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Post-Colonialism-Trying To Regain Individuality Essay, Research Paper

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.

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.

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