November 22, 2006

Kirsti Bohata on Postcolonialism and Wales

Writing about web page http://www.uwp.co.uk/book_desc/1892.html

Postcolonialism Revisited

Bohata begins by quoting Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture, in which he suggests that postcolonial nations are minorities in geopolitical divisions of East and West, North and South. Bohata thinks that there is a need to challenge such ideas. In fact postcolonialism is a network of thematic concerns and complex discourses and as a nation in the process of re-imagining itself, Wales might fit into such a category.

Postcolonialism refers to countries in a situation of post-independence, but one problem identified with the term is that it suggests that colonialism is immediately over ignoring the phenomenon of neo-colonialism. The problem with fitting Wales into the postcolonial category is that it does not have ‘a progressive-linear model of moving from colonization (and colonial literature) to decolonization (and postcolonial literature)’ (3). Bohata wants to fashion postcolonialism as a pluralistic, umbrella-like category.

There are countries whose early histories include conquest and colonization prior to the period traditionally addressed by postcolonialism, and whose subjugation or marginalization may indeed continue right through and beyond the eras of overseas mercantilism, colonization and imperialism. In these cases we find a long history of cultural assimilation and/or political co-option, yet also a persistent, self-defined sense of cultural difference and, later, of nationhood. (3)

Bohata gives examples such as:
• Wales and Ireland;
• Slovakia and the Czech Republic;
• and more nations of the former Hapsburg Empire.

However, some studies, such as The Empire Writes Back by Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, suggest that the complicity of regions like Wales and Scotalnd with British imperialism deny them access to postcolonial models. Yet Goodwin calls this a kind of victimology. Others present the argument that ‘any manifestations of imperialist tendencies in Wales were necessarily manifestations of Anglicization and therefore not actually Welsh at all’ , for example Ned Thomas in The Welsh Extremist (4). Bohata criticizes this approach noting the ‘flawed and simplistic division between ‘Welshmen’ and ‘Britishers’ ” (5). One cannot make such an assertion when Welsh people colonized Patagonia, parts of the United States and Australia.

The categories of colonizer and colonized are, of course, far more complex than the simple binary suggested by these two labels might suggest. As the present study argues, the case of Wales is an excellent example of how postcolonial paradigms may be employed, as Goodwin suggests, to reveal the ways in which the Welsh have been subjected to a form of imperialism over a long period of time, while also acknowledging the way the Welsh have been complicit in their own subjugation and in the colonization of others. (5)

However, Bohata notes that often the subject of Wales is missed out entirely and that Britishness and Englishness become interchangeable as descriptions of an Anglo-centric culture as described by Robert Young. Bohata states: ‘The postcolonial idea that ‘British is a misleading label that disguises English cultural hegemony and a project of assimilation is a very interesting one’, and she refers to J.R. Jones’ Prydeindod (6). For J.R. Jones and others, the term ‘Britsihness’ can be re-appropriated and ‘chosen by those wishing to claim they belong to the island without identifying themselves as English’ (6).

Wales is sometimes discounted from postcolonial studies because of its proximity to England in comparison with countries that are distant from the ‘mother country’ (7). There are of course differences in the two situations. Bohata asserts that a situation of proximity means that ‘border-land becomes imbued with enormous significance’ which is a situation ‘suited to be interpreted according to postcolonial paradigms of hybridity, which emphasize constantly shifting transcultural production’ (7).

One definition of colonialism sees its beginning with ‘the ‘Great Discoveries’ of the sixteenth century’ in which case Wales would be excluded (8). Bohata rejects this definition and suggests that it is wrong to think that Wales must be postcolonial in the same way as India , Zimbabwe etc: ‘Wales, as already observed, does not fit neatly into a linear-progressive model of colonization, anti-colonialism and decolonization/independence; but, as postcolonialism has the capacity to recognize, structures of influence and subjugation are not necessarily coterminous with formal colonization or decolonization (8). Bohata also notes that in Wales the fight has often been against cultural imperialism.

Bohata now begins to consider relations between English and Welsh attitudes which make Wales’ situation a postcolonial one:
• Matthew Arnold’s suggestion that the Welsh language prevented British unity and that it needed to be eradicated;
• Matthew Arnold’s exoticisation of the Celtic genius at Oxbridge;
• the 1847 Report into the State of Education in Wales (nicknamed ‘Brad y Llyfrau Gleision’ or ‘Treachery of the Blue Books’) which depicted ‘the Welsh language, Nonconformity and Welsh women in particular, as degenerate’ (10);
• and in the evidence of Welsh writing.

Bohata notes an emphasis on naming oneself in Welsh literature and she notes: ‘The power
to name oneself and one’s landscape is crucial to the sovereignty of the individual or nation, and the renaming of colonized territories like America and Australia, and people, such as African slaves, played an important part in the domination of these territories and people’ (11). Bohata notes that the Welsh were given names like ‘John Jones’ to preclude the use of the traditional naming ‘Gwyn ap Dafydd’ (‘Gwyn son of Dafydd’).

It is at this point that Bohata begins to consider the status of Welsh writing in English and she states the following:

Even within Wales itself, the status of Welsh writing in English is generally very low: it makes little of no appearance in secondary or further education. The lack of prestige accorded to the academic research of this body of writing further marginalizes this literature, and courses on Welsh writing in English are far from universally available in universities in Wales, let alone in the rest of Britain (although seminars on Irish, Scottish and other world literatures in English are relatively commonplace). (…) The protestations that Welsh writing in English is not of a high enough standard to be studied at university will be recognized as expressions of ignorance by anyone familiar with eth best of this literature, but such objections are also based upon a traditional approach to literature which ignores the vast array of cultural and literary theory that may, along with learning to appreciate literary writing. Such protestations and exclusion from the ‘English canon’ as taught at universities and protected by a complicit publishing industry will, moreover, be a familiar echo from the recent history ( and indeed the ongoing situation for many) of colonial and postcolonial writing from across the globe. (12)

Bohata, Kirsti. Postcolonialism Revisted: Writing Wales in English. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2004.


- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Dave Sparrow

    How would you see the mass immigration to Wales (largely the southern industrial regions) from Ireland and England during the 18th and 19th centuries affecting this? This mixing of nationalities will have had a massive impact on welsh identity.

    I think that this period of industrial expansion had an immense impact on Welsh identity, without the industrial revolutions most towns in the valleys probably wouldn’t even exist, or would at least be much much smaller. This is also why there are such differences between the south east and other regions of Wales such as the west and north.

    25 Nov 2006, 21:52

  2. Some people think that the English speaking Welsh in the valleys are discriminated against for being working class, mixed blood, industrial workers. I think that Dai Smith might have sympathy with this view. I seem to remember him saying something about this on the radio when there was that fuss about him being a non-Welsh speaking chair of the Welsh Arts Council.

    27 Nov 2006, 10:27

  3. Dave Sparrow

    I think discriminated against is probably a bit far, but I agree there is a feeling in the valleys that there is a certain attitude of the English speaking Welsh not being ‘proper’ Welsh from the Welsh speaking Welsh. That’s rubbish grammar, but I can’t be bothered fixing it now.

    27 Nov 2006, 11:48

  4. Yes well I agree, but some people feel very strongly about it I think.

    27 Nov 2006, 14:18


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