The long history of resistance to colonialism is well known and documented in Postcolonial studies. The extensive and often violent process of colonization never effectively pacified colonized bodies. However, theorizing this kind of resistance sparked vigorous discussions amongst those wishing to address it within the confines of postcolonial theory. Questions pertaining to subjectivity, identity, and agency created unavoidable fault-lines within the conversation concerning “the appropriate models for contemporary counter-hegemonic work” (Parry, 1994:84). For some, relying on a simple inversion of terms outlined by colonial discourse—such as colonizer/colonized—hinders greatly any attempt made to reinstate the colonized as the primary subject of its own history. Retaining colonial assumptions based on “undifferentiated identity categories” prevents any real challenge susceptible of contesting “the conventions of that system of knowledge”, and in fact creates a whole new layer of complicity (Parry, 1994:84). The project of postcolonial critique should instead seek to deconstruct and displace the Eurocentric foundations of the “discursive apparatus, which constructed the Third World not only for the west but also for the cultures so represented” (Terdiman, 1985:36).
There is no lack of evidence when it comes to instances of native dissatisfaction and dissent under colonial rule. In fact, the various forms of institutional and ideological domination generated widespread contestation. Official colonial archives have recorded instances of insurgency and organized political contestations against colonial rule. “Traces of popular disobedience can also be recuperated from unwritten symbolic and symptomatic practices in which a rejection or violation of the subject positions assigned by colonialism is registered” (Parry, 1994:85). However, these often anarchic bouts of defiance, accompanied by a discourse of identity-assertion, “which were sometimes nurtured by dreams, omens and divination, and could take the form of theatre, violated notions of rational protest” were not always chronicled or highlighted in the anticolonial discourse (Harris, 1974:14). For the intellectual elite of the various nationalist and liberation movements these events were neither motivated by a specific political program with predetermined political outcomes, nor capable of advancing the struggle for nation-building.
“When we consider the narratives of decolonization, we encounter rhetorics in which ‘nativism’ in one form or another is evident” (Parry, 1994:88). For those theorizing anticolonial resistance, nativism can be misconstrued as nothing more than an essentializing discourse, or worse a type of ‘reverse racism’. According to Parry, reducing nativism to a mere castigating of inequalities grounded in a repetition of imperialism’s conceptual framework, overlooks its role in the development of a narrative of resistance. Nativism is imbued with a discourse predicated on overthrowing the hierarchy, the stance, and the concepts of the colonial narrative, and also rejecting the position of subjugation reserved to the colonized. “A recent discussion of nativism condenses many of the current censures of cultural nationalism for its complicity with the terms of colonialism’s discourse” (Parry, 1994:88). While it allows the decolonized to write about themselves as subjects of their own literature, nativism remains for Anthony Appiah beholden to monolithic conceptions of identity.
“Railing against the cultural hegemony of the West, the nativist are of its party without knowing it. Indeed the very argument, the rhetoric of defiance, that our nationalist muster are…canonical, time tested…In their ideological inscription, the cultural nationalists remain in apposition of conteridentification…which is to continue to participate in an institutional configuration—to be subjected to cultural identities they ostensibly decry…Time and time again, cultural nationalism has followed the route of alternate genealogizing. We end up always in the same; the achievement is to have invented a different pas for it” (Appiah, 1988:164).
For those sharing Appiah’s trepidations, nativist topology based on dichotomies such as periphery/center, native/foreigner, Western/tradition, reiterates the idea of the colonizer as a dynamic agent of change, and the colonized as a passive observer. “Thus while the reciprocity of the relationship is stressed, all power remains with western discourse” (Parry, 1994:88). However, Parry argues that nativism possesses the ability to generate an empowering project based on the creation of a coherent identity transcending the need to simply “locate and revive pristine pre-colonial cultures”(Irele, 1970:170). Fanon and Cabral, as authors of liberation theories—“which could today be accused of an essentialist politics”—recognized the inherent potential possessed by the creation of an insurgent, unified self, in furthering the revolutionary cause (Parry, 1994:91).
“For as I read them, both affirmed the invention of an insurgent, unified black self, acknowledged the revolutionary energies released by valorizing the cultures denigrated by colonialism and, rather than construing the colonialist relationship in terms of negotiations with the structures of imperialism, privileged coercion over hegemony to project it as a struggle between implacably opposed forces (…)” (Parry, 1994:91).
