Decolonization is the process of revealing and dismantling colonialist power in all its forms. This includes dismantling the hidden aspects of those institutional and cultural forces that had maintained the colonialist power and that remain even after political independence is achieved. Initially, in many places in the colonized world, the process of resistance was conducted in terms or institutions appropriated from the colonizing culture itself. This was only to be expected, since early nationalists had been educated to perceive themselves as potential heirs to European political systems and models of culture.This occurred not only in settler colonies where the white colonial élite was a direct product of the system, but even in colonies of occupation. Macaulay’s infamous 1835 Minute on Indian Education had proposed the deliberate creation in India of just such a class of ‘brown white men’, educated to value European culture above their own. This is the locus classicus of this hegemonic process of control, but there are numerous other examples in the practices of other colonies.
Whether in India, Africa or the West Indies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the first nationalists were also modernizers, whose programme was less to effect a rejection of colonialist culture than to adopt its practices.This process of political and cultural ‘brokerage’, as some historians have called it, involved these early decolonizers in a profound complicity with the imperial powers from which they sought to emerge as free agents. Their general attitudes and practices were necessarily imbued with the cultural and social values they had been taught to regard as those of a modern, civilized state (de Moraes Farias and Barber 1990). Consequently, political independence did not necessarily mean a wholesale freeing of the colonized from colonialist values, for these, along with political, economic and cultural models, persisted in many cases after independence.
In colonies where a majority culture or cultures had been invaded and suppressed or denigrated by colonialist practices,the process of resisting and overthrowing these assumptions has been more obviously active. The powerful designation of neo-colonialism to denote the new force of global control operating through a local élite or comprador class was coined by the Ghanaian independence leader Kwame Nkrumah (1965). As a socialist, Nkrumah restricted his concept of the neo-colonial operations of imperialism to the operation of the global capitalism of the West.
The globalization of the modern world economy has meant that political independence has not effected the kinds of changes in economic and cultural control that the early nationalists might have expected. It has even been argued by some recent commentators that the colonial powers deliberately avoided granting independence until they had, through internal discriminations and hegemonic educational practices, created an élite (comprador) class tomaintain aspects of colonial control on their behalf but without the cost or the opprobrium associated with the classic colonial models.
As well as direct and indirect economic control, the continuing influence of Eurocentric cultural models privileged the imported over the indigenous: colonial languages over local languages; writing over orality and linguistic culture over inscriptive cultures of other kinds (dance, graphic arts, which had often been designated ‘folk culture’). Against all these occlusions and overwritings of pre-colonial cultural practices, a number of programmes of decolonization have been attempted. Notable among these have been those that seek to revive and revalue local languages.The pressure of the global economy means that élite communication is dominated by the use of the ex-colonial languages, notably the new ‘world language’ of English, whose power derives from its historical use across the largest of the modern empires and from its use by the United States.
In post-colonial societies in which alternatives exist, it has been suggested that a return to indigenous languages can restructure attitudes to the local and the indigenous cultures, and can also form a more effective bridge to the bulk of the population whose lives have continued to be conducted largely in their mother tongues. Thus, decolonizing processes that have advocated a return to indigenous language use have involved both a social programme to democratize culture and a programme of cultural recuperation and re-evaluation. In Africa, the work of Ngugi wa Thiong’o has been at the forefront of this decolonizing model (Ngugi 1981a, 1986, 1993). But it has also had considerable advocacy in India where, due to the unbroken power of local languages and their literary traditions throughout the colonial period, a strong drive to revalue the literatures and other arts employing Indian languages has occurred in recent times (Ahmad 1992;Devy 1992). It is important, though, not to assume that these cultures remained untouched, and indeed the forms they often now employ, such as the novel, prose fiction, drama, magazines and television soap-opera,reflect an energetic engagement with dominant practices.
Only the most extreme forms of decolonization would suggest that precolonial cultures can be recovered in a pristine form by programmes of decolonization (see nativism). More recently, for example, some post-colonial African critics (Appiah 1992; Gikandi 1992; Mudimbe 1994) have questioned the bases on which such extreme decolonizing projects have been erected, arguing from a variety of different perspectives that the systems by which, to use Mudimbe’s phrase, ‘African worlds have been established as realities for knowledge’ are always multiple and diverse,and are implicated in colonial and European orders of know edge as much as in local ones. For example, Kenyan critic Simon Gikandi has argued that many decolonizing practices ‘were predicated on the assumption that African cultures and selves were natural and holistic entities which colonialism had repressed, and which it was the duty of the African writer, in the period of decolonization to recover (if only the right linguistic and narrative tools could be developed), there is now an urgent need to question the ideological foundations on which the narratives of decolonization were constructed’ (Gikandi 1992: 378).
Gikandi’s analyses critique the simple equation of national narratives and decolonizing processes and argue that discourses of nationalism and national liberation (or, in some later texts,of the disillusioning failure of such narratives and such nationalist discourses) are increasingly inadequate ways of analysing and correcting the problems and conflicts of the post-independence condition. For Gikandi, the task faced by African writers now, and by implication by writers in many postcolonial societies, is ‘to theorise adequately… the problematic of power and the state’. Thus Gikandi argues that formulations of decolonization, such as Ngugi’s in novels like Matigari, are ‘both a symptom of the problems which arise when the narrative of decolonization is evoked in a transformed post-colonial era and a commentary on the problematics of a belated national narrative’ (Gikandi 1992: 379).
The projects of other writers, such as Salman Rushdie, who embrace a ‘transnational’ identity and seek to critique the contemporary postcolonial state, are often dismissed as not contributing to a decolonizing process. But this is to assume an absolute contiguity between decolonization and narratives of nation and nationalism, which arguments like Gikandi’s seriously call into question.In fact,the borders and images of the post-colonial nation may be fictions that allow free passage to the continuing control of the neo-colonialism of multinational companies and global monetary institutions. Decolonization, whatever else it may be, is a complex and continuing process rather than something achieved automatically at the moment of independence.
In the settler colonies this process can also be seen to occur in a different form. Although they were permitted political independence on the inherited British model at a relatively early stage, they often continued to suffer what the noted Australian commentator A.A. Phillips wittily characterized as ‘a cultural cringe’ from which they were not released by their nominal political ‘independence’ (Phillip 1958, 1979). Similarly, they have frequently been far less successful than other kinds of colonies in dismantling the colonialist elements in their social institutions and cultural attitudes. This is to some extent because of the peculiar hegemonic strength exerted by notions of a filiative connection with the Imperial centre, reiterated in phrases such as ‘sons and daughters of Empire’. Such connections tended to keep the settler colonies more dependent on the apron strings of their colonial masters (Docker 1978),usually at the expense of the recognition of the rights of their indigenous peoples.
Further reading: Ahmad 1992; Appiah 1992; Betts 2004; Brydon and Tiffin 1993; Chamberlain 1999; Coutinho 1992; Crawford 2002;Devy 1992;Docker 1978; Duara 2003; Gikandi 1992; de Moraes-Farias and Barber 1990; Moreiras 2004; Mudimbe 1994; Nederveen Pieterse and Parekh 1995; Newsom 2001; Ngugi 1981a, 1986, 1993; Nkrumah 1965; Okonkwo 1999; Phillips 1979; Rothermund 2006; Shi-xu and Servaes 2005; Spivak 1993; Springhall 2001; Young 1998.
Source: Post-colonial Studies The Key Concepts Second edition Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, Routledge 2007.