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History as a theme in postcolonial literature In this essay I explore how history figures in the postcolonial literature as a major theme.

It is a fact that most Third world countries emerged into independence following a long period of anti-colonial struggle. The literature in the immediate aftermath of anti-colonial struggles depicts, among other things, problems of colonialism. The authors of imaginative literature thematised problems of colonialism and captured the socio-cultural impact of colonialism in native, non-Western societies. An important area that these writers were interested in was the ways in which native societies reacted to the Western cultural presence. Therefore, the postcolonial novels, particularly, of the 1950s were case studies of cultural nationalism, native identity and anti-colonial resistance. Their predominant concern was about history and many authors were of the view that native cultures should have a better understanding of history and the history of colonialism. For instance, the focus of the anti-colonial struggle in Africa moved rapidly from political dimension to cultural one. Therefore, the first phase of anti-colonial writings is of the cultural nationalist variety and embodied movements such as Negritude, African personality and African Aesthetic. Those struggles were not only to free their nations from European political domination but also from European cultural imperialism. These were essentially anti-colonial struggles to liberate themselves at both individual and communal level and from colonial attitudes and forms of thinking. Postcolonial obsession, therefore, is a part and parcel of the principal goal of decolonisation. In postcolonial literature, the theme history addresses several sub-themes such as interrogating the impacts of colonialism, particularly, in terms of cultural alienation, the anti-colonial struggles of the Third World and the rise of nationalism, creation of mimic men in colonial culture, appropriation of history by the colonial masters, the attempts to right the history and re-write the histories of former colonised cultures and the modes of representation. Interrogating colonial past The resistance and anti-colonial thought occurred not only in the immediate aftermath of colonialism but also at the encounter of colonialism and in post-independent literary productions. For instance, Narayan and Anand in India had explored themes such as illeffects of colonial rule, racism and exploitation even before political independence. In Narayan s Swami and Friends, the Scripture teacher, Ebenezer, described by Narayan as a fanatic, rejects Hinduism, and launches a blasphemous attack against Hindu idolatry: Oh, wretched idiots! the teacher said.. Why do you worship, dirty wooden idols and stone images? what did your God do when Mohamed of Gazni smashed them into pieces?. What Narayan depicts is how colonial rule and English education rejected the native belief system prior to installing Christianity as the only true faith. African and Asian writers seek not only to reject colonial stereotype of native cultures but also right the history by re-writing the texts.

It is a fact that interrogating the colonial past is always involved in the colonial interpretations and historiography. For instance, British history books on Indian history always project Muslims as invaders, iconoclasts, and oppressors undermining the fact that Islamic culture was adapted by and assimilated into Hindu culture. Among the major themes involves in colonial interrogation of the colonial past include cultural alienation, nationalism and making of mimic native men (those who imitate the prototype of the white). Cultural alienation A dominant theme in interrogating colonial history in postcolonial literature is cultural alienation. Although the colonialism was, by and large, an economic project, its impact on the Asian and African cultures has been profound that the effects will never be withered off from the host cultural landscapes. In the realm of culture, colonialism heavily undermined the existing traditions by setting up norms and rejecting the native system of beliefs. Through the Western education, colonials convinced the natives that native systems of beliefs are superstitions. Derek Walcott depicts this state of mind in What the Twilight Says that his generation always looked at life with black skin and blue eyes, suggesting at the loss of individuality and modes of living. What Walcott seeks to articulate is the colonialists projection of the process of colonisation as a benevolent and humanitarian enterprise. Iconoclastic colonial masters jettisoned the native cultural system often on the pretext of civilising the natives and that the evangelical civilising of natives was an integral part of the colonising project. Tribes and individuals were influenced and coerced into embracing white masters culture and religion. In Sri Lanka, this process was executed through conversion of natives to pagan religions and offering them a privileged position in the country. It is a historical fact that the Buddhists were discriminated under the colonial administration in vital areas such as employment and education. The colonials projected themselves at the zenith of the human evolutionary structure and the colonisers culture was the most developed culture which should be the ultimate goal of the colonised. Convincing themselves of the superiority of the white mans culture, the natives began to relinquish their culture in favour of the white mans. It is this process of cultural alienation that became a subject in the postcolonial literature often considered as originary and a paradigm-creating movement. Cultural alienation is one of the major themes that dominates Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart (1958). Achebes writings constantly question the notion of benevolent colonialism. It was an image-primarily a European generated image to conceal the violent nature of colonialism. What Achebe does is to reveal the true destructive colonialism has been. It completely wiped out cultures and systems that the native lost his support system although colonialism projects itself as an attractive alternative to the natives own culture and religion. Promod K. Nayar points out In Tsitsi Dangarembgas Nervous Conditions (1988), Nhamo, who has left the village to study in the mission, stop

coming home even during vacations, because poverty began to offend him. Later he says: I shall go and live with Babamukuru at the missionit suggests even familial and filial structures have to be abandoned because of Western education. In essence, what the cultural project under colonialism seeks to tempt the natives to give up their culture and way of life and to imitate colonials, ultimately reducing them to a pale imitation of the white man. This mimicry is a central theme in postcolonial writings.