Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Post-Colonial Homeland: A Creation of the Mind

Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it.

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (134)

The Postcolonial Homeland: A Creation of the Mind

The purpose of postcolonial literature is for a colonized society to try to regain a lost culture that has been inevitably changed permanently from the colonization. The only culture to be regained is what is remembered, and what is remembered is personal experience. Oftentimes, prior to colonization, a “national culture” shared by the colonized does not exist. It is not until a culture is denied by the colonizer that the colonized claim a common “national culture.” Frantz Fanon expands these ideas in The Wretched of the Earth. He explains: “The native intellectual who decides to give battle to colonial lies fights on the field of the whole continent. The past is given back its value. Culture, extracted from the past to be displayed in all its splendor, is not necessarily that of his own country” (134). Instead, the culture that grows out of colonialism is a broader culture that all of the colonized (the entire continent) identify with.

The common culture remembered by the colonized society is often referred to as a figurative “homeland.” The “homeland” is a creation of the postcolonial mind that is a result of the colonizer trying to replace the native culture, or repressing the history of the colonized. The colonized, then, create a common “homeland” or culture from the memories they have of tradition and lifestyles that are no longer in practice. However, there are also those who were colonized and choose to adopt Western perspectives of their culture and “homeland.” These

Beaver 2

characters are exemplified with Ariel in A Tempest, by Aimé Césaire, and the “husband” in Song of Lawino, by Okot p’Bitek.

The mind of the colonized does one of two things: it can either rebel against the ideals being enforced by the colonizer, or it can embrace them. In A Tempest, Césaire illustrates these differences with the characters of Caliban and Ariel. While Caliban recognizes that his captor, Prospero, is wrong to insult and repress the cultures of Caliban and Ariel, Ariel agrees with the Western ideas that Prospero instills. Because of this, Prospero favors Ariel. He refers to him as “my loyal servant” and says, “Go, my sweet. I hope you will not be bored,” (138). Because Ariel has been loyal to Prospero and has faithfully followed him and inherited his beliefs, Prospero is kind to him. He plans to free his slaves, and even uses terms of endearment with Ariel, until he speaks to Caliban, who makes it obvious his hatred of Prospero. Caliban angrily recounts to Prospero the abuses he and Ariel have endured at his hands (Ariel, of course, does not feel the same way Caliban does). He says, “Prospero, you’re a great magician: / you’re an old hand at deception. / And you lied to me so much, / about the world, about myself, / that you ended up by imposing on me / an image of myself: / underdeveloped, in your words, undercompetent / that’s how you made me see myself! / And I hate that image…and it’s false!” (139). Caliban explains precisely how colonizers destroy the culture, history, and “homeland” of those they colonize; this is what sparks the advent of a “national culture.” Without the repression and distortion of the colonized history, a new culture and remembered history would not be necessary.

Many of these same elements are present in Song of Lawino. The poem is from the point of view of a colonized African wife, who fondly remembers the “homeland;” however, her husband

Beaver 3

has adopted the Western views of Africa and is university educated. Because of his Westernized outlook, he resents his wife, as she seems to represent Africa. Thus, he imposes his new Western views on her and insults her because the colonized mind makes him do so. The poem says, “With the rubbish in the rubbish pit, / You say you no longer want me / Because I am like the things left behind / In the deserted homestead,” (894). Because he has adopted the Western ideals, the husband no longer finds any worth in his wife, or in his own history and culture. “The deserted homestead” implies that many Africans, like the husband, have forsaken their pasts and thrown away their cultures and traditions.

This is much like Césaire’s situation with Ariel and Caliban. While the husband is like Ariel and is willing to abandon his culture in favor of oppressive Western ideals, the wife is like Caliban who still values the history and tradition from which she came. The poem says, “My husband pours scorn / On Black People, / He behaves like a hen / That eats its own eggs / A hen that should be imprisoned under a basket,” (896). In a way, the husband is behaving cannibalistically, as the wife views it, because he traitorously denies his own people and his own culture. She feels that he should be prohibited from thinking such thoughts against her and their heritage and culture. She laments, “He says I am blocking his progress, / […] / He says I am only wasting his time,” (897). Not only are his remarks indicative of his disdain for his wife, but also of his contempt for his own heritage and traditions. He feels that, if he were not Westernized and formally educated, he could not have made any progress. This progress, of course, is measured by the Western definition of progress; progress, however, is a relative term.

The husband feels that the old traditions and customs his wife still cherishes are foolish and are not productive ways of spending time, completely disregarding the sentimental value of

Beaver 4

upholding long-standing cultural traditions. He expresses this when he says, “Black people are primitive / And their ways are utterly harmful, / Their dances are mortal sins / They are ignorant, poor, and diseased!” (896). Not only does he express Western views, but also Christianized views, by referring to the dances as “mortal sins.” Most likely, his Western experience instilled Christian beliefs, so he now views traditional religious and celebratory dances as sinful. These Western views are the result of colonialism, as are the abuses the wife must endure, not only from the colonizer, but also from her own husband. This is typical of colonialism, according to Fanon. He says:

The settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil. Native society is not simply described as a society lacking in values. It is not enough for the colonist to affirm that those values have disappeared from, or still better never existed in, the colonial world. The native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values. He is, let us dare to admit, the enemy of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil. (132)

This is the belief that caused the husband to identify his cultural traditions as mortally sinful. Because of the views imposed upon him that he adopted as his own, the husband ingrained the notion that his wife and their past shared beliefs were evil.

Fanon describes this character that becomes Ariel and the husband in the poem as an “intermediary.” He says, “The intermediary does not lighten the oppression, nor seek to hide the domination; he shows them up and puts them into practice with the clear conscience of an upholder of the peace; yet he is the bringer of violence into home and into the mind of the native,” (131). This intermediary feels that the best way to keep peace between the colonizer and

Beaver 5

the natives is to conform to the Western lifestyles and beliefs forced upon them. However, this not only fails to keep the peace between the natives and the colonizer, but it goes as far as to insight more tension, between both the natives and the colonizer and the natives and the intermediaries. Just as the intermediaries come to resent the natives because of the colonizers, the natives feel just as much, if not more, resentment towards the intermediaries as they do towards the colonizer.

This resentment fuels an even stronger resistance that leads to the development of the “national culture.” Fanon explains:

The native intellectual who has gone far beyond the domains of Western culture and who has got it into his head to proclaim the existence of another culture never does so in the name of Angola or of Dahomey. The culture which is affirmed is African culture. The Negro, never so much a Negro as since he has been dominated by the whites, when he decides to prove that he has a culture and to behave like a cultured person, comes to realize that history points out a well-defined path to him: He must demonstrate that a Negro culture exists. (134)

Because it is not just the native’s home city that has been colonized, a culture arises out of the commonalities of the colonized people; in this case the commonality is that they are African. Thus, an African culture must be created and defined as such. According to Fanon, “This rush of negritude against the white man’s contempt showed itself in certain spheres to be the one idea capable of lifting interdictions and anathemas. […] The unconditional affirmation of African culture has succeeded the unconditional affirmation of European culture,” (135). He describes New Guinean and Kenyan intellectuals praising and admiring each other in order to combat the

Beaver 6

ostracism they faced as a result of colonialism. This is how a national culture, a remembered homeland, comes to be.

The advent of a shared national culture is how the natives are able to decolonize themselves and it is the purpose of postcolonialism. In order to resist Westernization, the colonized must adopt and implement a counter-culture comprised of a common remembered, pre-colonial past. They must reinvent their homeland.