How does Kipling describe indigenous people in "The White Man's Burden?"

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“The White Man’s Burden” was originally composed by Rudyard Kipling in 1897 for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, but it was eventually published in 1899 in response to the events of the Spanish-American War. It praises and justifies a paternalistic version of imperialism through a racial ideology.

In the poem, white people are portrayed as more civilized, mature, intelligent, and rational and thus as having a moral duty to establish empires to rule over savages. The conquered peoples are described as subjugated but deservingly so as they are "Half devil and half child." While white people are assumed to be Christian, non-whites are "heathen," and thus it is the duty, according to Kipling, of the imperial nations to Christianize them.

Indigenous people are described as poor, barbaric, and uncivilized due to their own character which combines sloth and folly. They are described as sullen and violent in a way that makes the job of imperial administrators dangerous. Indigenous peoples are described as ignorant and ungrateful, not appreciating the sacrifice made by the imperial powers to bring civilization and Christianity to "savage" lands. They are also very much described as "other," alien to the readers, mysterious, and disturbing.

The relationship between the white men and the indigenous people in some places is compared to the relationship between parents and children, with the white men of the title acting for the good of the indigenous peoples in a way that is noble and self-sacrificing, as parents have authority over children but make sacrifices to care for them.

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Rudyard Kipling was an avowed fan of imperialism, and “The White Man’s Burden” is his ode to the practice of stronger nations conquering less advanced territories and people groups. The poem describes the prospective “captives” (indigenous peoples) as “Half-devil and half-child” in an attempt to dehumanize them, making it seem less immoral to conquer them. They are sad and without any direction or good sense (“Fluttered folk and wild”). This makes it more appealing to imperialize their territory and control their behavior.

Kipling plays on the western world's unfamiliarity and fear of foreign societies (“to veil the threat of terror”) to further justify these proposals. He warns that these conquered people that they are “helping” (“to work another’s gain”) are unlikely to be thankful, referencing “the blame of those ye better, the hate of those ye guard.” The reference to the “Egyptian Night” is yet another reference to the foolishness and selfishness of these captives, because they won’t be able to appreciate everything that these white westerners are doing for them.

While the poem encourages readers to do things that could be considered noble (ending famine, providing education, fighting diseases), it does so in a way that dehumanizes the very people they are claiming to assist. There are implicit references to what maturity actually means, and the poem suggests that not only are these people childish and ignorant, but the act of conquering them is a sign of adulthood, wisdom, and responsibility. Overall, his description of indigenous people paints them as lazy, careless, and childish—basically animals to be tamed.

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In “The White Man’s Burden,” Rudyard Kipling describes indigenous people in very negative terms.  He says that they are not fully human in the way white people are.  He says that they foolish and lazy and destructive.  He says that they are ungrateful.  All of these attributes are reasons why it is such a burden for the white people to have to out and civilize them.

Early in the poem, Kipling portrays the indigenous people as less than fully human.  People who are fully human can be true adults. The indigenous people cannot.  This is why, in the first stanza, Kipling calls them “half-devil and half-child.”  They are perpetual children who will never grow up to adulthood.  If this is the case, they cannot be fully human, or at least not fully equal to white people.

Kipling then goes on to say that the indigenous people are foolish and lazy.  Again in the first stanza, he calls them “fluttered folk and wild.”  These are people who cannot be serious and hard-working like white people can be.  Instead, they “flutter” around doing whatever they want to, being “wild.”  Later on, Kipling warns the white people about the “sloth and heathen folly” of the indigenous people.  Here again, they are portrayed as lazy and foolish.  Because they are lazy and foolish, they are also destructive.  Kipling warns that they will destroy everything that the white people work to accomplish just before the goals are reached.

Finally, Kipling says that the indigenous people are ungrateful.  The white people will come out and work hard to help them.  The whites will build roads and ports that are exclusively for the indigenous people.  However, the natives will “blame” and “hate” the whites.  They will be angry because the whites have tried to pull them out of their “loved Egyptian night.”  They will not appreciate all the things that the white people have done for them.  In these ways, Kipling portrays the indigenous people in very negative ways in “The White Man’s Burden.”

 

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