Destruction of India’s Textile Industry
In Migritude, Shailja Patel discusses the consequences of British control over India’s textile industry. In the opening chapter “How Ambi Became Paisley,” Patel writes, “Kashmiri shawls. Woven on handlooms, patterned with ambi, rich and soft and intricate as mist over Kashmir’s terrace gardens. First taken to Britain by bandits – known also as “merchants” – in the employ of the British East India Company, they wove their way through the dreams of Victorian wives like the footprint of a goddess no one dared imagine” (6).
Even in the summer, the British normally wore clothes made of wool or leather. When they discovered Indian cotton, the British found the fabric more comfortable and as a result, demand for Indian fabrics increased. The gradual decline of India’s textile industry began in 1700 when the British banned all imports of Indian fabrics. Additionally, they imposed high taxes on Indian weavers in an attempt to overtake the industry. People who were seen wearing traditional Indian fabrics also became targets of violence (Verma). As India’s textile industry suffered, British businesses sold their textiles in Indian markets at much higher prices to gain profit.
Long after Independence, India continues to use the same taxation model imposed under British colonial rule. Consequently, small businesses and local indigenous weavers struggle financially and the Indian textile industry is unable to reach the same success it once had. Moreover, British mass-production of machines and traditional Indian patterns have led to unemployment and even an increase in India’s suicide rate. Currently, American designers continue to replicate Indian designs or ask Indian artists to change existing patterns in order to better meet American demands. As of October 2018, India has faced a 10-15% decline in textile production (Jha).
Migritude depicts the damage caused by British colonialism through narrative accounts that appear in the form of stories, letters, and poetry. Patel uncovers lost history from both South Asian and African perspectives, history that is permanently imbedded in colonized nations. The decline of India’s textile industry does not only represent economic struggle, but also cultural erasure and the blatant dismissal of people of color.
“How many ways can you splice a history? Price a country? Dice a people? Slice a heart? Entice what’s been erased back into story? My-gritude” (7).
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Cultural Stripping and South Asian Diaspora
Patel’s Migritude describes several accounts of South Asian migration, including women being stripped of their jewelry: “I grew up on tales of the last trains coming out of Uganda. Laden with traumatized Asians who had been stripped of all they possessed. The grown-ups whispered: They took even the wedding rings, the earrings, off the women. They searched their hair” She continues on to write, “Her jewelry did not protect her” (11).
In Indian culture, jewelry is representative of women’s class, power, and femininity. Larger, more exquisite collections of jewelry signified higher socioeconomic status. Women could also resolve financial difficulties by selling their pieces. In 1972, Idi Amin decided to expel all Asians from Uganda in order to purge the “foreign” population. Tens of thousands of Asians had only 90 days to flee the country. It was during this second wave of South Asian migration that the British stripped women of their jewelry as a tactic of invasion and violence.
Currently, South Asian Kenyans continue to experience cultural dissipation in the aftermath of British colonialism. Only as recently as July 2017 did President Uhuru Kenyatta begin to recognize Kenyans of Indian descent as Kenya’s 44th tribe (Mwere). There are still overt tensions between the two groups as the British favored South Asians over East Africans, viewing Asians as civilized and worthy of more privileges.
Patel also explores the South Asian diaspora in the context of her family; specifically, her father’s struggle with language while living in the United Kingdom. In the form of poetry, she writes, “Five languages / five different worlds. / Yet English / shrinks / him / down / before white men” (52). She further states, “Words that do not exist in English: Najjar, Garba, Arati. If we cannot name it, does it exist” (53)? In this section, Patel refers to the feelings of isolation and displacement associated with cultural assimilation. The language barrier prevents Patel and her father from not only fully expressing their culture, but also their history. Her stories of cultural disconnect are representative of a greater, present-day issue: when words are unidentifiable to White society, they are often erased. Migritude extends beyond the South Asian diaspora, giving a voice to immigrants around the world.
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Kenya’s Political Climate in the Aftermath of Colonialism
There are a number of historical events that lead to colonial influence still being greatly embedded in the minds of the Kenyan people today. British interference and influence dates as far back as the original colonization, and below are some of the key points in which Kenyan politics was affected by imperialistic rule.
In 1895 the British government formed the British East African Protectorate (BEAP), which controlled many countries in East Africa, including Kenya. Throughout the early 1900s, British imperialists moved into Kenya and settled there, creating a new generation of people in the country. In 1920, the BEAP becomes the crown colony of Kenya, and is overseen by the British governor.
In 1944, the Kenyan African Union (KAU) was formed as a campaign for Kenyan Independence from their British rulers. From this organization, the first African was appointed to the legislative council. Before this, the Kenyan government was controlled entirely by British people for nearly 50 years. In 1947, Jomo Kenyatta becomes leader of the KAU. Shortly after, the Mau Mau uprising took hold.
The British believed that the Mau Mau uprising was a violent, savage, and depraved tribal cult that acted on irrational emotions rather than on a basis of reason. Through their propaganda against the revolt, British people were able to perpetuate a state of psychological warfare against the Kenyan people.
In 1978, Kenyatta died in office and was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi. Moi declared Kenya as a one-party state, and in 1982 his army successfully suppressed a coup d’état attempt, in which Hezekiah Ochuka ruled for 6 hours. There is some proof that Moi’s dictatorship was supported by the United States and by Great Britain, both of which continued to organize in Kenya during the coup.
In 1991, six opposition groups are organized, and a multi-party-political system is reinstated. A year later, around 2,000 people are killed in a tribal conflict, where aid from Britain is involved in suppressing the people. Moi is also re-elected in what is accused of being a rigged election. He wins again in 1997.
In 2002, 200 Maasai and Samburu tribes people accept more than $7 million in compensation from earlier suppression from the British Military Defense. The Army left explosives on their land for over 50 years, which would randomly kill and maim hundreds of people. This same year, Moi is finally defeated in an election and Mwai Kibaki becomes President. He fails to curb corruption in the country, which is fueled through British support of Moi, who is granted immunity from prosecution.
In 2007, and more than 1,500 people are killed as they fight against the corrupt elections and the power of the President. In Kenya, all branches of the government answer to the President, which is a concept leftover from being under colonial rule. The colonial mentality of Kenyan people has changed very little since gaining independence in 1963. In 2009, the government goes under investigation in the International Criminal Court (ICC). In 2010, a new constitution is drafted.
In 2012, Britain admitted that its colonial administration tortured detainees during the Mau Mau uprising. Veterans claim damages in court. In 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta becomes the 4th President of Kenya. He is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, and he is still serving as President today. That same year the British government promises nearly $30 million in compensation for torturing prisoners during the Mau Mau uprising.
As of January 2018, the opposition leader Raila Odinga swears himself as the “people’s president” in an unofficial ceremony in Nairobi. There is no evidence yet of which group the British government supports. Evidently, even decades after British rule, the mindset of the Kenyan has been affected through their politics going up to this very day, showing how colonialism has long-lasting negative effects on countries who were once under rule. The imperialist mindset of Britain and the psychological warfare has affected generations of Kenyans, through social, political, and economic alterations.
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Kyna Smith, Nimalah Baaithe-Ducharme, & Grace McKenna ’19