According to Stuart Hall, there are two ways of conceptualizing cultural identity. The first one defines it in terms of a unique common culture, creating a collective “one true self”, which people with a shared common history and ancestry identify with (Hall, 1990: 110). Within the confines of this definition, our cultural identities demonstrate the collective historical experiences and cultural codes that provide us the basis on which we build the frames of reference that identify us as “one people” (Hall, 1990:111). It reiterates the “stable, unchangeable and continuous frames of reference and meaning, beneath the shifting divisions and vicissitudes of our actual history” (Hall, 1990:111). This perception of cultural identity played an important role in the postcolonial struggles that have transformed our world. “It lay at the centre of the vision of the poets of ‘Negritude, like Aimé Césaire and Leopold Senghor, and of the Pan-African political project, earlier in the century” (Hall, 1990:111). It also remains an important element in nascent forms of representation amid previously marginalized peoples. Amongst postcolonial societies, the reclaiming of this cultural identity is what Fanon refers to as:
“a passionate research (…) directed by the secret hope of discovering beyond the misery of today, beyond self-contempt, resignation and abjuration, some very beautiful and splendid era whose existence rehabilitates us both in regard to ourselves and in regard to others” (Fanon, 1963:170).
I) The colonizer/colonized paradigm
According to Frantz Fanon, what characterizes the Western colonization of the Global South is the intense and continuous racialization of non-whites. The colonizers’ existence and identity rests primarily on their ability to maintain a highly racialized colonial system that grants them all the profits, while stripping the non-whites of their rights and basic humanity (Rabaka, 2010:113). Albert Memmi points out that the “economic motives of colonial undertakings” explain why so many Europeans choose to relocate to the colonies (Memmi, 1967:3). The change involved in moving to a colony ensured that these settlers could make a substantial profit. In a racialized hierarchy where being white guaranteed all possible privileges, moving to a colony entailed: better jobs, higher wages, rapid social mobility, and profitable businesses. In short, the colonizer becomes aware of his status of white settler as he arrives in the colony and “discovers his own privilege” (Memmi, 1967:7). He becomes keenly aware that this lucrative and privileged position he occupies is in direct relation to the colonized. If his living standards are so high, it is precisely because those of the colonized are so low (Memmi, 1967:8).
“He knows also that the most favoured colonized will never be anything but colonized people, in other words, that certain rights will forever be refused them, and that certain advantages are reserved strictly for him. In short, he knows, in his own eyes as well as those of his victim, that he is a usurper. He must adjust to both being regarded as such, and to this situation” (Memmi, 1967:9)
In order to fortify this racial hierarchy and justify the existence of the colonizer, the system must propose a certain image or status the colonized must abide by. “These images become excuses without which the presence and conduct of a colonizer (…) would seem shocking” (Memmi, 1967:79). The colonized is depicted as a being devoid of any tangible qualities that requires not only guidance, but also protection from himself. “In order for the colonizer to be the complete master, it is not enough for him to be so in actual fact, but he must also believe in its legitimacy” (Memmi, 1967:89). This process requires the dissemination of a fictitious and degrading portrait of the colonized, until he/she ends up not only accepting it, but also living it to a certain extent. The racialization of the non-whites mentioned by Fanon is the effort made to dehumanize the colonized. Since the colonial project intertwines and intersects with racism, the narrative of white supremacy becomes the main ideological vehicle through which the mistreatment of racialized bodies is legitimized (Rabaka, 2010:113).
The colonial realm is a compartmentalized and Manichean world, where the “colonial subject is a man penned in: apartheid is but one method of compartmentalizing the colonial world” (Fanon, 1963:15). Through its policies and academics, the colonizer implants in the mind of the colonized that all essential values are Western values, and “remain eternal despite all errors attributable to man” (Fanon, 1963:15). The colonized becomes convinced of the pertinence and accuracy of these ideas; his very thought process has now fallen pray to the same colonial incursion ravaging his land. “The white colonists attack the traditions and myths—above all, their myths—of the racially colonized while clandestinely creating and perpetuating myths of their own concerning the racially colonized” (Rabaka, 2010:121). These concocted myths and stereotypes not only become part and parcel of the colonial narrative, but they are also eventually internalized by the colonized. This leads to the emergence of many of the problems Fanon addresses throughout his corpus. Disrupting and shattering indigenous cultures triggers amongst all colonized peoples an inferiority complex. They position themselves in relation to the culture and the language of their colonizers. “The more the colonized has assimilated the cultural values of the metropolis, the more he will have escaped the bush” (Fanon, 1952:2). The psychological, social, emotional, economic, and political impact of this mythical portrait of the racialized subject entrenches even further the dichotomy between the colonizer and the colonized. Constantly attacking, challenging, and weakening severely any lingering inkling of autonomy or sovereignty from the pre-colonial era reiterates this binary power-dynamic between the colonialists and the colonial subjects.
