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Volume 7357

by Alan Hanson

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The Plundering of Tarzan’s Africa
by Alan Hanson

Tarzan of the Apes didn’t need money. Gathering and hunting for food, sleeping in trees, he lived off the land in the primitive areas of Central Africa. However, his alter ego, Lord Greystoke, did need money, a lot of it. John Clayton and his wife enjoyed all the luxuries available to England’s privileged class in the early 20th century. Ironically, though Tarzan had no use for money, it nevertheless became his job to provide the fuel needed to sustain the fashionable lifestyle of Lord Greystoke.

A Lavish Existence
In the early 1900s, Lord and Lady Greystoke lived the classical stylish existence of British colonial overseers. They maintained expensive households on two continents — a townhouse in England and a vast estate in equatorial Africa. The Beasts of Tarzan gives just a glimpse of the London residence. The library had silken rugs and a “great clock ticking the minutes in the corner.” Servants included a maid, a chauffeur for the Greystoke limousine, the baby’s nurse, and later young Jack’s tutor, plus an unspecified number of housemen. Lady Greystoke, meeting the expectations of her class, was a “richly gowned woman.

The Greystoke African estate featured a “flower-covered bungalow,” as well as the “barns and outhouses of a well-ordered African farm.” A high fence guarded the “imported, pedigreed stock in which Lord Greystoke took such just pride.” In addition to the sheep, the Greystokes could obviously afford to import from Europe many luxury items, such as a private family airplane and the baby grand piano Jane played for guests. Lady Greystoke enjoyed inviting and entertaining European visitors, obviously at great expense. What really made the African homestead such an expensive operation was that it had to be built three times. After its original construction, it was rebuilt twice after being burned to the ground by Achmet Zek’s raiders in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar and destroyed by a German military expedition in Tarzan the Untamed.

Obviously, Lord Greystoke did not fund this privileged lifestyle through his own labor, at least not in the conventional manner. Through the course of 28 published Tarzan stories, only twice did John Clayton hold down what might be called a job. In The Return of Tarzan, for three months the French ministry of war employed Clayton, the future Lord Greystoke, as a secret agent in North Africa. And, undoubtedly, Tarzan received some compensation from the British military for his service as an RAF officer, as recorded in Tarzan and “The Foreign Legion”. Both jobs were short-lived and neither played a part in building or maintaining the Greystoke fortune.

Neither was inheritance the source of Lord Greystoke’s wealth. It is true that when William Clayton died in 1910, the title of Lord Greystoke, along with the family fortune passed to his cousin, John Clayton. Burroughs never specified the size of that estate, nor does it matter in this investigation, since within three years, Lord Greystoke lost it all when the company in which he had invested failed.

Of course, as any reader of the Tarzan stories knows, Lord Greystoke’s wealth was built on and replenished periodically by the treasure Tarzan took from several lost civilizations he encountered during his wanderings in Central Africa. His take consisted mostly of gold and diamonds, although other gems came into his possession on a couple of occasions. Stumbling upon a hidden fortune would satisfy the fantasies of most people, but for Tarzan it happened over and over again. Before considering the value, let’s take an inventory of the treasure that Tarzan carried away from the lost lands he visited.

Fabulous Opar
The most well-known and reliable source of treasure for Lord Greystoke was the gold vaults of Opar. He got his first hint of their existence during his initial contact with the Waziri tribe in The Return of Tarzan. It was Tarzan who first noticed the large gold armlet on a warrior’s arm but it was the future Lord Greystoke who realized its potential.

For weeks he had forgotten so trivial a thing as gold, for he had been for the time a truly primeval man with no thought beyond today. But of a sudden the sight of the gold awakened the sleeping civilization that was in him, and with it came the lust for wealth. That lesson Tarzan had learned well in his brief experience of the ways of civilized man. He knew that gold meant power and pleasure.

