Tintin's adventures in Congo goes on trial in Belgium

Tintin in the Congo is racist, ignorant and offensive, Congolese campaigner tells Belgian court

A Congolese man living in Belgium is trying to have Tintin in the Congo banned in the boy reporter's native country, almost 80 years after Tintin first donned his pith helmet and headed for Africa to patronise its people, slaughter its animals, and spark an undying controversy.

Tintin and his creator, the cartoonist Hergé, who launched the strip in black and white in the Petit Vingtieme newspaper in 1930, are national heroes in Belgium, where a multimillion-euro museum celebrates his adventures and the 2m books still sold every year in 150 languages.

However, Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, who has been campaigning for years to have the book removed from Belgian shops, says its depiction of native Africans – including a scene where a black woman bows before Tintin exclaiming "White man very great. White mister is big juju man!" – is ignorant and offensive, and he has applied to the Belgian courts to have it banned.

"It makes people think that blacks have not evolved," he said.

The verdict, originally expected today, has now been delayed until next week.

Hergé redrew the book for a colour edition in the 1940s and made many changes, including excising a scene where Tintin killed a rhinoceros by blowing it up with dynamite. He also dropped all references to the "Belgian Congo", and changed a geography lesson Tintin gave about Belgium to a maths lesson. Despite the changes, the book remains equally offensive to race equality and many animal rights campaigners.

Michael Farr, Hergé's biographer, who spoke often with him about the book, says that the artist later regretted his depiction of the Congolese, but denied it was racist, merely reflecting the way Africa was portrayed in the 1930s.

There was a move to ban the book three years ago in Britain, sparked by a complaint to the Commission for Racial Equality. This led to its being sold with a warning that some might find its contents offensive, an over-16s reccommendation on some websites, and its removal in some shops from the children's section to the adult graphic novels shelves. The result was that sales rocketed, climbing from 4,343 place to fifth on the Amazon bestseller list.

The Brooklyn Public Library has placed it in its reserve collection, viewable only by appointment.

Several other adventures of Tintin, his faithful dog Snowy, the identical non-twin detectives Thomson and Thompson, and the foul-mouthed Captain Haddock (always in English, Hergé said, because it was the name "of a sad English fish") have hit the rocks of contemporary sensibilities and politics.

Hergé was accused of Nazi sympathies because he continued working when his newspaper was taken over in the second world war, and of antisemitism because of the depiction of Jews in some cartoon strips. The first Chinese translation of Tintin in Tibet, subsequently withdrawn, was titled at the insistence of the authorities, Tintin in China's Tibet.

• This article was amended on 29 April 2010. The original said that Tintin killed an elephant by blowing it up with dynamite. This has been corrected.


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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