When Tarzan Fought Kipling For Filipinos

Edgar Rice-Burroughs about the time he wrote The Black Man’s Burden. Photo: Museum of the San Fernando Valley.

Most of us who study Philippine history, especially the American occupation, are familiar with Kipling’s poem, The White Man’s Burden, urging America to take up its ‘responsibilities towards its newly acquired colony, the Philippines, but few are aware that the creator of Tarzan, Edgar Rice-Burroughs went into bat for the Filipinos with a blistering poem of his own, The Black Man’s Burden.

Rice-Burroughs was a military veteran, having served with the 7th US Cavalry at Fort Grant, Arizona, shortly before the Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War. He was familiar with the Apache Wars, which were still fresh in people’s minds. As his novels War Chief and Apache Savage show, he was very familiar with the treatment of the Indians in that period. Those novels were written at a time when a more sympathetic view of the Indians was on the rise and the realisation of what had been done to them, was emerging.

It has been said that the Apache novels, now less well-known, than his John Carter novels and Tarzan were by far the best written of all his output.

At the time he wrote The Black Man’s Burden, his days of fame were far ahead, he had yet to become a writer of the adventure books that made him famous.

Here are the two poems:

The White Man’s Burden by Rudyard Kipling

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper–
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

You get the point.  You can read the rest here.

Two months later, Edgar Rice Burroughs published “The Black Man’s Burden” in the Pocatallo Tribune.  The editor wrote the following introduction:   “The following clever lines, in imitation of a recent very celebrated poem (The White Man’s Burden by Rudyard Kipling), are the composition of one of the well-known young men of Pocatello”.

ERB Magazine says: “Before he was an author, Burroughs bought a stationery store on Center Street in Pocatello in 1898. That building, located adjacent to the Whitman Hotel, has since been torn down. Burroughs dredged for gold with his brothers in the Snake River, and he punched cattle at a family ranch in the Raft River area.”

A small-town store owner was taking on one of the literary giants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 The Black Man’s Burden 

Take up the white man’s burden,
The yoke ye sought to spurn;
And spurn your father’s customs;
Your father’s temples burn.
O learn to love and honor
The white God’s favored sons.
Forget the white-haired fathers
Fast lashed to mouths of guns
Take up the white man’s burden,
Your own was not enough;
He’ll burden you with taxes;
But though the road be rough,
“To him who waits,” remember,
“All things in time shall come;”
The white man’s culture brings you
The white man’s God, and rum.
Take up the white man’s burden;
‘Tis called “protectorate,”
And lift your voice in thanks to
The God ye well might hate.
Forget your exiled brothers;
Forget your boundless lands;
In acres that they gave for
The blood upon their hands.
Take up the white man’s burden;
Poor simple folk and free;
Abandon nature’s freedom,
Embrace his “Liberty;”
The goddess of the white man
Who makes you free in name;
But in her heart your color
Will brand you “slave” the same.
Take up the white man’s burden;
‘And learn by what you’ve lost
That white men called as counsel
Means black mean pays the cost.
Your right to fertile acres
Their priests will teach you well
Have gained your fathers only
A desert claim in hell.
Take up the white man’s burden;
Take it because you must;
Burden of making money;
Burden of greed and lust;
Burden of points strategic,
Burden of harbors deep,
Burden of greatest burdens;
Burden, these burdens to keep
Take up the white man’s burden;
His papers take, and read;
‘Tis all for your salvation;
The white man knows not greed.
For you he’s spending millions —
To him, more than his God —
To make you learned, and happy,
Enlightened, cultured, broad.
Take up the white man’s burden
While he makes laws for you,
That show your fathers taught you
The things you should not do.
Cast off your foolish feathers,
Your necklace, beads, and paint;
Buy raiment for your mother,
Lest fairer sisters faint.
Take up the white man’s burden;
Go learn to wear his clothes;
You may look like the devil;
But nobody cares who knows.
Peruse a work of Darwin —
Thank gods that you’re alive —
And learn the reason clearly: —
The fittest alone survive.
— Edgar Rice Burroughs

The ‘fittest’, in the Darwinian sense, is not the strongest or most powerful, but the one best fitted or adapted to a particular niche in the environment. That last line was prescient: Although the US won the Philippine-American War it did so at the cost of one in five soldiers dying of disease.They weren’t the fittest.

Learn more about Edgar Rice-Burroughs here

Edgar Rice-Burroughs never used the Philippines as a setting so let’s leave the last word to a Buffalo Soldier of the 24th Infantry on arrival in Manila in the Summer of 1899. He was asked by a white soldier what he was doing in the Philippines, he responded:

“I doan know, but I ruther reckon we’re sent over hah to take up de White Man’s Burden.”

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