The Scars of Colonialism in Books

Categories: Ama Ata Aidoo Anowa

British colonialism is mostly relegated to history books and studies of the vast empire that once circled the globe, however the effects of colonialism are still being felt in former colonies. Sociocultural differences between the colonists and natives, or colonists and the descendants of those they enslaved left a lasting negative impact long after the colonies gained independence. Jamaica Kincaid chronicles her struggles with the effects of colonialism in A Small Place (1988). British colonialism robbed Kincaid and many like her of a home, culture and a history.

Across the Atlantic on the Gold Coast of Africa, a traditional Ghanaian legend Anowa (1970) retold by Ama Ata Aidoo describes a colony and a society where the crimes of slavery began.

In Anowa the tension between individuals who accepted and the British customs of slavery and lust for wealth and power and those who resisted form the basis of conflict between Kofi and his wife Anowa. I argue that Kincaid considers the colonists and tourists as much her oppressors as the slave holders and traders centuries earlier causing interpersonal conflict between herself and those of European descent.

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I will also argue that in Anowa it is when a native takes on the customs of the oppressors, that interpersonal conflicts arise.

Kincaid describes herself as an orphan exclaiming “no motherland, no fatherland, no gods, no mounds of earth for holy ground…., and worst and most painful of all, no tongue” (Kincaid 31). The practice of slavery took the ancestors of Kincaid and their peers from their homeland, transported them across the ocean and forced them into a culture much different than their own.

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Kincaid’s ancestors were robbed of their lives, and their decedents were robbed of a history, and a culture to call their own. Both an interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts arise in Kincaid when discussing what has been taken from her. She feels hatred and anger toward British colonists, and the European and American tourists, along with a sadness and anger within herself that she is immersed in British custom and culture. She states “I met the world through England, and if the world wanted to meet me it would have to do so through England” (Kincaid 33). The oppression Kincaid felt was the worst form imaginable, a heritage and a culture stolen from an entire group of people, replaced with the culture of the oppressor.

The roots of the oppression Kincaid felt can be traced to Anowa mentioned in the opening act “when the lords of our Houses, Signed that piece of paper, The Bond of 1844 they call it, Binding us to the white men” (Aidoo 81). Though the transportation of slaves had been stopped in 1807, the institution of slavery persisted, and the Bond of 1844 gave the British jurisdictional rights in the area now known as Ghana, essentially making the area a British colony. (Allen, Anowa part one) The Bond of 1844 is important because it is the first action we see in Anowa of the native Africans submitting to the British oppressors. The most notable interpersonal conflict arises in Anowa between a husband, Kofi and his wife Anowa when Kofi voluntary adopts the British Custom of slavery and becomes oppressive to his own people in the eyes of his wife. When Kofi first mentions the idea of purchasing a slave Anowa forcefully exclaims “I shall not feel happy with slaves around….Kofi, no man made a slave of his friend and came to much himself. It is wrong. It is evil” (Aidoo 101). In adopting the custom of slavery, oppressing his own people Kofi opens a chasm in the relationship between himself and Anowa that will not be mended. Kofi’s refusal to abandon the idea of slavery and admit it was morally wrong along with Anowa’s protests against slavery and refusal to give up her convictions for luxury allows the wound to fester and grow.

Anowa’s protested Kofi’s use of slave labor by refusing to enjoy any of the spoils, and wealth from the growth of the company she helped to establish. I argue that Anowa felt taking part in the luxuries would make her complicit to the crimes she could not stop. Anowa wears the same clothing throughout the play, with them being nothing more than rags at the end. “She looks aged and forlorn in her old clothes she is still barefooted” (Aidoo115) “She resembles ANOWA of a long time ago….She too, looks like a wild one” (Aidoo 118). In contrast her husband Kofi is not only enjoying the wealth but he is basking in it in a perverse way. “KOFI AKO the richest man, probably of the whole Guinea Coast…. enters borne by four brawny men in some kind of carrier chair….he is overflowing with gold jewelry….he is surrounded by hailing women….he makes the gestures of lordship over his area” (Aidoo 115). Kofi in his embrace of slavery and English custom has become the oppressor of his own people, the use of the language “lordship over his area” (Aidoo 115) affirms the fact he thinks himself as ruling over those around him.

