While the terms “the colonizer” and “the colonized,” are irrevocably intertwined they convey great meaning to those whom analyze such labels in Africa during the 19th century Colonial period. During this era, those terms became synonyms for superior, powerful, oppressors…or, submissive, powerless, victims…depending upon whether a person was in the former group or the latter. Yet, the broader picture of history demonstrates that those in the position of colonial leadership, ultimately, too, were a “colonized” breed, made by the mother countries, from “mediocre men”. Albert Memmi says, in his book, “The Colonizer and the Colonized”, the men were given supreme power to suit the colonial mission of the mother country, and that not only did she set him high on an otherwise unattainable throne, but he was forced to pursue her constant approval and support for his own livelihood, fearing for his own life, should he fail. In other words, the colonizer, in some sense, became the colonized.
Memmi provides insight to the discrepancy between the colonizer at the onset of his mission, and his own internal torture- and ultimate doom- because of the established strengths and reinforcing mechanisms of colonialism. Colonialization, he offers, places the colonizers in a dichotomous position where virtue held high, but false narratives must be consistently spoken and reinforced. For the system to function, colonizers must elevate themselves and the “immutable and sheltered” motherland (60) to false heights to justify the moral righteousness of their colonial mission, even though it demands oppression and severe brutality by its enforcers. But, because they are placed in a position of reliance upon motherland, their constant performance is demanded and key to success.
Furthermore, the colonizers and the colonized were forced into personal and daily interactions that challenged the essential nature of the colonial system, which depended upon the submission of the underclass. Where after years of living and working together, nature might otherwise dictate a mutual bond of affection, the dynamics of the colonial- backed state prohibited bonds between the two. Instead, the colonizer rejected any inherent compassion, causing him not only to turn against his, sometimes beloved, subjects with disdain, but even with rage and physical violence. We see this pattern in Oyono’s “Houseboy”, where the colonizer, The Commandant, depends on his lifelong houseboy, Toundi, for his full integrity and faithfulness to maintain even the darkest truths, yet to Toundi’s surprise, The Commandant quickly turns on him with anger and has him arrested to save his supreme image, and that of his wife (99-101).
Ultimately, the colonizer lived a painfully dual role, as he had to wave his native flag and hold himself out as the bringer of truths and mercies, all while he insulted and dehumanized his subjects. Ironically, the slave masters became the slaves to their own motherland, as they faithfully served and praised her in her wonderment, but lived in continual fear of her rejection of their work and colonial-supporting policy. Thus, the colonizers perpetuated the cycle by continually and exhaustively seeking her affection by conquering new lands and increasing production. Alas, in exploring both terms of “the colonizers” and “the colonized”, we see multiple relationships intertwined and governed by the demand for security through approval, against a backdrop of internal angst, festering with contempt for their masters and the power structure of the colonial system.
Memmi, Albert. The Colonizer and the Colonized . Beacon Press , 1965. Print.
Oyono, Ferdinand. Houseboy. Long Grove: Waveland Press, 2012. Print.
This essay is a deeply reflective and sensitive examination of the ways in which social, political and economic pressures influenced the nature of Euro-African relations in the colonies. As you put so well, the European colonizer is himself a colonial subject, in the sense that he is irrevocably bound by the expectations laid out for him upon his arrival in the colony.