The Meaning of Rudyard Kipling’s 1899 Poem: The White Man’s Burden


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2006: S.Africa: Shocker: 300,000 died from AIDS last year
Blacks in Africa hate talking about AIDS and they hide it. This was a good news report I managed to find years ago. Nowadays, you don‘t see anything like this being published.

[Below is an analysis of the poem, which is good. Take note of this sentence of the peoples whom the Whites are colonizing: 

Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.  Jan]

Here is where I published the Poem:

Here’s the analysis:
Rudyard Kipling’s poem "The White Man’s Burden" was published in 1899, during a time of significant colonial expansion by European powers, particularly the British Empire, and the United States. The poem addresses the concept of imperialism and the responsibilities that Kipling believed were inherent in the colonial mission.

Themes and Interpretation

Imperial Duty: Kipling frames imperialism as a noble endeavor, presenting the colonizers (specifically the white men) as having a moral duty to govern and civilize the non-European peoples. This "burden" is portrayed as a self-sacrificial act, undertaken for the benefit of those being colonized.

Paternalism: The poem reflects a paternalistic attitude, suggesting that the colonized peoples are childlike and unable to govern themselves. Kipling describes them as "Half-devil and half-child," implying both a need for moral guidance and a lack of maturity.

Sacrifice and Struggle: Kipling emphasizes the hardships and sacrifices that the colonizers must endure. He speaks of "toil of serf and sweeper," highlighting the difficult and thankless nature of their work.

Civilizing Mission: The poem promotes the idea of a civilizing mission, where the colonizers bring education, infrastructure, and order to supposedly chaotic and undeveloped lands. This reflects the contemporary justification for imperialism, which was often framed as a benevolent act.

Racism and Superiority: The underlying tone of the poem is one of racial superiority, with the "white man" seen as inherently superior and more capable of leadership and governance than the colonized peoples.

Critical Perspective
Modern readers often view "The White Man’s Burden" as a justification for imperialism that reflects the racist and paternalistic attitudes of its time. It embodies the ethnocentric belief that Western civilization and values were superior and that it was the duty of Europeans and Americans to spread these values to other parts of the world.

Excerpt from the Poem
Here are the opening lines of the poem to illustrate its tone and message:

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.


"The White Man’s Burden" is a complex and controversial work that provides insight into the imperialist mindset of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While Kipling’s intent may have been to commend the sacrifices of colonial administrators, the poem is now often cited as an example of the ethnocentric and racist ideologies that underpinned much of the colonial enterprise.

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