The warrior Busuli told Tarzan that the yellow bangle was taken off a dead enemy warrior after a battle near a strange city that a Waziri party had approached a generation before. Later, after becoming chief of the Waziri, Tarzan and 50 warriors set out to find the lost city, the sole purpose of the expedition being for Tarzan to find more gold. Tarzan found Opar, and there he discovered a chamber, “along the walls of which, and down the length of the floor, were piled many tiers of metal ingots of an odd though uniform shape.” Each of Tarzan’s 50 warriors carried two gold ingots back to Waziri country. Since Burroughs confirmed that each ingot weighed 40 pounds, the 100 ingots the Waziri carried away from Opar that day totaled 4,000 pounds of virgin gold.

The value of gold fluctuates in current times, but from 1837 until 1934, the price of gold was set at a standard $20.67 per troy ounce. Since all of the years Tarzan was collecting gold from Opar fall within that period, it is easy to determine the monetary value of the gold when Tarzan converted it into currency. And so, in late 1910, when Tarzan sold his 4,000 pounds of Oparian gold, it would have brought him $1,205,747. (Of course, Lord Greystoke would have taken payment in British pounds.)

At the end of The Return of Tarzan, the 100 ingots were loaded on a French cruiser for transportation to civilization. Naturally, the French sailors were curious about the source of the treasure. Tarzan refused to tell them, but he did tease them, saying, “There are a thousand that I left behind for every one that I brought away.” (Either he was guessing here, or he visually estimated the number of ingots in the chamber as he was loading two on the back of each Waziri warrior.) If this statement is true, then there were still about 100,000 gold ingots in Opar’s treasure chamber. When he had first entered the chamber, Tarzan guessed there were “thousands of pounds” of gold in the room. While technically true, that was certainly an understatement, as a hundred thousand ingots at 40 pounds apiece would weigh a whopping four million pounds. At the set value of gold then, there was over $1.2 trillion in gold in that chamber. Surely even the unsophisticated Tarzan at that time would have known the disastrous effect on the value of gold were that much raw gold dropped on the world market all at once.

Tarzan’s first trip to Opar was made in 1910, and initially he was not quite sure what he was going to do with the resulting wealth — except that he was going to spend it, somehow. Burroughs revealed the ape-man’s consumer attitude in The Return of Tarzan.

He had learned among civilized man something of the miracles that may be wrought by the possessor of the magic yellow metal. What he would do with a golden fortune in the heart of savage Africa it had not occurred to him to consider — it would be enough to possess the power to work wonders.

Tarzan confirmed his desire to consume, or “work wonders,” with his first load of Oparian gold when he told the French sailors, “When these are spent I may wish to return for more.” Much of the wealth produced by the first trip to Opar must have helped the recently married Lord and Lady Greystoke build their African estate.

In December 1913, what remained of the Greystoke fortune from the sale of the Oparian gold disappeared in a poor investment. “There is no other way half so easy to obtain another fortune,” Tarzan reasoned with Jane, “as to go to the treasure vaults of Opar and bring it away.” And so, in early 1914 fifty Waziri warriors again accompanied their chief to Opar and carried away another 100 gold ingots, thus giving the Greystokes another $1,205,747 with which to “work wonders.” As Tarzan was leaving Opar’s treasure vault, Burroughs confirmed the phenomenal amount of gold left in the chamber.

Tarzan turned back for a last glimpse of the fabulous wealth upon which his two inroads had made no appreciable impression.” (Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar)

The Jewels of Opar
Of course, as the title of that story reminds us, the gold was not the only treasure that Tarzan obtained during his second expedition to Opar. After an earthquake took away his memory, Tarzan wandered through Opar, eventually stumbling on the lost city’s forgotten jewel-room.

Several metal-bound, copper-studded chests constituted the sole furniture of the round room. Tarzan let his hands run over these. He felt of the copper studs, he pulled upon the hinges, and at last, by chance, he raised the cover of one. An exclamation of delight broke from his lips at sight of the pretty contents. Gleaming and glistening in the subdued light of the chamber, lay a great tray full of brilliant stones. Tarzan, reverted to the primitive by his accident, had no conception of the fabulous value of his find. To him they were but pretty pebbles. He plunged his hands into them and let the priceless gems filter through his fingers … Nearly all were cut, and from these he gathered a handful and filled the pouch which dangled at his side.

