 million Vietnamese enrolled in youth organizations where they were taught sports and trained in paramilitary discipline. What happened next will surprise you. In the words of Bernard B. Fall, "more Viet Minh commanders were to graduate from the Pétainist youth corps than from all the Viet Minh cadres schools".
posted by elgilito at 1:40 PM on June 12, 2020 [9 favorites]

I've often wondered if there any accounts of those terrible "living zoos" from the perspective of the people put on display. Anybody have a link?

In 1931, a group of more than 100 Kanaks from New Caledonia was exhibited the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris. They were a sideshow and not part of the 1931 Colonial exhibition, as Maréchal Lyautey, who organized it, thought that human zoos were undignified and contrary to France's civilizing mission (the last "visit" of Kanaks at the 1889 Paris Exhibition had not gone very well: the crowd had been particularly insulting). The Kanaks had been told that they would show their dances and customs, visit Paris and participate in sports competitions. Instead they were presented as "savage, polygamous man-eaters", they had to perform half-naked, their living conditions were poor, they were cold, the pay was lousy, and they were sequestered in the Jardin d'Acclimatation, "for their own good". Still, Parisians flocked to see the "cannibals" (who sold postcards of themselves to the public after the show, but their cut was only 10%). Enthusiastic newspapers presented the show as "extraordinary", and there were "1000 alligators" and clowns too. According to writer Roger Vercel, some of the Kanaks wrote bitter letters home.

The first person to draw attention to the situation was Alin Laubreaux, a fascist writer born in New Caledonia who recognized a man named Prosper and then talked with the group ("We're there to fuck with the French", Prosper told him). An indignant Laubreaux informed his readers that those "wild beasts" were regular folks "named Elisée, Jean, Maurice, Auguste, Germain and even Marius", who were customs employees or coachmen ("One hour with the man-eaters"). The Communist Party and the Surrealists denounced the "scandale canaque" and the Kanak leader Chief Wathio Kake was interviewed in L'Oeuvre, a left wing paper ("The projects of M. Wathio"). Wathio Kake was pissed off, called the whole show a scam (both for the Kanaks and for the visitors), and told L'Oeuvre that he'd "keep on yelling" until everybody got home (some of the Kanaks had already died). The Kanaks received help from French colonists in Paris, who lobbied the Ministry of Colonies to get them better living conditions... and took them secretly to restaurants, dancings and bars. They also played water polo.

Still, it was only when part of the group was taken on tour to Germany, where the working conditions were even worse (and they got 0% on the postcards!), that the scandal became too large for the government to ignore. Finally, it was the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Senegalese Blaise Diagne, who managed to get all the Kanaks back to France, and then repatriated them to New Caledonia in January 1932.

On man stayed behind: 22-year old Marius Kaloïe, who had fallen in love with a French woman in a village near Bordeaux and settled there (he was granted full citizenship in 1939). He died in a tramway accident in 1940. His daughter Sylvette had his remains transferred to his native land in 2011 (short clip about Marius).
posted by elgilito at 4:42 PM on June 12, 2020 [7 favorites]

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