Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Creole World, Purist Rhetoric: Anglo-Indian Cultural Debates in Colonial and Contemporary Madras

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Creole World, Purist Rhetoric: Anglo-Indian Cultural Debates in Colonial and Contemporary Madras

Article excerpt

While early postcolonial writings drew attention to the ways in which colonial discourse contributed to the separation, subordination and domination of non-Western others as colonized subjects (Said 1978), more recent discussions have stressed the possibilities for challenges to, and subversions of, this dominant discourse. Echoing Fanon's observation (1970: 48) that 'things happen' outside colonialism's control and direction, Bhabha, for example, has emphasized the cultural ambiguities inherent in colonial encounters, and focused on the complexities of the cultural and political boundaries between colonizer and colonized (1994). In the wake of such work no serious anthropological study of a contemporary Third World setting can neglect the cultural implications of the colonial engagement, nor ignore the 'persistent "neo-colonial" relations within the "new" world order ...' (Bhabha 1994: 6).

Though acknowledging the vital contribution of postcolonial scholars, critics in several disciplines have recently begun to question what are seen as the largely global, static and de-contextualized categories and theorizing which abound in their accounts. Thus, Stoler's work among Europeans in the colonial Dutch East Indies underlines the impossibility of viewing colonizers and colonized as universal and undifferentiated categories. Significantly, her study marks an important step away from assuming the homogeneity of colonial elites, and of treating Europeans and colonizers as synonymous categories (1984; 1989). Similarly, Tsing - focusing on a 'marginal' population of rainforest shifting cultivators in Indonesia - rejects such global dichotomies, opting for 'a finer, more contradictory specification of national and regional discourses of exclusion and struggle' (1993:17).

Thomas echoes such reservations, and complains furthermore of the post-colonial position's 'dogged attachment' to colonialism as a unitary category, and its attribution of general characteristics to an undifferentiated concept of colonial discourse itself (1994: ix, 43). Like other critics, he advocates a more historically and ethnographically nuanced approach to colonial encounters (1994: 9).

This article seeks to contribute to this discussion by considering the specific circumstances of a mixed-race and culturally hybrid population in urban south India - the Anglo-Indians(1) -who emerged during the colonial period as a consequence of the liaisons between European males (colonial officials, traders, soldiers, etc.) and local, non-European women. Throughout this period the Anglo-Indians occupied a socially and politically ambiguous position vis-a-vis both the British and the majority Indian 'community'. Like the offspring of such liaisons in many colonial situations, therefore, Anglo-Indians threatened to 'blur the divide' between colonizer and colonized (Stoler 1984: 60).

An examination of colonial discourses by, and in relation to, Anglo-Indians both reinforces and challenges the insistence by postcolonial writers that in considering the colonial encounter, as well as the contemporary local/global interface, attention is most appropriately focused on the processes of hybridization and creolization. For Bhabha, 'hybridity is the sign of the productivity of colonial power' (1994: 112; see also Clifford 1992: 101). In anthropology, certainly, the idea of cultures as bounded and self-perpetuating systems has begun to make room for an image of cultures as plural and interconnected. Drummond was among the first to suggest that polyethnic societies (such as those in the Caribbean) can best be understood in terms of an approach which eschews cultural fixity and insularity. Building on Bickerton's (1975) model of overlapping or intersystemic features as crucial for any study of language, Drummond adopts a creole metaphor to argue for the notion of a 'cultural continuum' which highlights diversity and internal variation (1980). While other anthropologists have since utilized the notion of creolization in different ways - Parkin (1993) has identified at least three senses in which the term has been employed - each, in its own guise, encourages us to turn aside from the image of 'cultural islands' (Eriksen 1993), from a view of cultures as 'well-bounded wholes' (Hannerz 1992: 265-6). …

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