Burroughs never identified the kinds of gems that Tarzan took away from Opar that day. It is known that they were of various colors. Tarzan referred to them as “gay-colored stones,” and at night, the “firelight playing upon them conjured a multitude of scintillating rays.” They might all have been diamonds, since diamonds come in an array of colors. It is possible that other colorful gems, such as emeralds and rubies, were included.

Whatever the nature of the jewels, it was clear that the handful that filled Tarzan’s pouch represented a fortune in the civilized world. In the passage above, Burroughs referred to them as “priceless.” The evil Belgian Albert Werper, who saw and coveted the gems, dreamed of the “luxurious life of the idle rich” that the jewels would provide him. Although a specific value can’t be put on the jewels of Opar, it is probable that they produced Lord Greystoke a fortune at least as great as the horde of gold he obtained during that second trip to Opar.

This double fortune, like the first one, would not last Lord Greystoke long. While Tarzan was at Opar, the villainous Achmet Zek was burning his African estate to the ground, and so a portion of the treasure must have been used to rebuild the place. Then came World War I to take the rest. A German military expedition marched in while Lord Greystoke was away and destroyed his ranch once again. Burroughs explained in Tarzan and the Golden Lion.

The war had reduced the resources of the Greystokes to but a meager income. They had given practically all to the cause of the Allies, and now what little had remained to them had been all but exhausted in the rehabilitation of Tarzan’s African estate.

So, in December 1918, Tarzan against set out on the trail to Opar. And, again, 100 gold ingots were taken from the treasure vault, this time not by the Waziri, but rather by a group of European conspirators. Through the vagaries of plot, the gold passed through the hands of various villains, but it eventually wound up in Tarzan’s possession. That was another $1,205,747 to restock the Greystoke bank account.

The Palace of Diamonds
As with his previous trip to Opar, however, the gold was not the only treasure Tarzan obtained during his third expedition to the lost city. In a valley behind Opar, Tarzan found a palace that yielded a treasure much greater and easier to carry than 100 gold ingots. The ape-man took away a package of diamonds, and this time Burroughs was much more specific about their value. The package contained five pounds of diamonds, and when Flora Hawkes saw the contents later, she observed there were “hundreds of them.” Flora’s fellow conspirator, Carl Kraski, described the diamonds as, “great scintillating stones of the first water — five pounds of pure, white diamonds, representing so fabulous a fortune that the very contemplation of it staggered the Russian.” Kraski later referred to the diamonds as, “the fortune of a thousand kings.” It was a judgment by Tarzan, however, that allows an approximate dollar value to be put on the diamonds.

While he had been unsuccessful in raiding the treasure vaults of Opar, the sack of diamonds which he carried compensated several-fold for the miscarriage of his plan.

If “several” can be equated with “three,” then Tarzan judged the diamonds to be worth three times the value of 100 Oparian gold ingots. In that case, the diamonds would have brought Tarzan $3,617,241, which, when added to the value of the third batch of gold, brought Lord Greystoke’s total take from the third trip to Opar and the Palace of Diamonds to $4,822,988. (The Greystokes had to wait awhile to cash in on the diamonds. Conspirator Esteban Miranda got possession of the diamonds and kept them during his year-long captivity in the village of Obebe. They were eventually recovered by the Waziri warrior Usula and turned over to Lady Greystoke.)

The Treasure Kept Coming
Unlike before, there is no indication that the Greystokes squandered this huge treasure. Still, it was not to be the last time Tarzan found a fortune among the lost peoples of Africa and took it for his own. Far from it. In 1927, as recorded in Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, the ape-man followed the spoor of missing American James Blake into the Valley of the Sepulcher. A great treasure had been accumulated there, and it first fell into the possession of the evil Arab, Ibn Jad.

At his command his followers ransacked the castle in search of the treasure. Nor were they disappointed, for the riches of Bohun were great. There was gold in the hills of the Valley of the Sepulcher and there were precious stones to be found there, also. For seven and a half centuries, the slaves of the Sepulcher and of Nimmr had been washing gold from the creek beds and salvaging precious stones from the same source … and so Ibn Jad gathered a great sack full of treasure, enough to satisfy his wildest imaginings of cupidity.

