Babar The Elephant | Cities and Civilization

Compo-Babar“This is a story about life in the big forest, a story that’s still being told today”

Our little boy has got really into the DVD of Babar, ‘King of the Elephants.’ I watched it through with him a couple of times, and it’s struck me as a very strange and interesting story.

A normal, unclothed herd of elephants live peacefully in the jungle. One day, Babar is out playing with his mum when a hunter comes and shoots her. She is killed, but Babar escapes and runs for days, ending up in the middle of a city. He immediately causes some chaos, but is taken in by a posh old lady. She immediately tells him that if he wants to fit in, he will have to start doing things their way, so orders him fine clothes, gets him a car etc.

Babar is happy, but also longs for the jungle. Eventually, two of his elephant friends – who have been looking for him since he left – find him and persuade him to come ‘home’. He does so, and finds the elephant herd in disarray. They are fighting with the Rhinos and totally unable to organise themselves.

Babar is crowned king, and immediately announces plans for a fine ‘elephant city’. The elephants all begin to wear clothes, and build themselves roads and grass huts (Babar and his queen live in a huge stone palace though). Things aren’t without problems – the old lady comes to visit and gets a fever, and ‘lady bad luck’ haunts Babar. But finally, goodness returns, and the city is finished with great celebration.

I think it’s a fascinating story. And one ‘that’s still being told today.’

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The innocent world is infected with hurt by a violent intruder. And there is no going back. The solution to the hurt lies not in escape further into the jungle, but in taking on the ways of the intruder. The jungle is ‘backward’ and chaotic, and an imperial building project is what is needed to get people back on track. But one feels that Babar is haunted throughout, that the innocence he lost is never regained, even at the happy ending.

Just down the road in my son’s favourite museum – The Horniman. Horniman was an avid collector of everything, and the museum displays his amazing array of musical instruments, stuffed animals and artefacts from ancient Indian, African, Caribbean and Amazonian cultures. But, like the Babar story, I find it all tinged with huge sadness. As I look at the astounding head-dresses, the ornate hair-pieces, skirts, masks, weapons, instruments, I find myself grieving for the narrow world we’re inheriting. One where the infection of the West has spread almost universally, usually pioneered by the gun, and followed by illness.

One of the saddest pieces of film I have ever seen – and I can’t remember the source – was from a programme documenting this destruction, this infection in the name of progress. A small plane of explorers are flying over the Amazon rain-forest, looking for evidence of an undiscovered people. Suddenly, below, a clearing opens up, and an amazing ornate garden becomes visible. A garden built by this tribe. Evidence of culture, of beauty. They circle round to get a better look, and as they fly over again, a lone figure is captured on film, running out into the clearing with a spear, which he throws with all his might at the plane. It’s a tragic act of defiance. The explorers had located them. They landed and battled through the jungle to find them, making contact with the gift of a gun.

Within weeks, the common cold had ravaged the tribe, and virtually all of them had died. The survivors threw themselves onto the medical wisdom of the intruders, and were taken away to be treated. God forgive us that so much of this was done in the name of evangelisation.


One response to “Babar The Elephant | Cities and Civilization”

  1. Hey thank you for sharing this wonderful story…funny…I know Barbar from my childhood, but couldn´t remember the story…