Decentering Man's Place in the Universe: Yakari and Its Visual Representation of Native Americans
By Sabine N. Meyer
The comic series was such a tremendous success in Belgium and France that its issues have been translated into at least seventeen languages including English, German, Finnish, Breton, Indonesian, Polish, Chinese, Turkish, Arabic, Inuktitut, and Catalan. In Germany, the comic series was readily accepted into the existing repertoire of representations of Native Americans, satisfying German 'Indianthusiasm,' "a yearning for all things Indian" (Lutz 2002: 168). Carlsen Comics published twenty-six issues between 1977 and 2001, and since July 2006, Salleck Publications has published the remaining nine issues as softcover. What is more, the Native American boy and his friends quickly made it on TV.
Both through its plotlines and cinematographic techniques, Yakari constructs most of its characters as noble savages. Both their words and actions reflect values such as community, courage, and mutual respect. Yakari, in particular, also gradually develops into the epitome of the ecological Indian, who protects nature and treats the animals respectfully. However, there are distinctions made regarding the ecological Indian, which I will discuss later. While most of the tribe's hunters are portrayed as extremely muscular, agile, and endowed with the stereotypical beaked nose, they are friendly, display a sense of humor, and speak grammatically correct German. This appears particularly progressive if one compares this depiction to the earlier one in the Yakari comic books, in which stoic, ill-humored, and linguistically disadvantaged Native Americans abound (Fig. 1 and 2).
In Yakari's world--in both book and film version--most of the women carry out traditionally female chores, such as cooking, sewing, and fetching water. Many of the men, by contrast, are prominent for their inactivity, laziness, and absent-minded behavior (Fig. 3 and 4; Yakari und Kleiner Donner 2008: 00:02:00).
Considering the focus of most European Indian fantasies on Native-settler interaction and the dying of a race, the series' degree of historical decontextualization is unusual, but in terms of stereotypization Yakari corresponds to most of its American and European filmic and literary predecessors, such as travel literature, Buffalo Bill's Wild West, Karl May's oeuvre, the DEFA 'Indianerfilme,' and a plethora of Hollywood productions. The animated cartoon series, in particular, abounds with mostly positive images of noble savages, interspersed with occasional "homages" to the "lazy" and "stoic Indian."
This sentence kind of sums up Yakari for me:
For more on the subject, see Review of YAKARI.
Below: Yakari and the "lazy Indian."