By the end of the story, Tarzan had defeated the Arabs and taken possession of the treasure. Four Waziri warriors carried it south, bound for Lord Greystoke’s home, and eventually his bank account. A mixture of gold and precious stones as it was, it is difficult to put a value on the treasure of the Sepulcher, but again, for our crude accounting purposes, let’s say that it was at least equal to one load of Oparian gold.

The next stop for the Tarzan treasure train was the Valley of Diamonds in Tarzan and the Lion Man. There the ape-man and actress Ronda Terry found a “bowl-shaped gully,” the floor of which was blanketed with uncut diamonds. Rhonda envisioned a life much different than her current one as a move stand-in.

I shall have a villa on the Riviera , a town house in Beverly Hills, a hundred and fifty thousand dollar cottage at Malibu, a place at Palm Beach, a penthouse in New York.

When Rhonda suggested bringing the entire film company to the spot, so that all could share in the wealth, Tarzan, more experienced in dealing with massive fortunes, gave her a lesson in treasure management.

If you took all these diamonds back to civilization the market would be glutted; and diamonds would be as cheap as glass. If you are wise, you will take just a few for yourself and your friends; and then tell nobody how they may reach the valley of diamonds.”

Rhonda agreed and took her share. “Tarzan, more sophisticated, gathered several of the larger specimens,” noted Burroughs. Again, with no further information provided by the author, it is difficult to put a value on the several stones that Tarzan took. The rough stones still needed to be cut, and it is unknown the size, number, and quality of the resulting finished diamonds.

The final spoils of Tarzan’s travels amidst the hidden lands of Africa were two huge gems that he took from the land of the Kaji in 1934, as detailed in Tarzan the Magnificent. One was a great emerald that American Stanley Wood estimated as weighing 6,000 carats. (The most famous emerald in existence today is The Duke of the Devonshires, which weighs just under 1,400 carats.) Wood estimated its worth at $20 million. The Englishman Lord thought it would bring 2 million pounds, which would put it in the $5 million range. Tarzan got his hands on the Great Emerald of the Zuli and buried it in Bantago country. The story ends with Tarzan promising, “Some day we’ll go and get that.” The other stone that Tarzan took was the Gonfal, the great diamond of the Kaji. Wood had an opinion on that stone, as well. “I never saw the Cullinan, but the Kaji diamond is enormous. It must be worth ten million dollars at least, possibly more.

Originally, Tarzan told both the Zuli and Kaji people that he would return their large gems to them, but instead of keeping his promises, he kept the stones. He gave the Kaji an imitation of the Gonfal, while he took the real one to his home. It is uncertain just how much Tarzan benefited from the eventual sale of the two massive jewels. At one point he professed disdain for the wealth represented by the Great Emerald.

I don’t want any of it,” he told Lord. “I have all the wealth I need. I’m going to use it to get some of my people away from Mafka. When that is done, I won’t care what becomes of it.

And, at the end of the story, he implied the wealth that the two stones produced would go to Stanley Wood and Gonfala, who came away from the Kaji plateau with him. Tarzan explained it all to Wood.

You and Gonfala should be well equipped with wealth when you return to civilization — you should have enough to get you into a great deal of trouble and keep you there all the rest of your lives.

Of course, whether Tarzan kept the proceeds or gave them to the American, the fact remains that he removed them from Africa and he alone decided how the wealth they represented would be used.

It’s time to add up the total value of all the treasure Tarzan found and confiscated from Africa during his many travels. Altogether, he removed eight separate treasures to be sold at the gold and precious gems markets in Europe. Of course, all the values that follow are estimates. There were three separate fortunes in gold taken from Opar, totaling over $3.6 million. The jewels of Opar added at least another million dollars. The five-pound bag from the Palace of Diamonds was worth $3.6 million. The value of the Great Emerald and the Gonfal, taken from the Zuli and Kaji people, can conservatively be set at $20 million. Add to all that the treasure taken from the City of the Sepulcher and the few large stones collected in the Valley of Diamonds, and Tarzan’s final take was well over $31 million.

Lost and Found — or Stolen?

