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Mumbo Jumbo . . . and Sambo January 14, 2014

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Happiness, Humor, Spirit & Ego.

You know you’ve grown in spirit . . . when external turmoil does not disturb the peace and tranquility you feel within.

You know you’ve grown in compassion . . . when angry words tossed your way make you want to alleviate the suffering of the person doing the tossing, without first wanting to defend your own position.

You know you’ve found your bliss and are headed the right way . . . when your spirit is soaring and work feels like play.

And that’s no Mumbo Jumbo!

Aah . . . that’s better!

When I googled “Mumbo Jumbo” to learn the origin of the expression, one of the links transported me back in time to . . . Mumbo, Jumbo, and Sambo.

The Story of Little Black Sambo is a children’s book written and illustrated by Helen Bannerman, first published by Grant Richards in October 1899 as one in a series of small-format books called The Dumpy Books for Children:

Sambo is a South Indian boy who encounters four hungry tigers, and surrenders his colourful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella so they will not eat him. The tigers are vain and each thinks he is better dressed than the others. They chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of melted butter. Sambo then recovers his clothes and his mother makes pancakes out of the butter.

The story has been retold a time or two in different settings with changed names.  For example, in “Little Kim,” a storybook and cassette as part of the Once Upon a Time Fairy Tale Series, Sambo is called “Kim,” his father Jumbo is “Tim,” and his mother Mumbo is “Sim.”

For more on the history and resurrection of Little Black Sambo ~ New Takes on an Old Story (L.A.Times, 9/8/96)


1. Jen - January 14, 2014

I have a copy of this book, which was my dad’s when he was little. 🙂 I know some see it as racist in wording, but I see a triumph of ingenuity, & imagination.

nrhatch - January 14, 2014

I had a copy as a kid and loved that Sambo outsmarted the vain Tigers, got his clothes back, AND got rewarded with Pancakes for breakfast! It seemed like a Win-Win to me.

Judson - January 14, 2014

There used to be a pancake joint (franchise? Dunno) in Miami called “Sambo’s” with a wall mural of Sambo being chased round and round by the tigers.

nrhatch - January 14, 2014

Thanks, Judson. I’ve heard of Sambo’s Pancake House ~ it may have been a chain. Like the Tigers, it’s now defunct.

2. SuziCate - January 14, 2014

Thanks for this…my dad called me Sambo when I was little and as I got older he told me it was because we’d read this book together. I couldn’t remember the story or even the character, but he did.

nrhatch - January 14, 2014

Glad to have sparked a memory! Sambo handled those ego-driven Tigers with finesse.

3. William D'Andrea - January 14, 2014

The term “Little Black Sambo” has become designated as a derogitory term for a black person. When I saw the title I thought, “Nancy might be getting herself in trouble, with people who’ll wrongly accuse her of racism.”
The article shows that was not your intention, but be prepared to duck! You might be getting a large number of very foul replies, and maybe even threats from certain organizations, whose members are always looking for something which offends them.

nrhatch - January 14, 2014

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen! But you’re right ~ some people look for opportunities to be offended.

4. jannatwrites - January 14, 2014

It’s funny how political correctness has made us hyper-sensitive to color, race and religious things. I hadn’t heard of this book, but seeing the title, I cringed a little. Seeing when it was written, it made sense. I was watching Peter Pan (an old animated version) with the kids a few weeks ago and was taken aback by the Indians – colored red and hollering!

I like the message of the story, though. Overcoming adversity, and avoiding vanity is a message we can still apply today 🙂

nrhatch - January 14, 2014

I know what you mean. I often cringe when reading old books or watching old movies ~ especially those set in the Deep South, like Gone With The Wind. And I remember that scene from Peter Pan ~ not the way we portray Native Americans today.

Sambo’s story has been told and retold for more than 100 years ~ it’s morphed into more P.C. versions over time, while leaving the tale of the tigers tails intact.