“Colonization 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 oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it” (Fanon, 1963:170).
In order for the colonial project to reach its desired supremacy, the indigenous population must be convinced of the benefits of colonization. This can only happen once they are completely alienated from their own indigenous culture. “The result was to hammer into the head of the indigenous population that if the colonists were to leave they would regress into barbarism, degradation, and bestiality” (Fanon, 1963:149). The peoples of the colonies were reduced to entities with no history of their own, no art, no past, and certainly no future (Said, 1993:193). Without the presence of their colonizers, they will surely once again fall prey to their ego, their biology, and their intellectual inadequacy. The inherently destructive nature of colonial domination was quick to disrupt in remarkable ways the cultural life of the conquered. The denial of all pretentions of nationhood, the new legal, political, and social system imposed by the occupying powers, the marginalization of the indigenous population, the forced expropriations, the ban of their most sacred customs, and “the systematic enslavement of men and women, all contributed to this cultural obliteration” (Fanon, 1963:170).
II) National culture and liberation struggles
Albert Memmi has argued that despite the end of colonialism, the perverse longevity of its imprint will continue to persist. The idea that the colonial aftermath will lead to the emergence of a new society rising from the ashes of what was previously a colony, remains for Memmi nothing short of a delusion. He maintains that too often one underestimates “the psychologically tenacious hold of the colonial past on the postcolonial present” (Memmi, 1968:88). The economic, cultural, and political damage caused by colonial occupation does not simply disappear with the first signs of national independence. Colonisation as Said argues, is a “fate with lasting, indeed grotesquely unfair results” (Said, 1989:207). The status of the colonized remains affixed into a zone of dependency and periphery. They continue to be stigmatized and described as the underdeveloped, the less-developed, forever posited as the complete opposite of their superior Western overlords who remain in every possible way antithetical to them (Said, 1989:207).
The relationship between culture and imperialism is an integral part of the discussion pertaining to decolonization. The advent of close to a hundred new decolonized post-colonial states after 1945 is a fact those scholars, historians, activists working on the topic of postcolonialism should take into account. Colonial uprisings such as the San Domingo revolution, the Abdul Kader insurrection, the Orabi Revolt, and the Boxer Rebellion are all examples of earlier uprisings against colonial rule right across the non-European world. “There had been reprisals, changes of regimes, causes célèbres, debates, reforms, and reappraisals. All along the empires increased in size and profit” (Said, 1993:196). However, the post war era saw the emergence of a sustained and systematic resistance to the West as the embodiment of the Empire to be defeated. “Long simmering resentment against the white man from the Pacific to the Atlantic sprang into fully fledge independence movements” (Said, 1993:196).
The anti-colonial militancy active between the two world wars was not completely anti-West. While some believed that working with Christianity could provide a reprieve from the colonial onslaught, others saw in the process of Westernization a possible solution to colonialism. They believed that certain aspects of Western culture could provide them with the necessary ammunition to question, challenge, and eventually extricate their nations from the colonial hold. Their endeavours and viewpoints however received very little acknowledgement in the metropole, and “in time their resistance was transformed” (Said, 1993:196). Since colonialism was a system, it became obvious that the resistance needed to be as systematic (Sartre, 1964). A wave of anti-colonial and anti-imperial activity and thought challenging not only colonialism, but also the very foundations of Western civilization, emerged as a result of this systematic approach to resistance.
“For the first time Westerners have been required to confront themselves not simply as the Raj but as representatives of a culture and even of races accused of crimes—crimes of violence, crimes of suppression, crimes of conscience” (Said, 1993:195).
