Sunday, 5 October 2014

A Warhammer Bestiary: Pygmy


























Its seldom that we come across something truly controversial here on Realm of Chaos 80s. But today, it seems that we have. At least, to some people. I speak of course of the 1985 Citadel pygmies sculpted by Alan and Michael Perry. Some commentators have reviled this little range (I think there are about 10 models in all) as 'grotesque caricatures' or 'colonial embarrassments' and before I started hunting an example out I wondered if such a model deserved to be featured on this blog. After all, this model (and others like it) have been condemned as borderline racist by concentrating on a distinctly nineteenth century European view of Africans, oversized lips, bone in nose, shrunken heads and so on.  

Having read what others have had to say on the subject I did a little bit of research and my conclusion is that this model, and the range from which it comes, merely draws upon many tribal themes across the world rather than focusing on Africa. 

For starters, there are pygmies to be found in the Congo, though they have been much abused by their fellow Africans it seems, especially during the many wars that have taken place in the 'Democratic' Republic of Congo. Unbelievably, slavery is still very much a reality in Africa, and sadly the real pygmies are often treated in this this way. There is no sense of being downtrodden about this miniature though, and he seems to be standing proud and tall.

Then we have the lips. Are they a cruel racial mockery? Again, I don't think so, as five minutes of research on Google will uncover the fact that ritual scarification of the mouth is still popular in a number of African tribes, and this can involve cutting, slicing and the insertion of plates. I see no issue in this being depicted.

Then there is the bone through the nose - which isn't from Africa at all its seems, but Indonesia, and signified warrior status. After all, a bone through the nose is pretty scary, especially if its one of your bones being used! The same goes for the shrunken heads, which were only found in a small part of the Amazon and not Africa at all. And heading taking has been part of tribal warrior groups since the earliest history. 

So what do we have? A hotch-potch of themes drawn from a wide range of different cultures, with much of the Pygmy equipment and clothing drawn from Zulu culture (again, a group of warriors). This is no different than the early Citadel Bretonian ranges, which drew heavily on European military themes, largely from the Normans but later the medieval period proper. Or the Norse range. Or the Imperial range. The only difference being here are that the themes are not from Europe but elsewhere in the world. They are no more 'racist' than McDeath, which pokes fun at many Scottish stereotypes.

One of the most important things a historian must do its not judge something from the past with modern values. This miniature was released thirty years ago and into a very different world. I cannot imagine figures like this being top of the list for many miniature companies these days, though a couple of companies do produce similar models. I still think its a shame that Warhammer, and games like it, share such a Western focus, as there is much to be fascinated in and inspired by when you read about the native people of the Amazon, or the Congo or Papua New Guinea. I am sure that those, still largely unknown to us, mythologies are full of ideas that would serve fantasy well. 


I really enjoyed painting this model. Getting the darker skin right was the first challenge and I found that adding flesh tones to the basecolour of Bestial Brown produced the best result. I created depth by adding black to this mix and painting it into the crevices. As I have done before, I Googled images of various tribal groups from around the world and I added leopard skin to the model's clothing after being inspired by an image of a warrior. The feathers were painted red to create a bit of contrast with the rest of the figure. When it came to the shrunken heads, I opted for paler flesh, imagining that this pygmy has slain a number of Norse warriors and preserved their skulls as trophies. The greens leaves added further variation.

All in all, a fascinating project that pushed my painting skills in a different direction. I have several other models in this range, and I might return to them in the future. From their background in the Third Edition rulebook I know that the pygmies hunt coatl (one of the first models in this project) and such an adventure would make a fine scenario. 

Anyway, onwards and upwards...

Or should that be downwards?

Skaven and Snotlings next!

Orlygg

19 comments:

  1. Realm of Zhu had a fun post exploring the Warhammer Pygmies... which inspired my take on them when building my Slann allied Pygmy force: http://realmofzhu.blogspot.com/2013_07_01_archive.html

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    1. I had forgotten about the indepth article that Zhu wrote a whiles back! Thanks for the reminder!

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  2. You made the right decision painting this guy up - after all pygmies are in the Warhammer Bestiary and citadel did the minis. They have that "not quite right" feel for me but that didn't stop me collecting the set. If you want a good example of pretty average cultural stereotypes have a look at the Pygmy WFRP adventure in White dwarf 100. It has some cool elements but the names used...

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    1. I avoided commenting on those articles and instead just focused on the miniature I painted. I have never read them. Perhaps I should... Thanks for the info!

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  3. The range is a bit of fun but classifying them not as human is pretty bad. Then again Bryan does have some strange views on racialism.

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    1. The WFB3 rulebook clearly classifies them as human, and goes on to state that ritual scarring and lip ornamentation are common. Drawing from themes of tribal African culture as I said. I am not sure where the view that they are NOT human comes from. Not that it matters, as they are a fantasy race from a made up world rather than true depictions of any particular culture.

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  4. On pygmies, I don't think none will ever come across some silly old minitures game and in that no harm is done to anyone, but this propably should be read on subject of pygmies not considered human:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3869489.stm

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not wagging my finger at anyone, I have actually posted some D&D-campaign notes where parts are inspired by pygmies of old Fantom comics but I stopped developing them because I just couldn't after reading about IRL stuff.

