Colonization and A Small Place

By: Meghana Hiremagalore

and A Small Place

In this essay, through consideration of
Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, I will be explaining the two major
forms that colonization takes, economic and ideological, and why
they must be carefully considered for effective decolonization to happen. In
brief, economic colonization is a form of colonization that aims to assert dominance
over the economic industries and infrastructures. The goal of all colonization,
ultimately, is plunder. Economic colonization describes what systems are built
to accomplish that goal. Ideological colonization attacks the customs and
traditions of the indigenous people living on that particular land and forcing
them all to conform to the “Western” culture, in this context. Decolonization,
therefore, is the slow process of the destruction of both forms of
colonization; it involves taking back the customs and traditions that have been
stolen and breaking down of large infrastructural companies used to force
workers to work for minimum wage under poor conditions. 

considering the best way to go about decolonization, it’s very important to
consider the impact colonization itself has had on the people. In many of the
case studies we’ve seen so far, the decolonization process was partially
successful or left incomplete, leaving certain countries in great economic
divide even today. There are, ultimately, two parts to decolonization: the
freedom struggle, and the post-independence stage. The freedom struggle is the
stage where the main conflict is with the colonizer, and how the enslaved can
free themselves from their clutches. The post-independence stage is when the
newly independent country’s leaders decide where to go from that point; this
consists of what reforms to make, what freedom means for their people, and what
laws they construct to maintain that. 

The Small Place explores the case of Antigua. The author,
Jamaica Kincaid, sets the scene- an image of how the country looks, years after
its independence. From the very beginning, Kincaid establishes the types of
colonization that occurred there and the reason behind them. In addition to the
plantation economy, Antigua was converted into a large tourist attraction,
intended for foreigners from “the west.” Infrastructures that the foreigners
would have liked and appreciated were given more development, while public
infrastructure like sanitation and health suffered from neglect. Therefore,
when painting the picture of the city, Kincaid describes how it would look like
to a tourist, a foreigner: beautiful, something to be admired. The tourist
admires the crystal-clear fresh water and the lush greenery, completely
unknowing of the cost at which that was achieved: poorly developed sanitation
systems, flawed drainage pipe ways, less than satisfactory doctors stocked up
in the hospitals, and the broken library. 

To explore this further, I will consider how
Kincaid describes ongoing forms of economic and ideological colonization in

First, economic colonization: consider, for
instance, the sanitation system, which is a poorly developed drainage system
that result in excrement- wet waste and dry waste alike- ending up in the large
water bodies; the very same ones that the tourists call “beautiful.” The food
from Antigua, moreover, isn’t locally sourced. It’s imported from Miami. Before
it even reaches Miami, no one knows where it comes from. Kincaid points out
that it probably comes from a place not much better than Antigua. This
indicates the state of poverty the country is in, which is characterized by a
lack of development in the food and agriculture industry. Many Antiguans,
moreover, own expensive cars, but not nearly as expensive houses. Kincaid says
this is because getting a loan for a car is much easier than getting a loan for
a house. She lays particular emphasis on the fact that the two major car
companies are owned by the government. So, even now, the government controls
the economy; makes it so that people are forced to invest in things like cars,
while sacrificing money for a good home. All of these examples are results of
incomplete decolonization -- i.e., a poor reconstruction of the economy. They
indicate that the economic state of the country is still largely favored and
manipulated by the people in the government, and development in the right
industries (like food and sanitation) has not been sufficient. 

Not only is Antigua still a major tourist
attraction, it’s also economically divided, which stems from the culture of
colonization. A large mansion in town is owned by a wealthy merchant
family-white people- that came to Antigua less than 20 years prior. And yet,
they still own a large portion of the country. Not only that, but they
regularly lend money to the government, effectively contributing to and,
therefore, controlling a large portion of the economy. What’s more is that a
member of this family is an Antiguan ambassador to Syria. I wonder how they got
that position? Another mansion is owned by a woman called Evita, who is the
girlfriend of a high government official. Instead of pouring the money into
public industry, it's given to her instead, providing her with a large house,
even giving her a say in cabinet meetings. Again, the economic system favors
the members of the government, dominated by white people.  These British officials also appoint elites
among the locals to execute and propagate their interests. The elites they
appoint become corrupted by the manipulative nature of colonization, drawn in,
I suppose, by the temptation of feeling superior to their own people, gifted
with better living conditions (more land) and power, even if they are minions
to the colonizers and resented by the majority of the Antiguans.

Even socially, the people are segregated. They
segregate themselves, understandably so. Even though the constitution allowed
white people to stay in the country, if they were not problematic, Kincaid
argues that the Antiguans don’t ever approach or appreciate tourists. This is
because the tourists are there on a vacation, while the Antiguans can’t leave.
It’s also because of the structure of the economy that favors development of
certain sectors over others. All the government buildings, for instance, are
developed properly, the hotels the tourists stay in are better developed than
even the sanitation and food industries, and so forth. 