So what is the significance of Tarzan’s ability to find and his willingness to carry away so many fortunes from the darkest areas of Africa? If Edgar Rice Burroughs is to be classified as an escapist writer, which he is so often, then the answer is simple. Sudden financial good fortune is a common fantasy, whether it be finding a $5 bill on the ground, hitting the lottery, or unearthing a pirate’s treasure chest. On that level, Tarzan’s good fortune was simply a way Burroughs satisfied his readers’ dreams of suddenly becoming fabulously wealthy.

If, however, Burroughs is to be granted a higher level of literary respectability, as many of his proponents think he should, then his writings must be held up to a higher, more complex level of scrutiny. In that case, the multiple fortunes that Tarzan took out of Africa might have a symbolic meaning far more meaningful than the dream of finding a fortune.

For starters, it must be admitted that Tarzan stole most of the treasure he took out of Africa. It is a nasty term, but the fact is that seven of the eight loads of treasure he took belonged to someone else. The three loads of Oparian gold and the bag of jewels were mined, processed, and put in storage by the ancestors of La’s people, making them the current owners when Tarzan came to Opar. The bag of diamonds Tarzan took from the Palace of Diamonds behind Opar belonged to the Bolgani tribe that inhabited the valley. They had been mining and storing the diamonds for “countless ages.” The great sack of treasure that came from the City of the Sepulcher was a portion of King Bohun’s riches. For over seven centuries slaves of the Sepulcher gathered the gold and gems from the hills of the valley. The Great Emerald and the Gonfal diamond not only belonged to the Zuli and Kaji people, but they also played a vital role in the political system of both societies. The only treasure Tarzan took for which he could not be accused of theft was the handful of diamonds he took from the Valley of Diamonds. In that case, the stones were simply spread across a natural gully, there for the taking by anyone.

Of course, open theft on this level was not possible in the value system Burroughs created for his ape-man. Each time Tarzan made off with treasure, therefore, it was necessary for Burroughs to frame it within a context that, even if not fully justifying the theft, at least lessened the severity of Tarzan’s misconduct.

In the case of Opar, three circumstances soothed Tarzan’s savage conscience when he took the riches of that city. Tarzan addressed two of them in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar.

I shall be very careful, Jane, and chances are that the inhabitants of Opar will never know that I have been there again and despoiled them of another portion of the treasure, the very existence of which they are as ignorant of as they would of its value.

While admitting his plans to steal or “despoil” the Oparians of their gold, Tarzan partially justified the action by noting that the owners did not even know that the gold vaults existed. According to Burroughs, in the treasure chamber, “ages since, long-dead hands had arranged the lofty rows of precious ingots for the rulers of that great continent which now lies submerged beneath the waters of Atlantis.” The same Oparian ignorance applied to the jewel-room, which Tarzan later raided.

For ages it had lain buried beneath the temple of the Flaming God, midway of one of the many inky passages which the superstitious descendants of the ancient Sun Worshipers had either dared not or cared not to explore.”

For Tarzan to take quantities of gold and jewels from a people who knew not even of its existence, and who, if they had known, would not know the value of it, was intended to make the deeds more acceptable to the reader.

Still another extenuating circumstance was the very small amount that Tarzan took. Although the 300 ingots of gold and the bag of jewels provided Tarzan millions of dollars in the civilized world, it was a tiny amount of the total treasure available. As noted earlier, on a couple of occasions, Burroughs stressed that what Tarzan took from the gold vault did not appreciably reduce the total amount there. In fact, using Burroughs’ numbers, of the 100,100 ingots originally in the chamber, only 300 were removed, that being less that one-third of one percent of the total. Similarly, in the jewel-room, Tarzan found several chests filled with brilliant cut stones, from which he only took enough to fill the pouch dangling at his side. Again, the taking of such a small part of the Oparian treasure helped to validate the pilfering.

The same justification was used when Tarzan took the bag of diamonds from the Palace of Diamonds. He took only one bag, although there were “tier after tier of shelves, upon which were stacked small sacks made of skins.” Unlike the Oparians, though, the Palace of Diamonds inhabitants clearly knew of and valued their stock of diamonds.

They have been accumulating them for countless ages, for they mine far more than they can use themselves. In their legends is the belief that some day the Atlantians will return and they can sell the diamonds to them. And so they continue to mine them and store them as though there was a constant and ready market for them.

