Post-Colonialism-Trying to Regain Individuality

to Regain Individuality
Indeed, the stranger has unusual customs.

The white man held the paper like a sacred thing. His hands shook, and
we mistrusted him… For how many moons will the stranger be among us?
(Vera 43)
The stranger still lives among the people
of Zimbabwe, though the colonial political authority has left. Yet I wonder
if the town elder speaking in the above passage from Yvonne Vera’s Nehanda
would recognize current Zimbabwean authorities as strangers or countrymen.

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Could he relate to today’s government officials and understand the languages
which they speak? Would he feel at home in an African country with borders
defined by European imperial powers without regard to the various ethnic
nations involved? Post-colonial theory attempts to explain problems such
as these, yet it does so almost exclusively in the languages of the European
colonial powers. Europeans even created the word Africa. “To name the world
is to ‘understand’ it, to know it and to have control over it” (Ashcroft
283). Because knowledge is power, and words, whether written or spoken,
are the medium of exchange, using words incurs responsibility.

One must use special care with broadly
defined words and terms, such as post-colonial. Post-colonial literature
describes a wide array of experiences set in the contexts of heterogeneous
societies which themselves represent many different ethnic groups. Ashcroft,
Griffiths and Tiffin define post-colonial theory as discussion of “migration,
slavery, suppression, resistance, representation, difference, race, gender,
place, and responses to the influential master discourses of imperial Europe…

and the fundamental experiences of speaking and writing by which all these
come into being” (Ashcroft 2). The wide-ranging nature of the term post-colonial
threatens to weaken its usefulness by “diffusion… so extreme that it
is used to refer to not only vastly different but even opposed activities”
(Ashcroft 2). Post-colonialism encompasses many of the issues encountered
in the work we have discussed thus far in the semester. Yet because vague
and generalized theories have limits and tend to oversimplify, clouding
over real problems, one must handle the term with care.

Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin suggest
that we should restrict the term post-colonial to signify after colonialism.

“All post-colonial societies are still subject in one way or another to
overt or subtle forms of neo-colonial domination, and independence has
not solved the problem” (Ashcroft 2). After colonialism, new elites, often
in the form of dictators, frequently rose and still rise to power in post-colonial
countries. In Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, Ikem complains
about countrymen worse than thieves, “leaders who openly looted our treasury,
whose effrontery soiled our national soul” (Achebe 39). Ikem refers not
to the white strangers but rather to Africans who have ruled with policies
similar to those of colonial oppression. With the British empire gone,
African societies must look inward to find remnants of colonialism which
continue to harm their nations, and perhaps, find those which are advantageous
in the new world they have been thrust into. Ikem’s speech directed to
all Nigerians rather than to any particular class pleads, “you must develop
the habit of skepticism, not swallow every piece of superstition you are
told by witch doctors and professors… When you rid yourself of these
things your potentiality for assisting and directing this nation will be
quadrupled” (Achebe 148). Part of the danger of the term post-colonial
stems from people’s disregard of their responsibility for their situation.

As Ikem notes in his speech, people prefer to blame other groups, perhaps
even post-colonialism, for their problems and rarely comprehend that only
they can help themselves.

Yet for people to act responsibly, they
must first have a certain level of understanding of the situation which
faces them. However, because colonialism and exposure to Western culture
caused so many changes in African societies, people were thrust into new
experiences which they could not comprehend with the guidance of the old
traditions. In Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Forest of Flowers, when a young man becomes
dumbfounded after bringing home a man who he thought was a woman, people
explain transvestites in the following manner. “One man said it was spirit,
another said fairy and another ghost” (Saro-Wiwa 73). Resorting to old
superstitious explanations of events makes it very difficult to understand
real life situations and from thence, act responsibly in them.

Too much has changed to simply revert to
the old ways of life. New problems exist and will continue to do so unless
one can learn to deal them in the modern context. Blaming post-colonial
syndrome for the ills of developing countries sentences those countries
to continue in their state of hardship. Rewinding the clock to prevent
colonialism from occurring is impossible, so we must look at each issue
now, in the modern context, as a separate problem which we must attack.

These problems affect not only African
countries after colonialism, but also strike deep into the identity of
the modern Mexican. The question of identity exemplifies one so personal
and varied between individuals, that we must be careful not to simply write
off these issues as common effects of post-colonialism.

The modern Mexican wishes neither to be
Indian nor Spaniard and renounces his descent from both of them. He thinks
of himself not as a mixture but as an abstraction. “He becomes the son
of nothingness. His beginnings are in his own self.” Mexican society is
racked by a deep cleavage between the privileged and members of the working
class who are part of a “culture of poverty” disposing them to violence,
authoritarianism, fatalism, and machismo. In this crucible of countervailing
messages education is called upon to achieve unity and a coherent sense
of nationality (Epstein 72).

