Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jacques Duquesne's OUKALA LE PETIT INDIEN (Oukala the Little Indian)

Cover, propped up on laptop
Yesterday at the local library book sale, I picked up Oukala le Petit Indien by Jacques Duquesne, illustrated by Phillipe Thomas. The story told in the book spans 39 pages. It was published in 1969 in Paris by Pomme d'Api. (Any assistance you can send my way about the book, the author, or the illustrator will be greatly appreciated.)

When I come across books in other languages that are about---or reference---American Indians, I buy them if they're in my budget. Can't beat $1.00 at a library sale!

I don't speak or read French, so am using online translation programs to figure out what the book is about. I can't find a translation for Oukala. "le Petit Indien" is either "the Little Indian" or "the Small Indian." His horse is named Super.

As you can see, the book is laid out much like a comic book.  Oukala likes to ride his horse and play with his bow and arrow (frame 1). His dad is the chief of their tribe (frame 3). He wears a warbonnet and a suit and tie (like a businessman). And, he drives a car. In frame 4, Oukala's father tells him that he has to prove himself as able to be a chief, too. To do that, he's got to take a trip around the world.  The two guys in frame 5 in striped green shirts are brothers (not related to Oukala) who (brothers to Oukala?) eavesdrop on the conversation.* One is named Rika, and the other Beka. One of them wants to be the chief, and the two plot against Oukala. They take his horse. Oukala is sad and doesn't want to take a trip without Super (frame 8). But Super is pretty smart and gets away. In frame 14, Oukala sets out. Everyone wishes him good luck.

That is the set up. From there the book is in sections: New York, Canada, the Wild North, the Voyage on the Ship, England, Super is Injured, Super Runs a Race, the Metro in Paris, a Visit to the Zoo, Winter Sports, Italy, Venice, Airplane Trip, and last, the Desert.

In New York City, Oukala admires the buildings. I don't know if he knows it (yet) but Rika and Beka have followed him. They're in a red car. They tell a policeman that Oukala has stolen the horse from a circus. The police, Rika, and Beka chase Oukala. He and Super duck into a skyscraper and ride the elevator to the top. The police follow but figure out they've been tricked by Rika and Beka. Oukala and Super get away, while Rika and Beka end up in jail. The End. (It doesn't say "The End." I'm adding that myself to mark the end of that section/chapter/story.) On to...

Canada. There, Oukala meets Canadian Mounties who invite him to the camp where they train their horses. While there, Rika kidnaps Oukala. Super is sad but eventually finds him and sets him free. They run away. The End.

The Wild North is the next stop on the world tour. Oukala and Super hang out with Eskimos and their dogs who will take them to catch the ship. Beka and Rika arrive in a helicopter and try to chase them but slip and slide on ice. Oukala and Super make it to the ship, named Tabeth.

On the ship, they pay their passage by Super doing tricks and Oukala helping out in the kitchen. The ship hits an iceberg and the captain orders everyone into lifeboats. The captain looks back at the ship, and sees Beka and Rika onboard.  Turns out the ship is ok and they head back to it where Beka and Rika chase them again---again, unsuccessfully.

In England, Oukala and Super admire Big Ben, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. They meet a little girl who invites them to a costume party. Everyone there thinks Super is a person-in-costume, and when they figure out he's really a horse, Super and Oukala are thrown out of the party. But, a man named Tom Godart asks Oukala if he's a real Indian and if he wants to be in a television movie. Oukala agrees to do it.

Oukala and Super  go with Tom and filming starts. Newspapers feature the film, "Oukala!" In the film, Oukala and Super are being chased by a cowboy. They leap off a bridge, into the river that flows beneath it. Super's leg is injured in the leap. An ambulance arrives and takes him to a hospital. The newspaper reports the injury. Beka and Rika read about it and head to the hospital, but Oukala and Super (on crutches) leave and there is no chase this time.

Oukala and Super get on a plane for Paris. Being on the plane makes them nervous, but they land and go to a horse race. They join it, heading for a hedge. Behind it is Rika with a lasso. He throws it to catch Super, but Oukala cuts the rope with his knife and they go on to win the race.

In Paris, they see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, and go beneath the city to ride the metro. They figure out they're on the wrong train. Getting off, Super's tail is caught in the door. A worker makes the train wait and Super is ok, but Oukala and Super are lost. A boy named Martin helps them find the right train and invites them to go to zoo...

Martin, his family, Oukala, and Super get into a car and go to the zoo where they see lions, monkeys, and elephants. Rika and Beka are there, too, disguised as zoo workers. They ask Oukala if he wants to see a panther, but it is a trick. Oukala and Super are caught in a cage. Martin rescues them. The monkeys throw banana peels at Rika and Beka, and the elephant sprays them with water.

Ok... I think I'll stop with the summaries! Each place Oukala and Super go, they have an adventure related to the place, and usually, Rika and Beka are in pursuit. The stories remind me, somehow, of the Three Stooges or similar slapstick stories where goofy things happen. In the end, Oukala's world tour is over and in the last story (the Desert) nomadic (nomades) people ride up on camels and save him while police arrive and take Beka and Rika to prison. In the very last frame of the book, Oukala and Super get on another boat and head home.

It is a curious story. It is set in the present time (cars, metro, etc.), but throughout, the Indian characters wear feathers. Oukala's dad and brothers wear Western clothes, but Oukala doesn't. He's the star of the book and the television movie, too. An odd story all around.

I wonder how it fared in France?

*Thanks, Elizabeth and Isabelle for writing to tell me the Kossar brothers aren't brothers to Oukala.

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