According to Edward Said, culture can predispose a society to foreign domination, as much as it can prepare said society to abandon or amend the ideas leading to such a predisposition (Said, 1993:196). This change of mindset cannot occur however without a profound desire in the members of this society to resist the pressures of colonial rule. They must be willing “to take up arms, project ideas of liberation, and to imagine (…) a new national community, to take the final plunge” (Said, 1993:200). The political and economic cost of colonial occupation must be enough of a burden that the desire to overthrow this foreign domination becomes indispensable. The very idea of empire and the cost of colonial rule, as well as the justifications seeking to legitimize imperialism, must be openly challenged. Once the rebellious natives are willing to reiterate the independence and integrity of their own culture free from colonial intrusion, the necessary prerequisites for the emergence of a systematic resistance to colonialism are met. With the recovery of their native culture the indigenous population is now ready to transcend their status of dominated subjects in the colonizer/colonized dichotomy. The opposition and resistance to imperialism are “articulated together on a largely common although disputed terrain provided by culture” (Said, 1993:200).
The mapping of the newly recovered cultural space heralds the difficult process of territorial recovery, which is at the heart of decolonization. After the primary resistance against outside intrusion comes the period of ideological resistance, when every effort is made to rebuild a “shattered community, to save or restore the sense and fact of community against all the pressures of the colonial system” (Davidson, 1978:155). By once again embracing their native culture and rejecting the values and cultural modes imposed upon them, such as speaking European languages or wearing Western clothes, the natives are actively elaborating the ideological basis for the greater unity essential to the completion of their liberation struggle (Said, 1993:210). Under colonial domination, the colonizers actively seek the systematic destruction of national culture. Colonial authorities consider the attachment of the natives to their own traditions as an obvious sign of their loyalty to the national spirit, and their refusal to submit to colonial rule. “Very quickly it becomes a culture condemned to clandestinity” (Fanon, 1963: 171). This perseverance of cultural expression amongst the colonized is for Fanon the demonstration of a lingering sense of nationhood that continues to endure despite the colonial presence (Fanon, 1963: 171).
Both Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral were in general agreement about the important role of culture in the struggle against colonialism. For Fanon, revolution is an integral part of the process of rejuvenation of both man and society after the ravages of colonial rule. “Only through revolution could a suppressed people undo the effects of colonisation” (Blackey, 1974:193). The struggle for liberation is the process through which the national integrity and pride, as well as the past and the future, are restored. Liberation requires the total destruction of the colonial system (Fanon, 1958:105). Cabral believes that the larger struggle for the liberation of the colonized is a “fundamental characteristic of the advance of history (…)” (Cabral, 1961:14). Revolution is the conduit through which not only national independence will be achieved, but the purging of foreign domination will once again allow the previously colonized to transform their lives in the direction of progress. The national productive forces must be liberated to service the development of this national spirit. “Thus, the struggle is not only against colonialism, but against neo-colonialism as well” (Blackey, 1974:193). Cabral’s vision of the struggle for liberation encompassed a broader spectrum of what revolution should entail. He argued that revolutionaries must not simply fight for abstract ideas alone, but for the improved conditions of their peoples. The fight must not revolve merely around the idea of liberty of independence, but should also address “local and pressing grievances and problems” (Blackey, 1974:194). In other words, it is by fighting for local grievances, and reiterating the necessity to restore the primacy of native cultures that the leaders of the liberation struggle will gain the support of their populations.
“We have to remember that its’ not enough to produce, to have a full stomach, to practice sound politics, and to make war. If a man, a woman, a human being does all of this without advancing as an intelligent being, as the foremost being in nature; without truly feeling every day that knowledge of the environment and of the world in general increases in one’s head; without, that is, advancing in the cultural sphere; then all that one does—producing, practising sound politics, fighting—hasn’t worked at all” (Cabral, 2016:115)
Culture is a vital part of a people’s identity in its struggle for freedom from colonialism. A national culture encompasses all the efforts made by a people to describe, and justify the process through which the common identity holding them together as one people is produced. In the case of colonized nations, national culture should take centre stage in the struggle against colonialism. The greatest act of cultural manifestation undertaken by a colonized people, resides in their conscious and organized struggle to restore national sovereignty. “It is not solely the success of the struggle that consequently validates and energizes culture; culture does not go into hibernation during the conflict” (Fanon, 1963:178). The struggle itself will expand the multiple directions culture can go into, and in doing so hint at new possibilities. The fight for liberation will not simply restore the people to their previous values and structures; its primary aim is instead “a fundamental redistribution of the relations between men” that will not only achieve the demise of colonization, but also that of the colonized (Fanon, 1963:178). A struggle, which mobilizes every level of society, and reaches the ideal conditions for cultural development and innovation, will no doubt herald a new form of humanity. “A nation born of the concerted effort of the people, which embodies the actual aspirations of the people and transforms the state (….)” shatters irrevocably the colonizer/colonized paradigm so central to colonial discourse and colonial rule (Fanon, 1963:179).
