Postcolonialism and Literature – Reading the others. Slavery and scars.

Yesterday we looked at the definition of the colonised people by the colonisers thanks to the work of professor Edward Said. Today, I would like to explore another important issue related to the identity issue. First of all, be beware: there is not a real and ultimately valid truth in what we are discussing. Literature, like any other kind of art, cannot be as clearly defined as maths so, if you don’t agree, please take some time to share your views with us!

Slavery. The unspeakable, peculiar institution.

Take for example the Caribbean colonies: when Christopher Columbus arrived, native people were exterminated and when labourers (or, to put it plainly, slaves) were needed, they decided to kidnap African people. This is the beginning of the slave trade known as Atlantic Slave Trade or The Middle Passage, a sad landmark in European, African and American history. It must be highlighted that this kind of slavery differs a lot from the classical practices: this is an economic-motivated slavery where slaves are objectified and a whole discourse on their inferiority tries to justify the situation. As a consequence, slavery is a scar in these societies. Could you forget your great grandparents were slaves because the colour of their skin?

Should the colonisation affect the colonised people’s identity, even in 2011?

For this question, there two opposite answers: either they accept the colonisation as part of their identity or they do not. On the one hand, many experts propose to forget about the colonisation and go back to a previous stage but, the problem is that too many times, that previous stage is idealised. Also, in many cases, it is almost impossible to go back to that stage: how can people from the Caribbean, descendant of removed African peoples go back to their African roots? I’ve chosen this particular case because I have already mentioned Mutabaruka, a rastafarian poet from Jamaica who has changed the Caribbean artistic production. His poems are very rythmical thanks to repetitions (see Prison) and, although simple, they denounce a situation he has never lived: slavery. He still takes it into account and he is still hurt.

Another artists who is still trying to heal her scars is Jamaica Kincaid. I loved her novel Annie John and, it is part of today’s literary recommendations. But, in A Small Place, he criticizes tourists in her homeland, Antigua and how they are perceived by American tourists, or worse, European ones. She tries, angrily, to fight against the stereotype of the charming, destroyed, uncivilized but always sunny and always cheerful place many people consider the Caribbean to be. Please, take some time to see this Malibu add:

Amazingly, this is the image too many educated Western people have from the Caribbean. Do you think it is true? Do you think that their always sunny place is Heaven for them? Have you ever considered if they would like to escape that island and be tourists themselves in exotic places?

This is a quotation from A Small Place that I would like you to read, because it will make you think:

[A]nd so you needn’t let that slightly funny feeling you have from time to time about exploitation, oppression, domination develop into full-fledged unease, discomfort; you could ruin your holiday.

So, after all these examples, I think I’ve made myself clear. Personally, I don’t think those people should forget about their past when defining themselves in the present. Also, because it is impossible and not practical at all, trying to go back in time to an era that is no longer possible in modern times. As a consequence, literature emerges as a new source of healing (remember slaves were not educated) that allows them to fill a historical gap but also, to express themselves.

Do you think slavery should be taken into account in the present identities of slave-descendants?

Suggested readings:

  1. Mutabaruka Life and Debt (Sang poem)
  2. Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John (Book Depository, 7$) – A short novel that explores the life of young Annie John, living in Antigua, as she grows up into a young woman. She has to face some difficulties like any other woman in the world, but they are all tinted by the Caribbean culture. Please, pay special attention to the treatment of a depression she suffers and how it is perceived by her family as a normal stage. No drugs, no nothing. Time heals everything.

I would like to take some time to thanks to the 72 visitors who came yesterday and to those who took time to post a comment.