Kincaid also describes ongoing forms of
ideological colonization in Antigua. She remembers a time, for instance,
somewhere at the precipice of the decolonization period, where the streets
possessed English names, for example, Hawkins Street, Drake Street. There was
one called the East Street which was paved with mahogany trees. It led to the
Government House where the Governor lived, the Governor who was standing in for
the Queen- another colonizer. It was surrounded by high white walls, that
remained white and high, free of vandalization. From this, it can be inferred
that these buildings were fiercely protected, or people never dared to destroy
them. On the High Street, where colonial government took place, Antiguans could
go cash checks, read a book, post a letter, or appeal to court. Although they
had this, it seemed like they were invited in just so they could see how
superior the whites were to them, how their infrastructure was much more
developed than basic needs for the public. This is economic, ultimately, but it
communicates an ideological message. 

The library, moreover, from which Antiguans
received their sources of information and education, was under the control of
the colonizers. The British erased Antiguan history and glorified their own. The
local library, which had once been so rich and intensely decorated with all
kinds of books, now lays waste. Its only hope for development is funding from
the Mill Reef Club, which is a white people-dominated club; very exclusive and
very rich. However, they have a colonizer mindset and will only donate money if
the library could go back to “old Antigua,” meaning erasure of Antiguan history
and glorification of “western” history and culture. They would basically
endorse cultural colonization for a second time. And, even then, they were
forbidden to bad-mouth it. They couldn’t speak a word of insult to anyone.  The government took control of what they
could or couldn’t say.  By criminalizing
this, they spread the message that they were God, superior on such a high
level. They could be punished for going against “God”.

This kind of deep-rooted economic colonization
and insufficient decolonization process resulted in social barriers that are
prevalent in present day. When the tourist comes to the town, they don’t
exchange cultures with the locals. They stay in hotels meant for people like
them, enjoy beaches meant for people like them (white people, foreigners) and
meet only with people like them. Kincaid describes the tourists as ordinary-
they have no culture to offer. They are only there “to gaze at this and taste
that.” Behind closed doors, the Antiguans are mocking them for their weird
eating habits, how they stick out like a sore thumb in a place like this, but
all of that stems from bitterness. Because while the tourist can go back home,
this is their home. They cannot leave because of their poverty. Again,
there’s the economic discrepancy that’s pushing social barriers between people.
This is a system that’s meant to cater to the gaze of white people, foreigners
from the West, abandoning the needs of the native inhabitants. This kind of
social barrier is the cruelty from colonization resulting in a mindset that’s
projected into everyday society in the present- one that is bitter and envious.
The two groups aren’t able to coexist in peace, which was the aim of letting
the white people stay in Antigua, because there was still so much economic
inequality and the vision of social superiority and inferiority. 

The colonizers didn’t stop at selective
development and slavery of Antiguans people though. They continued to erase the
culture of the Antiguans itself, replacing each aspect with English culture. In
the libraries, Antiguan history was distorted and erased, while English history
was glorified. Not only did they favor British history, but they also provided
mutated accounts of it; not even in its raw form. Children were taught names of
British rulers in school. Queen Victoria’s birthday was a holiday for them. The
way the British spoke of Queen Victoria painted Britain and the British people
in a good light, like they were kind and beautiful human beings, not the cruel,
selfish colonizers the Antiguans were forced to see every day. The way they
treated the Antiguans (black people) was so foreign to the locals that they
originally thought of the English as animals, a little misbehaving,
small-minded. They didn’t realize there was a term for how the English people
inspected the black people for smells and dirt so they wouldn’t “offend the
doctor” or the way little girls were told “to not behave like monkeys” in
schools that had just started accepting education for women. They didn’t
realize the extent to which the colonizers would go to control the people,
because they didn’t understand the grounds at which they were being controlled
on, at first. Even amongst the Antiguans, the British colonizers picked the
elites to meet with a Princess of England. Kincaid describes her visits as made
out to look as if she were “God Himself”. To have such a high value of someone,
and project that onto an entire country- that’s influential. They made the
places she walked in beautiful, the beaches she visited were cleaned up to look
brand new, and only the best of the best Antiguans got to meet with her.
Putting all of this out and making her visits such a big deal influenced the
upbringing of the author, who says she got introduced to the world “through
England”. Her generation grew up with English influence. 

Combined with the intense economic
colonization, this heavy influence of the English people still has a major
presence in present Antigua. Because of the poor decolonization process and
underdevelopment of the library, the youth seem uneducated, equipped with a
weird hybrid of Antiguan and British influence. Kincaid says that they had a
carnival where they would sing pop songs about slavery- ones she described as
“hideous”. Not only do they have an extensive knowledge of North America, a
result of western influence, but Kincaid says that they are “unable to answer
in a straightforward way, and in their native tongue of English.” The fact that
they’ve lost touch with their native tongue was mentioned twice.