Cabral agrees with Fanon’s assessment of the importance of culture in the struggle for freedom. The primary role of culture is to strengthen the common bond between members of the same group. It not only provides a sense of individual identity, but it is also a “purveyor of intimate information about the individual, and his group’s ethos and the manifestation of its most obvious and occasionally banal characteristics” (McCulloch, 1983: 85). Cabral went so far as to affirm that it is impossible to create and execute a revolution if the people haven’t managed to keep their culture thriving despite the constant organized repression of their way of life. “It is cultural resistance which at a given moment can take on new forms—political, economic, military—to fight foreign domination” (Cabral, 1972:40). According to him, in the colonial context the cultural influence of the empire is often limited to the main urban areas, and then to only a small contingent of “petty bourgeoisie and urban workers” (Blackey, 1974:207). The masses on the other hand, remain vastly untouched by the cultural influence of the colonial power. They find in their own culture a rampart to help them preserve their identity, and resist the assimilation and subjugation sought by the colonial project.
Fanon however, warns nascent postcolonial states against falling into a pattern of imitation where they would reproduce Western and capitalistic ways of life. In fact, he states that such an imitation would only lead them to the kind of moral and spiritual debasement being experienced by Western nations (Blackey, 1974:208). He believes that common interests should bring those engaged in the anti-colonial struggle together in order to “try to set afoot a new man” (Fanon, 1963:316). Cabral shares a similar outlook and reiterates the importance of looking beyond the struggle for liberation, and taking into account the economic, social, and cultural development of the people on their road to progress. He vehemently rejects the type of nativism leading to a narrow minded nationalism, which will not serve the interests of those trying to escape the colonial hold, but would instead lead to the emergence of an ethnocentrism reproducing the worst aspects of the colonial system (Blackey, 1974:208).
Fanon also highlights the importance of the colonized intellectual in assisting his society in the process of cultural recovery. He should use his knowledge to spur them into action, and foster through his writings the hope of a better future. “The colonized intellectual is responsible not to his national culture, but to the nation as a whole, whose culture is, after all, but one aspect” (Fanon, 1963:168). Since one cannot divorce the fight for culture from the larger struggle for liberation, the colonized intellectual must assist in the restoration of the palpable matrix from which culture can grow. For both Fanon and Cabral, “national culture is no folklore where an abstract populism is convinced it has uncovered the popular truth” (Fanon, 1963:168). National culture, on the contrary, emerges from the collective thought process through which the people define, validate, and praise the actions by which they join forces and organize their systematic resistance to colonialism. For the liberation movements who successfully led their struggle against Western imperialism, it was necessary to establish their legitimacy through their cultural primacy. By establishing an unbroken continuity leading to the first movements/groups/individuals who stood against the colonial intrusion of European powers, these nationalist parties were able to ascertain their legitimacy and relevance.
“Thus the Algerian National Liberation Front which inaugurated its insurrection against France in 1954 traced its ancestry to the Emir Abdel Kader, who fought the French occupation during the 1830s and 1840s. In Guinea and Mali resistance against the French is traced back generations to Samory and Hajji Omar” (Said, 1993: 197).
Decolonization is a complex process that unfolds over the course of different political contexts, different histories and geographies, different narratives, and counter-narratives. “The struggle took the form of strikes, marches, violent attack, retribution and counter-retribution” (Said, 1993:197). It also encompasses an eruption of orators and intellectuals appealing to the masses for a greater commitment and mobilization for the anti-colonial struggle. Anti-imperialist resistance emerged gradually from various sporadic—and often unsuccessful— revolts until after World War One. During the period between the two world wars, it took on a more systematic approach and became a lot “more militantly independence-minded” (Said, 1993:219).
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