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!