Yet even today, in many African nations,
schools teach in English in all classes beyond the primary levels. This
is not desirable, but, perhaps English, too, could serve as a tool for
national unity in Africa. Which one of over one hundred indigenous languages
spoken in certain countries could replace English in education? A few African
languages could rival the widespread use of English in Africa but only
in certain regions. However, these languages, notably Swahili and Arabic,
neither provide the same economic benefits as English to their speakers
nor are they themselves indigenous. Furthermore, the availability of classroom
textbooks and educational resources written in English far surpasses that
of similar books written in indigenous languages. The governments of most
African countries simply lack the funding for education to make learning
in native tongues possible.

Perhaps a mixture of both English and indigenous
languages could be used in the future. After all, “Progres,” the pride
of Dukana, is the name of the bus travelling to Dukana and its local school
in Saro-Wiwa’s A Forest of Flowers (Saro-Wiwa 1). “Progres” symbolizes
the link between the modern and the traditional using a word adapted from
English to fit in the setting of a more traditional African town. Clearly,
colonialism caused changes, but upon the end of the empire, Africans should
change previously imposed norms and vocabulary like “progress” to fit the
needs of their own geography and heritage. English can also change to include
new words, like ‘tomahawk’ and literary styles can evolve in attempts to
recreate oral tradition (New 303-4). The narrative style in Nehanda does
this effectively. The language used is an adapted form English which effectively
relays the old storytelling tradition by means of a new international medium.

Wole Soyinka, on the other hand, prefers to first write prose in a traditional
manner and then translate it into English.

Ile o,
ile o
Ile o,
ile o
Baba (Iya)
re’le re
Ile lo
lo tarara
Baba re’le
Ile lo
lo, ko s’ine
Home, Home
The elder
has gone home
The elder
has gone home
he is
Home bound,
he will not miss his way. (Soyinka 87)
George Lamming comments that the native
writer, “hungers for nourishment from a soil which he (as an ordinary citizen)
could not at present endure” (Lamming 17). Many authors of post-colonial
literature, however, may not be able to, like Soyinka, write in languages
other than English. Most post-colonial discourse is written in English
and by the “been-to” writers educated in the Western tradition. Tom Crick,
Graham Swift’s history teacher in Waterland relays the importance of telling
any history so that it relates to the social setting as it existed.

How, then, can authors torn between European and indigenous societies effectively
relay in English an old tradition in which they did not grow up? They should
not have to. For better or for worse, indigenous and Western societies
have been permanently changed by colonialism and interaction with other
cultural ideals.

Decolonization is a process, not arrival…

it has been the project of post-colonial writing to interrogate European
discourses and discursive strategies from a privileged position within
(and between) two worlds (Tiffin 95).

New doors have been opened with post-colonial
literature, exposing a world previously ignorant of African traditions
including storytelling. Post-colonial theory, like a theater, is useful
as a stage for previously unhired actors to present their varied roles.

Yet the roles are certainly wide-ranging whether the actors be from different
ethnicities or simply of the opposite gender. Categorizing a wide range
of literature as simply ‘post-colonial’ is as dangerous as complete assimilation
into the Western world. If each actor on this stage were seen as having
the same part, how insightful would the production be? Post-colonialism
is only the theater, it itself cannot define the cause and effects of every
act on stage.

Achebe, Chinua. (1987) Anthills
of the Savannah, New York: Doubleday.

Ashcroft, Bill; Griffiths, Gareth
and Tiffin, Helen (eds.). (1995) The Post Colonial Studies Reader, London:

Epstein, Erwin. (1985) “National
Consciousness and Education in Mexico” in Brock et al. (eds.) Education
in Latin America, London: Croom Helm.

Lamming, George. (1960) “The Occasion
for Speaking”, in Ashcroft.

New, W. H. (1978) “New Language,
New World”, in Ashcroft.

Saro-Wiwa, Ken. (1995) A Forest
of Flowers: Short Stories, Essex, England: Longman.

Soyinka, wole. (1989) Ake: The Years
of Childhood, New York: Vintage Books.

Swift, Graham. (1992) Waterland,
New York: Vintage Books.

Tiffin, Helen. (1987) “Post-colonial
Literatures and Counter-discourse”, in Ashcroft.

Vera, Yvonne. (1994) Nehanda, Toronto:
TSAR Publications.