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    1. The brutality of humans always astonishes me. As did the fact that slavery is still common in parts of Africa (and is known as black on black slavery apparently) with laws being passed as recently as 2007 to ban the practice. Here in the west, we are often taught of historic white on black slavery but the problem of modern day slavery goes unnoticed and unchallenged it seems. Politicalisation of the issue is probably the reason there, but stating that slavery is all the fault of Europeans is clearly untrue. Sad.

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  5. I notice you mention the clothing and armour but not the part which struck me as the most stereotypical and racist - the face, in particular the exaggerated lips. I think you do a disservice to the people who argue these figures are racially inappropriate without showing their almost faux-Gollywog-appearance. That, rather than the Zulu look, is what strikes me as offensive.

    As you say, there's plenty of stereotypes in Warhammer - French, Italian, Japanese, Arabian, Russian. Norse and all the rest are pretty cartoony. But none of them have art and miniatures which faces that channel quite so, er, unpleasant a back catalogue of art.

    Now to be fair these figures come from a different era. It was 80s England, and made for a middle class 80s English audience who would have been mostly white - hell, even now, nerdy hobbies tend to be pretty white. It surprised GW that people from Scotland were buying their product, let along people from other countries. These figures come from probably the last point in our history I'd think you could "get away" with something like this.

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    1. I think we discussed the scarrification of lips in the article. Its clearly a tribal African culture as can be seen here...

      http://i43.photobucket.com/albums/e375/deshkapoor/9a8b11b8.jpg
      http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3903/15091512908_26ee7c6d4f_m.jpg

      And according to the background in the rulebook this is referred to. Still, I can see why its representation could be seen as a politically correct hot potato!

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  6. People are too damned sensitive.

    Such fun silly miniatures - I loved mine when I got them back int he 80's and I love seeing your well painted version here.

    What you've written hits it on the head, bravo.

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    1. People being insensitive is at least as big a problem here.

      It may be a matter of taste but no one would argue that this range is tasteful.

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    2. Are the daemonic ranges (especially Nurgle and Slannesh) tasteful? Is it insensitive to depict Germans as ethnic cleansing warmongers in WW2 games?

      Taste is a matter of perspective, surely?

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  7. A highly topical post given the current media discussion about racial stereotypes in old cartoons! But I'm pleased you decided to post this. After all, the worst way to conduct a discussion of history (including that of miniatures production) is to ignore the parts of it we don't like or are uncomfortable with...

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    1. Exactly, and the background in the Third Edition rulebook to the pygmies clearly states that they are a proud, independent group who specialise in hunting dangerous creatures such as crocodiles and coatl. It goes on to further to explain that the pgymies often ally themselves to the slann, but only in a token way and are primarily stealth based warriors. There is nothing of the 'foolish native' about them aka Tintin in the Congo. Whether they are 'good' or 'evil' is largely up to the player.

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  8. Oh dear lord, it's /those/ miniatures. I have absolutely no problem with showcasing these as things from history, but let's not go justifying them or downplaying their racism as "borderline". They are what they are: racist mis-steps by GW.

    You say we shouldn't judge the past with modern day values, but you seem to be going a step further: you're making the argument that they're not /that/ racist by today's standards; that these are just a hotch-potch of factual, cultural images and references.

    Stereotyping scottish people with tartan and bagpipes is absolutely NOT the same as stereotyping black people with big lips and cannibalism. Saying that they're "merely" drawing together cultural reference points from here and there, in the same way that they do for other Warhammer races, sounds like a pretty lame apologist defense of something that by anyone's standards is overtly racist. I mean, THE LIPS, man, look at THE LIPS!

    Sure it was a different time back then, but this stuff was pretty racist even then (remember the Black and White Minstrel Show was cancelled in 1978 - by 1985 this sort of depiction of black people was REALLY uncool).
    I love GW, and I love all the excesses of 80s heavy metal music, wargaming, fantasy art etc. But even by the standard of the day this was a foot fault by GW.

    Let's enjoy examining this range within it's historical context, but whether we're measuring them by today's values, or the values of the time, we can't, and shouldn't, deny their inherent racism.

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  9. I think those miniatures where a stereotype of the time: the primitive jungle savage. And as a stereotype is exactly as the scotish, norse and others. That mean extreme representaciones of all the current popular folklore characteristics associated to that theme in one miniature. That is all. No racism intended.

    Norse are brutal killers, bretonian nobles tramp over the common folk of his own realm, etc. That said the small pieces of fluff that I've been finding don't seem to depict a group of dim witted neanderthals, but a tribe of cunning and proud savages. Some of his traits make them not your friendly neighbour precisely, but I don't think a single warhammer human culture is free of dark fluff in the warhammer world.

    The difference comes from proximity. The rest of stereotypes use a single culture as a source, but the pygmies are born of a conceptual stereotype that encompasses múltiple cultures, taking the most caracteristics traits of all those ones into a unique and somewhat grotesque picture, the picture of a primitive savage canibal. But the fact is that in those years if you tried to depict that stereotype, those minis would have been the most common outcome in all UK. Just, no, right, of course not, but a fact nonetheles.

    Racist... I have read the fluff of estalia and his culture. As a spanish I could feel myself insulted by it, claim to heavens for that unjust and extreme depiction... But I don't feel that way, because I don't think the autor means any real offense, only depict a caricaturesque culture for a game. And I think that is the case with the entire range of monsters, races and cultures of the game.

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    1. Oh, and if memory serves me right the fluff depicted them as copper skined, not black.

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    2. Oh, and if memory serves me right the fluff depicted them as copper skined, not black.

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