Little Black Sambo

Steady, heavy, rain, with ever increasing momentum, teemed from a dirty white sky throughout the day.

We deemed this excellent for the garden but not conducive to gardening, so we drove out to Ace Reclamation at West Parley, where we bought a wrought iron arch and two stately armchairs which will be delivered next week. Close to this architectural salvage outlet lies that village’s garden centre where we bought five new climbing roses which have stayed in the car.

I spent the afternoon locating and scanning more of the prints Elizabeth has returned to me. This task is becoming more difficult as I don’t have the negatives and have to plough through photograph albums looking for gaps. I managed to place four from May 1986 and one from 1987.

Derrick 5.86

I am not sure who took this one of me at Jessica’s Aunt Elspeth’s 70th Birthday Party in May, at her home in Rugby. On my left wrist is a stopwatch, the purpose of which will become apparent in the final picture today.

In ‘Does This Remind You Of Anyone?’ , I have described, and featured other photographs from, a trip to a recreation ground in Tooting that same month.

Sam 5.86 2

Here, Sam looks a little unsure about whether he will make it across the climbing frame. He may remember better, but I seem to remember rescuing him.

Jessica, Louisa, Sam 5.86

Louisa points something out to Jessica, whilst holding onto her mandatory ice cream.

Mum, Louisa, Sam 5.86

It was probably on the evening of Louisa’s fourth birthday party, on 24th May, that Sam reads to my Mum, his Grandma, whilst Louisa is engrossed in ‘Little Black Sambo’.

Louisa is reading one of her mother’s favourite childhood stories, which Jessica read with altered names. This children’s book, first published by Grant Richards in 1899, was written and illustrated by Helen Bannerman. Criticism of the work began as early as 1932. The word ‘Sambo’ came to be deemed a racial slur, and Bannerman’s illustrations derogatory caricatures. As a result, both text and illustrations have undergone considerable revision.

I only read the book once, so I have resorted to Wikipedia for the plot.  “Sambo”, we are told, “is a South Indian boy who lives with his father and mother, named Black Jumbo and Black Mumbo, respectively. Sambo encounters four hungry tigers, and surrenders his colourful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella so they will not eat him. The tigers are vain and each thinks he is better dressed than the others. They chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of melted butter. Sambo then recovers his clothes and his mother, Black Mumbo, makes pancakes out of the butter………..

In 1996, noted illustrator Fred Marcellino observed that the story itself contained no racist overtones and produced a re-illustrated version, The Story of Little Babaji, which changes the characters’ names but otherwise leaves the text unmodified. This version was a best-seller.”

Derrick 26.1.87

The final print in today’s batch was made by Mike Nicholson on 26th January 1987. I may look hot and bothered, but the the Fareham 10 mile road race I ran in aid of my nephew, Adam’s day nursery, was competed in sub-zero temperatures, which is probably why, according to my watch, I managed it in 64 minutes.

Chinese meal

This evening we dined on Jackie’s chicken in black bean sauce, stir-fried vegetable noodles, and rice noodles. We both drank Tsingtao beer. Hordle Chinese Take Away has to look to its laurels.

27 responses to “Little Black Sambo”

  1. I recall receiving that book as a child, given to us from a retired, elderly schoolteacher. It was an ancient book back then ( receiving it in the early 1960s) and definitely out of favor for those of us who lived in the southern US.

  2. I remember “Little Black Sambo” from my childhood—it was a story my mum read to us and we loved it: the triumph of the boy over the beasts in a way that seemed perfectly plausible to us! Those were the days before “political correctness” got its hooks into everything.

  3. Noddy of course also had his turn at being politically incorrect. i believe he has never been resurrected. As a very young child I read all those books and have never been accused of having racist or homophobic tendencies…….. The fact you ran 10 miles in any weather is quite impressive to me!

  4. A day for nostalgia it appears Derrick? Rain and grey skies have that effect do they not? Sounds great fun with a lovely supper to round it off! 🙂

  5. I always remember the tigers running around the tree and turning into butter. I liked that idea as a child. Goodness. You were basically running a six minute mile. Enough to turn into butter if you’d been going in circles.

  6. Racism and its toxic history colors everything. As an American, I certainly understand this. Little black Sambo has come to be a symbol of racism, and symbols are powerful. It would be interesting to know the history of the slur. Was it said by a white person against a black person? I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case, and when such things happen, the symbols have a life of their own. I, too, enjoyed the story when I was young. As a budding foodie, I thought that any boy who could whip tigers into butter was pretty darned impressive. However, the day when racism is no longer an issue is the day when little black Sambo can just be a cool story.

  7. I loved that story when I was a child, and as the other readers have pointed out: thought the boy was brilliant to whip those tigers into butter and get his clothes and umbrella back. I remember the illustrations clearly.

    I also remember the restaurant here in the U.S. called Sambo’s. My Uncle worked at the one in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and we went to eat pancakes, of course! The inside of the restaurant was decorated with images from the book. The place closed down, and the chain no longer exists. I assume because of growing discomfort with the racist association of the name.

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