Empire


If you are a historian, the sugar museum in Maui is a bit Meh.* The section on the material culture of the plantation workers is the best part, and they look to be doing excellent work with tracking down family and oral histories and hosting reunions of the various plantation camps. The 10-minute video is a good glimpse into the industrial nature of sugar (though that is better represented by the billowing smokestacks just across the way), and they do a nice job of not being a commercial for sugar despite being owned by the big sugar company (but, since I grew up singing the “C&H! Pure cane sugar….that’s the one!” jingle, and was standing in the heart of its production, they probably didn’t need to).

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sugar cane

But, if you are a bookseller (or perchance the daughter of one), and you follow the signs that says BOOKS around four or five corners and over a mile or so of muddy road to the Friends of the Library store, you also get a nice little tour of the backside of the sugar mill, and even better, good views of a number of the remaining plantation buildings. And can wander around taking photos while your mother peruses books.

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If I understood right, the plantation workers lived in long buildings subdivided into small cabins.

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Not such a great shot, but I like the old plantation church next to the massive mechanical bits of the sugar mill.

The Maui Historical Society does not let you take pictures inside at all, and I found it rather more satisfying overall.

Both museums carefully tread the balance between the problems of colonialism and plantations and the fact that much of their money comes (I assume) from the descendants of colonizers and the owners of plantations. Although, I read in the local news that the sugar industry employs about 800 people on Maui. Three minutes of googling was not enough to tell me how many contracted laborers the sugar industry brought from the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Japan, China, Azores (“Portuguese”), Russia, Spain, US, and the rest of the Pacific, but I bet it was a WAY larger proportion of the population than 800 is today.

*Like the rest of us, I scorn the right-wing for seeing Hawaii as exotic. But I can’t tell you how many times I said “I’ll be back in the States mid-August” and even after consciously pushing myself through that, I still find that I am in my “pumping money into a developing economy” attitude about spending locally and paying for things like local historical museums.

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Someone asked me to forgive them recently.

I don’t really know what forgiveness is. I haven’t absorbed much Christianity in my life, so I don’t have a religious understanding of it. What does it mean?

It’s not like I forget—I’m not a forgetter of grudges. I can still get angry, rehashing them, years later. But I do not wish for any ill or harm to come to this person in the future. I’m not vindictive, or a believer in revenge.

I think, maybe, I don’t deal in forgiveness the same way I try not to deal in blame. Cause and effect is critical, of course—we have to understand how and why things happened. But I consider blame and guilt irrelevant—forgiveness, perhaps, is the other side of that coin?

Thing is, one of the many insidious things about colonialism is that it causes people to traffic in human remains. And then to put stolen remains, like this mummified Maori head, on display in museums. And to call those stolen remains part of one’s own “patrimoine national.”

Mouse at Notes of a Neophyte, new blog for me and well worth reading.

From Time,

Unlike the typical, walled-off resort, [Costa Rica’s] Cacique’s hotel rooms and vacation homes will surround an authentic village where locals will both live and work. Tanzania’s Singita Grumeti Sasakwa Hill Lodge reimagines African safaris by housing guests in a $3,000-a-night colonial-style English manor after their long days on the Serengeti Plain spying lions and cheetahs.

The first one sounds a lot like a plantation, no? With Massa in the Big House? The spatial inversion doesn’t change the relationship.

Breaking news! I actually got a useful forward—off a listserv, yet—“How to Write about Africa”. Worth a read, if a tad facile. But it’s from a special Granta volume, The View from Africa, and what I really wanted to post about was this excerpt from a review:

So for anyone travelling to Africa and anxious to learn about its present, my advice is; ditch your copies of Karen Blixten or Pakenham’s The Scramble for Africa and pack this edition of Granta instead.

I don’t even know what to say about the idea that someone going to Africa TODAY would think Blixten or Pakenham is the best thing to read. How….colonial.

Timothy Burke writes:

South Africa’s nationhood was proposed as a new moral covenant for the 21st Century, through an extensive process of constitutionalism and a strong commitment to far-reaching liberal political ideals. It wasn’t just a failed colonial project dropped like a bomb on Africans by a European power hastily scrambling to extricate itself from an accelerating disaster.

That last sentence expresses exactly how I feel about imperialism. If Europeans, especially the British, had lived up to all their rhetoric about trusteeship and bringing ‘subject peoples’ gradually to the point of self-goverment, I would not be so anti-imperialist.