5. Pix Under the Oaks - January 14, 2014

I remember that book, I think I still have that book! It was one of my favorite books. I was always a little sad when the tigers turned into butter.. 🙂

nrhatch - January 14, 2014

Me too! When my search for “Mumbo Jumbo” caused me to bump into Sambo, it brought back lots of fond memories.

Judging from the NY TIMES article, we’re not alone. 😀

Pix Under the Oaks - January 14, 2014

I can remember my Dad sitting with me with that book and another horse book that my babysitter gave me. I will bring it when I SEE you. I would love for you to look at it!

nrhatch - January 14, 2014

Yes, please! That would be great.

6. William D'Andrea - January 14, 2014

A thought just occurred to me. You might be hearing from Animal Rights Groups, who want to “Save the Tiger” too.

nrhatch - January 14, 2014

Haha! Sambo did NOTHING to those silly tigers ~ their vanity did them in. A case of “instant karma.” :mrgreen:

7. colonialist - January 14, 2014

A totally good tale in the original version. As was Peter Pan. It is ridiculous how the PC (Pathetic Clots) have sensitized things which had no need thereof. I mean, the stereotyped Red Indians were always sources of great wonder and admiration to us as kids. Native Americans do nothing for me.
Similarly, in a modern context, the whole Sambo, Mumbo and Jumbo thing would be seen as affectionate caricatures, like some of the Tintin characters, if one wasn’t constantly dragging in reminders of the past.
In my view, the PC-ers do more to foster the things they are against than to help overcome them.

nrhatch - January 14, 2014

I tend to agree, Col. The trend toward uber-sensitivity requires us to walk the P.C. tightrope any time certain topics appear on the horizon. Instead of open discussion, we bite our tongues.

Bumping into Sambo’s charming tale this week made me smile.

colonialist - January 14, 2014

It is high time that instead of biting our tongues we bite their heads off and tell them to take their mindless mealy-mouthed hypocrisy somewhere else.

nrhatch - January 14, 2014
8. Three Well Beings - January 15, 2014

I have my old children’s book from the 50s somewhere! I loved that story as a child. Did you have Sambo’s coffee shops where you lived as a child, Nancy? They were very popular when I was a child and then they just disappeared. I will enjoy reading the article and see what I learn.

nrhatch - January 15, 2014

It’s an interesting article about the many permutations this charming tale has undergone. In some, nothing changes but the names.

BTW: We watched Lee Daniels’ The Butler last night. Fantastic film about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on one family in D.C. The father started in the cotton fields and ended up serving as a butler in the White House through 8 administrations.

9. ericjbaker - January 15, 2014

I’m curious about the ethnicity of the folks who can’t understand why “Little Black Sambo” might be offensive to some people. Or, perhaps, why some folks are so dismissive of other’s reactions (i.e., it doesn’t offend me, so it shouldn’t offend anyone, as my experience is identical to everyone else’s).

Ah, you know me, Nancy… Never afraid to throw a grenade.


nrhatch - January 15, 2014

Lob Away!

10. Booksphotographsandartwork - January 15, 2014

Oh that was my very favorite book when I was little!!!! I never saw it as racist or mean. He was black, I was white. We are what we are. I figured that I wouldn’t run around and around a tree too many times therefore I wouldn’t turn into butter! I think I even put the book in a box with my Mrs. Beasley doll into my grandmother’s attic (along with a few other things) for safe keeping while we moved away for three years. Damn someone (a cousin) stole the box. I’m still mad. Yes I am 54 and I still want my book and my Mrs. Beasley doll.

nrhatch - January 16, 2014

I see it the same way ~> Sambo was an ingenious little guy who offered “out of the box” creative solutions to the tigers so they wouldn’t eat him. And he got his clothes back. And he got to eat 169 pancakes for breakfast.

My sister had a Mrs. Beasley doll. She carried her everywhere. Sorry your cousin took yours.

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