Kofi sees no conflict with the slaves he oppresses, much like the colonists who engaged in the practice of slavery he felt he improved the lives of his slaves. A conflict exists however, as it is impossible to maintain a true relationship between a master and oppressed as the master always exhibits control, and the oppressed, resentment and fear. Kofi’s relationship with the one person he cannot control or rule over, his wife Anowa has degenerated to one of strangers, enemies in their own home. Kofi’s embrace of English customs in order to gain wealth rings true over two-hundred years later in Kincaid’s words.

Kincaid denounces western culture claiming the western world, much like Kofi in Anowa grew wealthy on the backs of slave labor. She describes the birth of Barclays Bank saying “When the English outlawed the slave trade, the Barclay brothers went into banking. It made them even richer” (Kincaid 26). The wealth held by the tourists who visited Antigua for holidays, and the British Colonists, were always a constant reminder of slavery, and what was stolen from herself and other Antiguan natives in order to provide the western world with luxury. The reminder of slavery hinders Kincaid and native Antiguans in developing relationships with the tourists and colonists because the lifestyles of the tourists and colonists are possible through the past and continued exploitation of people of African descent.

Kincaid draws a parallel between slavery and the Hotel Training School, stating it is “a school that teaches Antiguans how to be good servants, how to be a good nobody, which is what a servant is” (Kincaid 55). Kincaid poignantly makes the point that the native Antiguans are still treated as nobodys, as servants, just like the slaves who carried Kofi to his throne. Angering Kincaid further and straining relationships between native Antiguans with tourists and colonists is the willing ignorance of the visitors, and the colonists to admit that slavery and their continued exploitation of native Antiguans is wrong. Kincaid speaks to the tourists of the natives saying “their ancestors were not clever in the way yours were and not ruthless in the way yours were” (Kincaid 17).

Kincaid’s description of the ancestors of tourists as clever and ruthless is not only directed to the ancestors, but to the current tourists as they are still oppressing native Antiguans though through means other than slavery. The use of the word clever is one of sarcasm as the tourists like their ancestors undoubtedly think of themselves as more intelligent than the natives serving them, when in reality the only clever idea their ancestors had was to grow wealthy off of slavery. Kincaid also uses the word clever to make the point that the tourists, along with the colonists should be smart enough to realize their wrongs, but instead choose to claim ignorance of both past and present. The ignorance of their wrongs, perhaps not as awful as the crimes committed by their ancestors is why the tourists and the colonists remain oppressors to Kincaid and other native Antiguans.

Oppression from British colonialism destroyed many lives and has left scars both on the landscape and within the hearts of the descendants of slaves. Through Anowa, it can be seen how colonialism, and embracing a conquering culture and its custom of slavery destroyed lives of Kofi, and Anowa along with those enslaved. A once happy couple was divided by different cultural morals and their lives ended in suicide. Kincaid creates a picture depicting two peoples, the poor ancestors of slaves and the colonists and tourists who grew wealthy off the backs of those slaves. Kincaid illustrates the anger felt by the native Antiguan’s by having no culture, no language, and no history except that of the people who oppressed their ancestors. Kincaid’s anger, Antigua’s scars from colonialism, and the inability to form interpersonal relationships from the cultural divide between oppressor and oppressed is best summarized in her own words when she says “Even if I really came from people who were living like monkeys in trees, it was better to be that than what happened to me, what I became after I met you” (Kincaid 37).

Works Cited

  • Aitoo, Ama Ata. “Anowa.” 1970. Global Crossroads: a World Literature Reader newly revised edition. Ed. Luis Iglesias. Texas: Fountainhead, 2014.
  • Allen, Dr. Linda Pierce. Anowa part one. Hattiesburg, 18 9 2018. electronic.
  • Allen, Dr. Linda Pierce. Anowa part two . Hattiesburg, 20 09 2018. electronic.
  • Kincaid, Jamica. A Small Place. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Print Stanbeck, Dr. Emily. A Small Place, Sections 1 - 2. Hattiesburg, 2 10 2018. electronic.
  • Stanbeck, Dr. Emily. A Small Place, Sections 1 - 2. Hattiesburg, 2 10 2018. electronic.
Updated: Jan 20, 2022
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The Scars of Colonialism in Books. (2022, Jan 20). Retrieved from

The Scars of Colonialism in Books essay
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