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Boris Johnson recites an 'insensitive' Kipling poem

  • Mr Johnson began quoting the opening lines of Mandalay during a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
  • The poem by Rudyard Kipling is written through the eyes of a retired British serviceman in Burma 
  • In the footage due to be broadcast by Channel 4, the British ambassador Andrew Patrick stopped Mr Johnson mid-flow 

By Harvey Day For Mail Online

Published: 21:45 EDT, 30 September 2017 | Updated: 21:45 EDT, 30 September 2017

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has been accused of 'incredible insensitivity' after reciting part of a colonial-era Rudyard Kipling poem about a British soldier kissing a Burmese girl to Myanmar dignitaries.  

Mr Johnson began quoting the opening lines of Mandalay during a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the capital of Burma, in January before being stopped by an ambassador.

The poem by Rudyard Kipling is written through the eyes of a retired British serviceman in Burma, also known as Myanmar, which Britain colonised for more than a century.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has been accused of 'incredible insensitivity' after reciting part of a colonial-era Rudyard Kipling poem about a British soldier kissing a Burmese girl to Myanmar dignitaries
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has been accused of 'incredible insensitivity' after reciting part of a colonial-era Rudyard Kipling poem about a British soldier kissing a Burmese girl to Myanmar dignitaries

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has been accused of 'incredible insensitivity' after reciting part of a colonial-era Rudyard Kipling poem about a British soldier kissing a Burmese girl to Myanmar dignitaries

In the footage due to be broadcast by Channel 4, the British ambassador Andrew Patrick stopped Mr Johnson mid-flow before he recited the line 'Bloomin' idol made o' mud/ Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd' – a reference to Buddha.

Mr Patrick told Mr Johnson: 'You're on mic. Probably not a good idea', to which the Unxbridge MP said: 'What, The Road to Mandalay?', according to The Guardian.

The ambassador replies: 'No. Not appropriate.'

Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK, told the publication: 'There is a sensitivity about British colonialism and it is something that people in Burma are still resentful about. British colonial times were seen as a humiliation and an insult.

'It shows an incredible lack of understanding especially now we are seeing the impact of Buddhist nationalism, especially in Rakine state.'

Mr Johnson is said to have begun quoting the opening lines of Mandalay during a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the capital of Burma, in January before being stopped by an ambassador
Mr Johnson is said to have begun quoting the opening lines of Mandalay during a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the capital of Burma, in January before being stopped by an ambassador

Mr Johnson is said to have begun quoting the opening lines of Mandalay during a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the capital of Burma, in January before being stopped by an ambassador

The city of Mandalay was the capital city of Burma, which was part of British India from 1886 to 1937, and a separate British colony from 1937 to 1948.

Rudyard Kipling's poem 'Mandalay' was written in 1890, when the British poet was 24. He had arrived in England in October the previous year, after seven years in India.

This is not the first gaffe for the now-Foreign Secretary.

In July, he likened a traditional Maori greeting to a headbutt while visiting indigenous leaders in New Zealand. 

He once said of the Tory Party that it had 'become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing'.

The poem by Rudyard Kipling (right) is written through the eyes of a retired British serviceman in Burma, also known as Myanmar, which Britain colonised for more than a century

An apology was swiftly due. 'I mean no insult to the people of Papua New Guinea who I'm sure lead lives of blameless bourgeois domesticity in common with the rest of us. Add Papua New Guinea to my global itinerary of apologies.'

And in 2004, the then Tory leader Michael Howard ordered Boris (Tory MP for Henley) to make a penitential visit to Liverpool after an editorial was published in the Spectator (which he edited) that insulted Liverpudlians several times over. Boris called the trip 'Operation Scouse Grovel'. 

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office declined to comment.

  • Boris Johnson: Blond Ambition is on Channel 4 on Sunday at 10.05pm. 

'MANDALAY' BY RUDYARD KIPLING 

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea, 

There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;

For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:

'Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!'

              Come you back to Mandalay,

              Where the old Flotilla lay:

              Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?

              On the road to Mandalay,

              Where the flyin'-fishes play,

              An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

 

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,

An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat — jes' the same as Thebaw's Queen,

An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,

An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:

              Bloomin' idol made o' mud —

              Wot they call the Great Gawd Budd —

              Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!

              On the road to Mandalay,

              Where the flyin'-fishes play,

              An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

 

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,

She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing 'Kulla-lo-lo!'

With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin my cheek

We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak.

             Elephints a-pilin' teak

             In the sludgy, squdgy creek,

             Where the silense 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!

             On the road to Mandalay,

             Where the flyin'-fishes play,

             An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

 

But that's all shove be'ind me — long ago an' fur away,

An' there ain't no 'buses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;

An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:

'If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else.'

             No! you won't 'eed nothin' else

             But them spicy garlic smells,

             An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;

             On the road to Mandalay,

             Where the flyin'-fishes play,

             An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

 

I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,

An' the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;

Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,

An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?

             Beefy face an' grubby 'and —

             Law! wot do they understand?

             I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!

             On the road to Mandalay,

             Where the flyin'-fishes play,

             An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

 

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,

Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;

For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be —

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;

           On the road to Mandalay,

           Where the old Flotilla lay,

           With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!

           O the road to Mandalay,

           Where the flyin'-fishes play,

           An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

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