Then, there’s the library. Kincaid looks back
on it, recalling how often she’d visit and take out the books she wanted. She described
it as having “the smell of the sea” (Kincaid,42). Now that’s all gone, only a
flicker of what the library used to be remains. The only hope for reparations
comes from funding from the Mill Reef Club, which is an extremely exclusive
white people- dominated club. They are all for going back to the “Old Antigua”
where Antiguan culture was erased, and British history was glorified. So, the
funding relies heavily on the Mill Reef Club, showing the economic dependency
at present on the white oppressors. The Mill Reef Club chooses to not sponsor
development of the library, effectively shutting down a source for quality
education for Antiguans. They would endorse cultural colonization for a second

A similar kind of cultural colonization was
practiced in South Africa. The colonizers wanted the South African youth to
write all their exams in Africans which wasn’t the native language, nor a
language that the natives understood too well. The colonizers likely knew of
this fact and suggested it so the youth would fail their exams, thereby keeping
another generation of children tied down by illiteracy and leaving them
vulnerable to the faux power of the imperial system. In 1976, the youth
protested. They decided to walk out of their school and carry out a march. It
was supposed to be a peaceful protest that came to be known as the Soweto
uprising. However, as the youth continued to defy the orders of the police and
refused to leave, the police got frustrated- and soon got physical. They
started open firing on the unarmed students. They snatched many of them and
subjected them to torture. This uprising resulted in a lot of casualties. They
forced the students into a desperate position. Their parents and teachers had
simply given up, because of how intensely oppressive the system was, so the
youth were forced to fend for themselves. The police saw the opportunity, they
hurt innocent children, who were carrying out a non-violent protest, in
their haste to protect the racist ideals they used to shield themselves from
people they feared.

Another example I’d like to explore is
Columbus’ letter to the ruler of Spain, where he observed the behavior,
characteristics, and culture of the Native Americans and the land they lived on
and constructed an economically and culturally convincing argument to get the
funding he needed from the monarch. In this letter, he talks about how the
Indians were distrusting of his men at first but eventually came around and
showered them with gifts. They also traded with them, though Columbus says they
“bartered like idiots”. After insulting the people from whom he got these
resources (like spices, cotton etc.), he moves on to criticize their culture.
He describes them as having no God, even though it’s clear they do, but the God
is just not his God. He talks about a group of those Indians who are more
ferocious than any of the other inhabitants. While he admires their fighting
skill, he wastes no time in saying that he doesn’t think any more of them than
he does of the other Indians, because they have long hair “like women” and
“don’t employ themselves in labor suitable to their own sex”. So, he fails to
acknowledge that they have their own customs and roles in their crafted
society. In fact, he decides that their customs are wrong and therefore, they
deserve to being looked down upon. This entire letter is coded with the
Doctrine of Discovery approach and the Settler Colonial approach. He hints that
most of the Indians looked up to them, eyes shining, like they’re divine
entities, insinuating that they wouldn’t be hard to gain power over. He also
talks about the rich resources on the island to further convince the monarch of
Spain that these islands are worth fighting for. He, however, ignores the fact
that there are people already living on that land, he never once acknowledges
that they were here first. In fact, he keeps saying that “his men found”
certain resources or certain groups of people. It’s like they’ve newly
discovered them, like that is the first time anyone has ever set foot on the islands,
even though people already lived there. This entire letter hints at how they
would be able to colonize the area, control the inhabitants, and get the
profits they want. 

Now that sufficient examples of colonization
itself have been provided, let’s look at why that’s so important to consider
when trying to carry out an effective decolonization process. To do that, I’m
going to take the example of South Africa once again. I do not believe that
South Africa had a successful decolonization process as there is still a
significant level of economic inequality prevalent in the society.
International intervention prevented them from fully conducting land reforms,
but I do believe they took a good step in the right direction. A major portion
of the country’s economy depended on foreign investments i.e., trade. The
revolutionaries recognized that, to get the slavers to leave and let the South
African people finally be heard, they had to crush the economy by getting major
empires to disinvest from South Africa completely. They decided to do that
through boycotting. They used their consumer power to boycott all traded goods
withing South Africa as well as international goods like Pepsi and energy
firms. This caused a huge drop in the national income, as trade was a major
part of the economy. This drastic change forced the Apartheid government to
finally leave and propose negotiation. It was definitely a step in the right
direction because they gained their independence, they got a voice. 

This is why it’s important to consider just
how important of a role the people play in the economy, and the extent at which
the colonizers manipulate it. It’s important to understand how a common enemy
could unite the people, and how cultural and economic colonization provide the
perfect base for that.