Thursday, February 25, 2016

The possessors and the dispossessed: Championing Learned Habbits or Forging a New Identity

A young African post colonial academic and writer named Jomo Kenyatta once told a story in his first major publication named Facing Mount Kenya.  This story tells about a man who builds a hut and, during a rain storm, an elephant neighbor comes by.  The elephant asks to place his trunk in the hut to keep it out of the rain, which the man allows, unfortunately it does not simply end there.  The elephant slowly but surely pushes his trunk into the hut and forces man out of his hut.  The man calls the king lion to come and handle the situation, to which the lion launches a commission run by friends and peers of the elephant.  As you can imagine, the commission found in favor of the elephant, so the man builds another house.  Another animal takes over this house and this whole process recurs many times over.  Eventually an angry man built the biggest and best house of them all and all of the animals left his former houses and fought over this grandiose new house.  The man set the entire house on fire and lived happily ever after in his original house.  This is obviously in regards to imperialism and colonialism, but what is more surprising is the ending of the man happily living after burning the grandiose symbol of wealth to the ground with the “animal” in it.  Funnily enough, Jomo would go on to be Prime Minister of an independent Kenya a few years later after a bloody rebellion, so it would seem that his story was more of a vision of the future, though Kenya may not be as perfectly happy as the man in the story and the cost of independence was more than a house.
This story, and the historical event following it, shows the interesting mirrored relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, the possessor and the dispossessed.  To look into this relationship, first, let us look into the psychology and techniques of the possessors.  It starts at the point of contact, in the case of West Africa, the 16th century.  At this moment the possessors, or more accurately those who would blaze the trails for the true possessors, in shock of the unknown try to apply what they do know, their existence and cultural dimensions, to this new people.  This issue is two fold: first, that you do not understand enough about these people to make any comments about their culture and, second, one people’s cultural dimensions cannot be applied to another’s in a value based manner.  Because of their ignorance, these trailblazers then relate their experiences in the only way they can, in ignorance.  Even in ignorance, these men, and those that follow, become the experts on these foreigners, thus how they represent them becomes the standard.
  The next step involves opportunity and this is where a branching path occurs, either there is a spirit of mutual respect and the cultures learn and benefit from each other, the less likely path though it may be, or the trailblazers lead to possessors, the route I will focus on since it is the route of that was taken in Africa.  In this route, the possessors use a combination of seemingly harmless trading, missionary work, and force in many instances.  The missionary work was particularly effective in the case of West Africa, as the people of this area, especially the Igbo, but they are not apt to be forcefully talk about their religion with those outside their individual villages, so they were shocked by the audacity of these mysterious people both talking about their beliefs and attempting to share their God with them.  There is a story amongst the Igbo about a group who immigrated to a Igbo village and asked to share the villages gods with them and instead of asking why they simply shared the children of their gods with them, as not to confuse or impose their religious beliefs, and they would not ask where their gods went since it would be rude to ask about their religion.  This highlights why it seemed so audacious for the missionaries to do as they did, thus why the West African people uncomfortably accepted them.  Once the possessors are able to drive their claws into the culture, they draw in the outcasts of the society and then become permanent installations.  It is during this phase that the possessors, in order to justify their atrocious conduct, transform the people of this new land into, at best, lesser humans and, more often and at worst, the negation of humanity, savages.  This transformation from ignorance to negation is well seen in comparing Captain John Lok’s description of Africans as “a people of beastly living, without God, laws, religion” to the inhuman description of African dancers in Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson.  Another interesting description comes from Conrad in Heart of Darkness when the narrator says, “Well, you know, that was the worst of it—this suspicion of their not being inhuman”, which is of particular interest because it not only uses the narrator as a foci to channel the gaze of the western reader and scare them with the possibility of this savagery being human and, by extension, savagery being apart of the reader.  Not only is this highly narcissistic and reek of fear, both concepts that will be discussed later, but it is dehumanizing in its use of the gaze.  All of these examples show how the narrative becomes more eloquent and effective, but the core  message is quite the same.  With national power through the influence of colonialist rhetoric and international power through trade, missionary, and military force; the possessors are able and willing to enact full domination over the “savages”.
Now is when the foreign land becomes a colony to the empire and the parasitical relationship of motherland to colony begins.  In this stage the archetypal characters created by colonial rhetoric are forced as fact upon the populace and their identity appropriated and wiped out almost entirely.  It is in this stage that possible resistances of the previous stage become less persistent and vocal, thus the act of domination is completed.  Also in this stage, the colonists not only leech away natural and human resources, but also creative resources through colonist writing becoming accepted as the dispossessed’s writing by matter of fact not only on a national or multinational scale, but on a global scale.  This is the era where Joyce Cary became the first major Nigerian author, as an Anglo-Irish former soldier who was stationed reluctantly in Nigeria, through the disastrous, yet critically acclaimed, Mister Johnson.  Facts like this and Anglo/Western supremacy over creativity were further drilled into the youth’s brains through the schooling system.  By using education, these bright young Africans were brainwashed into believing in Western supremacy and the need for Westerners to provide for the Africans, not just on a creative or institutional level, but even attempting to convince them that they waste the land they were given.  Ms. Huxley, who was an advocate for white Africans and live in Africa for quite some time, wrote that this land is owned by the animal, not the blacks or white, and if the whites were forced out of Africa, then the land would be wasted on the beasts.  This is to completely rewrite the history of Africa as if the Africans cowardly hid in holes all day and foraged when possible, when they, in actuality, worked the land quite well and developed well established economies between villages.  This is not a surprising fact when you take into regard that the westerners already rewrote identity of an entire continent of people over the course of 400 years or so, according to Hammond and Jablow in The Africa that Never Was, but it is an atrocious and surprising fact none the less.  This, and other arguments regarding the subpar brains of the Africans primarily, made up the second line of defense and legitimization of colonization, that westerners are not only beneficial, but required if the African people are to be sustained.  In this way the narcissistic tendencies of colonialism are further substantiated, as the westerners have now set themselves up as God figures in the eyes of the Africans and, many times, even in their own eyes.
Now is the winter of the Africans discontent, as the continuos abuses of power lead to the eventual uprising of the African people.  It is at this time that force becomes a weak last resort and brainwashing ceases to work, slowly the prey has learned from the predator and seeks to reap the benefits of these harsh lessons.  Now on the defense is where fear and narcissism play their key parts, as the westerners attempt to calm growing discontent with feigned, yet believed, innocence.  People like Huxley would argue that though parts of the system failed the people, the institutions led by westerners are still needed and that the “white men” are not to blame for the atrocities.  This idea that by attacking the institutions of enslavement are to attack individual white men and women personally is the greatest form of narcissism, as if one man or women means anything when compared to hundreds of years of debasement.  But this was their tactic, attempt to put an innocent mask of individuality on the face of evil to abate anger, but this only worked for a time.  It is at this point that, through blood or otherwise, rebellion is started and the abusers are driven out, but the fact remains that this leaves an unfathomable power vacuum wide open throughout Africa.  It is at this point that the people take the dangerous route of replication of learned tendencies, or the unknown path of forging a new identity.

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