The Broken Ear starts off with an unidentified man walking into the Museum of Ethnology. The museum’s name is odd and gives some clues as to where the book is set, or at least on what city Herge based his setting.
The world’s very first Museum of Ethnology was in the Dutch city of Leiden. For the first time, a museum set out to explore the culture of other ethnic groups rather than displaying artifacts as mere curiosities or stolen treasures. The museum started out as a museum of Japan but soon developed a broader base. The museum was only 50 miles from Herge’s Brussels home so it was very likely he knew about and visited it at some point.
However a far more likely candidate is the Africa Museum in Brussels itself. As the name suggests, it is focused on African cultures and does not include South American artifacts but it might not be a coincidence that the first two exhibits portrayed in The Broken Ear are both African.
Another clue may be the very idea of Fetish. They are man made objects that are worshiped or treated with great respect because they are believed to have power. Though all cultures have fetishes, the term can be applied to any religious object, African and North American indians are those most associated with the term fetish. This may be another clue that The Broken Ear was inspired by the Africa Museum in Brussels, especially as the North American fetishes were almost always animals rather than humans.
Tintin By Air and Sea
EDIT: See Carsten’s comments below. He has found some great info / corrections on the planes and ships in The Broken Ear
On page 12 of The Broken Ear, Ramon and Perez plot their route to San Theodoros via Le Havre, a port in the North West of France. The port was home to S/S Normandie, the greatest of all French passenger liners. On her maiden voyage in 1935, the year The Broken Ear was written, the Normandie set a record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic. As a starting point for a trip to the Americas, Le Havre is an obvious choice for anyone in north eastern France or in the low countries.
The plane the villians are seen boarding in frame 14 is very similar to a Junkers JU 52. Most famous for its role as a troop and cargo transported for Germany’s Luftwaffe during WWII, it was also used by civilian lines including the Belgium national airline Sabena. The first JU 52 to be seen in Belgium was one used by Lufthansa in 1932, but in 1936 the first of Sabena’s aircraft was delivered. No doubt, the arrival of these striking airplanes would of been reported in the papers, giving Herge plenty of source material just as he was writing The Broken Ear.
As can been seen below, Herge was pretty accurate with his drawings. The image from The Broken Ear has similar markings to the two photos of the actual Sabena JU 52s.
The liner that Tintin travels on to San Theodoros, the Ville de Lyon, does not seem to be modeled on any particular liner of the day. Though the of the SS Normandie must of been in the back of Herge’s mind.
Los Dopicos, San Theodoros
As Tintin’s adventures continue in Los Dopicos, one of the running jokes about San Theodoros becomes apparent. Anyone in the army or Government is a Colonel. By page 31 of The Broken Ear, Tintin is a close confident of the General and takes a meeting with R. W. Trickler of General American Oil who tries to bribe him to start a war. This is event is based on fact. In 1932 Bolivia and Paraguay fought a war over the Gran Chaco region in an attempt to seize land thought to be rich in oil. The Standard Oil company backed Bolivia whilst the Shell Oil company backed Paraguay.
The role of arms dealers in the real war is mimiced by Herge in The Broken Ear. Both sides tried to buy modern military equipment despite trade-bands ordered by the League of Nations. The arms dealer Basil Bazarov, who sells weapons to both sides, is based on the real life Basil Zaharoff. This renown arms dealer’s death in 1936 would of been widely reported, just in time for Herge to place him into the story. Though he was not involved in South American politics, he bribery and influence led to several wars and prior to the first world war, he was selling arms to both sides.
Home to Brussels, or is it Le Havre
After his adventures in San Theodoros and his visit to the Arumbayas, Tintin returns home but by home we must assume he means Europe in general rather than Brussels. Almost immediately after getting of the boat, Tintin finds that the real fetish is on its way to America on the SS Washington. However Tintin is not to be out-foxed and catches up with the liner via a seaplane before disposing of the two villains. With everything wrapped up, The Broken Ear ends with the severely damaged fetish back in the Museum of Ethnology.