Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Whiteman’s Burden Destroying the Identity of the “Uncivilized”


The relationship between the colonizer and the colonized is a complex one; they both see it in a different perspective. In Kippling poem “the white man’s burden”, he thinks that that it is the Whiteman’s task to help civilize the none-westerns, however, in Okot Mbitek’s “Song of Lawino”, Lawino thinks that her culture is threatened by the westerns. In both works we can find traces of both ideas, in what follows, I will contrast these two ideas in relation to both poems.


The white man’s noble duty is to help civilize the none-westerns, through colonizing their homeland, according to Kippling, thinks that it’s the task of the superior white man to do so, because of the benefits the people being colonized will get. He further considers it as a burden as he mentions it in the title of his poem, a burden used as a metaphor to indicate that the white man is morally obliged and is it’s their duty being superior is to help the “poor” and “undeveloped” nations to become better and accepted in the world. This is just to give reason to the colonial movement driven by the challenge of gaining control over many areas of the unexplored world and to give reason to the white man to dominate and exploit other races, and further erasing their identity which includes their customs and traditions as a whole, and establish westernized one.

It’s a racist and selfish agenda, it serves to weaken the undeveloped nations and distract them from the white man’s real agenda and goal in this whole process of helping them, which is to dominate and rule them, and to find a new space to distribute their thoughts, religion and philosophy in the purpose of uniting the world under one controller I called it “the superior white power”. It removes the differences that make everyone special; if a group is identified among the others by his cultural background each one, unifying and merging those identities will destroy in the process the identity of a single group within a large one.

The effect of the white man’s culture over the tribal customs is directly explained in Okot p'Bitek’s poem “Song of Lawino,” especially on Ocol the son of the tribe’s leader. He is a symbol and a mentor to the other members of the tribe to follow. By his fascination in the culture brought by colonials, he refuses to perform the rituals of his tribes and prefers the white man’s lifestyle, he is participating in the agenda and destroying what makes him

unique in the world, his identity as a member of a tribe and as a person with history and pride and real obligation to lead the tribe which he takes the legitimacy of doing so by retaining  his tribes  customs  as  they  are.  But instead he is driven by the shiny habits brought by the white man.

It’s the imperialism agenda to spread the white man culture over the native ones in the “undeveloped” nations, to unify it in the process of erasing the one that makes them unique in the world.  It’s the white man’s burden to do so as Kippling considers it from his own perspective, a racist and a selfish perspective that eliminate their identity as expressed in the “Song of Lawino”. The effect of this task is purely destructive with a bright side that is to help them in means of health and education.