Only one large bagful of treasure was taken from the City of the Sepulcher, the inference being that plenty was left behind. Although Tarzan wound up with the treasure, he can’t be charged with the original theft. That was done when Ibn Jad’s band sacked the city. Tarzan took possession of the treasure after the Arabs had already transported it outside the valley. At that point, however, Tarzan had the option of returning the treasure to its owner, King Bohun, or keeping it for himself. Perhaps because Bohun was a dastardly fellow, who had the nerve to kidnap the Princess Guinalda and imprison James Blake, Tarzan’s American friend, the ape-man felt justified in confiscating a portion of Bohun’s treasure. Call it a fine for evil deeds done in Tarzan’s country.

In Tarzan the Magnificent, the ape-man said he didn’t care what happened to The Great Emerald and the Gonfal diamond, but he wound up taking them anyway. Since both stones allowed their possessors to control the actions of people around them, perhaps Tarzan did the right thing in removing them from these primitive societies. However, he easily could have achieved that end by burying both stones in remote areas. Instead, he chose to bring the stones into the civilized world where he could draw on their commercial value.

So, in allowing Tarzan to take so much treasure from primitive peoples, Burroughs created a struggle in the conscience of his readers, a struggle he smoothed the edges from in several ways. Still, in the final analysis, there is no way of getting around the fact that Tarzan took the fabulous riches of these African peoples without their permission. What kind of value system can justify that in the end?

A Colonial Interpretation
Tarzan’s alter ego, Lord Greystoke, was European by culture and saw Africa as a source of wealth to fund his affluent lifestyle, both in England and in Africa. During the colonial period, European occupying powers often went to excess in harvesting raw materials in their African possessions. Edgar Rice Burroughs certainly knew this. When Mbonga’s tribe of cannibals entered Tarzan’s jungle in Tarzan of the Apes, Burroughs explained they were fleeing a cruel European monarch.

To add to the fiendishness of their cruel savagery was the poignant memory of still crueler barbarities practiced upon them and theirs by the white officers of that arch hypocrite, Leopold II of Belgium, and because of those atrocities they had fled the Congo Free State — a pitiful remnant of what once had been a mighty tribe.

In fact, so brutal were Leopold’s tactics, which included chopping off hands and feet of natives who failed to meet his rubber or ivory quotas, that the population of the Congo area declined by half between 1885-1908. Mbonga’s people were not the only natives to flee into British, French, and Portuguese controlled territories.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan stories portray British colonists in a different light, that of benevolent rulers. As long as they treated the natives well, it was acceptable to profit from ruling them. This is one interpretation that can be placed on all the wealth that Tarzan took out of Africa. As a reward for bringing parts of Dark Continent out of barbarism and putting them on the road to civilization, he deserved to profit from his just rule in Tarzan’s country. He was certainly portrayed as a kind and civilizing leader of the Waziri, while he fought the degrading practices of other tribes.

Of course, Lord Greystoke did not make his fortune in Africa running in ivory or slaves. He made his in a seemingly harmless way — stumbling upon lost hordes of hidden treasure. Symbolically, though, the effect was the same. As a European, Lord Greystoke took for himself huge amounts of African resources that could have been used to better the lives of African peoples. When looked at that way, it is a troublesome legacy for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes. But then, we go back to the respectability Burroughs should be afforded as a writer. If we leave him as a writer of escapist fiction, then the troublesome issue raised above disappears. Tarzan’s trips to the treasure vaults of Opar are reduced in significance to hitting the lottery three times. Taking Burroughs more seriously requires asking and answering tougher questions. Personally, I like to think Edgar Rice Burroughs was a good enough writer to handle the tougher questions.

—the end—

From Our ERB Online Bibliography
A Collector's Hypertexted and Annotated Storehouse of Encyclopedic Resources
The Beasts of Tarzan
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar 
Tarzan the Untamed
The Return of Tarzan
Tarzan and “The Foreign Legion”
Tarzan and the Golden Lion
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle
Tarzan and the Lion Man
Tarzan the Magnificent
Tarzan of the Apes

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