POST-MORTEMISM: THE PROTRACTION 
OF THE DEAD PREFIX IN IDENTITY


OLADIPO AGBOLUAJE



Ideas surrounding the issue of identity have gained media
currency in recent times, more so as the political and economic
engagement with Europe, the trumpeting of globalisation and the
punch bag that is immigration draw wide attention in the media.
On television programmes considering British identity have
proliferated as well as column inches in newspapers and journals.
Seminars and conferences in universities and prestigious venues
such as the South Bank in London have opened their halls to a
wide array of the intelligentsia in the hope of pinning down this
illusive and, perhaps, illusory essence upon which all agree to 
disagree.  Science, through the genome project has lent its weight 
in favour of nurture over nature, comparing the number of genes 
that make up man almost equal to that of the fruit fly. The policies 
of New Labour are shifting more and more to the centre and at times
almost tipping into the right side of the political equation. Despite
the current scientific support that society maketh the man, social
engineering is still a dirty term. 

Postmodernism and cultural studies have sought to identify the
trends to move away from the stable fixtures that have stood the
test as moral and common sense applications, erected as totems of
knowledge unproblematic in their production of the stereotype
and the linear. To bring down this totem, postmodernism has come
with a armoury of terminology, that like a cluster bomb releases
thousands of explosives all over the land mass of history,
literature, social studies linguistics and philosophy. But like
George Bush, the status quo show no intention of being unsettled
by gaffes and smart-Alec Home Alone kid look-alikes. If you can’t
stand the death penalty, get out of the school playground. And like
New Labour there is nothing incongruous about railing against the
impoverished school system and then celebrating the beginning of
a new millennium in the year 2000. On a nation-wide scale it
reproduces the Dan Quayle-style classroom embarrassment, the
only problem being that education standards have fallen so low,
nobody seems to know. Or Derrida’s Witnesses’ have converted
us all. Those who do not repent will be thrown into the eternal 
fire of certainty, where there is much gnashing of teeth. 

As we celebrate the fragment, I would like to investigate how the
so-called postcolonial, might escape this dead term, prefix and all,
through which an incredible amount of intellectual capital has
been built. Personal academic experience: in Nigeria where I did
my first degree, I never came across the term ‘postcolonial’.
Neo-colonialism was a popular term that crept up in arguments in
the common rooms and between lectures. Studying drama was just
that. Dramatic and critical theory, history and stagecraft.
Postcolonial theory? Never heard of it. Postmodernism? Sorry,
wrong number. Returning to Britain and entering the university
system, I find myself a potential envelope stamped with anger,
indignation and subversive text messaging always writing back to
the centre, always ready with the address of the Commission for
Racial Equality whenever I befall any mishap. ‘You didn’t slap me
as hard as you slapped the other guy because I’m black!’ My fist
was perpetually on standby, to be raised in a black power salute.
The Olympic podium was always one step behind me with expedited 
delivery service (thanks to Red Arrow, sponsors of this sentence). 
I was trapped. It was wrong to speak evil of your race. If you 
dared to you were a coconut, black on the outside, white on the 
inside. Still, I went through the process of academic acculturation, 
albeit mistakenly. I registered to study Literature, Representation 
and Modernity at University of North London, the idea being that 
I was returning to words on the page to complement my previous 
training of words on the stage. You must forgive my ignorance: 
the literature in the title of the course fooled me completely. 
The good thing about doing a research degree nowadays is that 
you choose your own topic. Not that I did not have problems there 
too but I thank my supervisors preventing me committing the same 
mistake twice. 


‘POST-’ AS PREFIX

This term that confronts colonialism and modernism, that
contradicts the very notion it is trying to support, how do we 
come clean and say, well done now make your exit through the back
door, do not overstay your welcome? I might as well come out and
say right now that we cannot, for it has become the major star of
the show. It is here to stay because like capitalism it is
accumulative. It will not rest until all departments dealing with 
art and culture in the Third World are speaking its civilised and
modernised tongue. As I said earlier it functions like a cluster
bomb and as targets we must defend ourselves from attack.
Postcolonial intellectuals such as Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak,
Edward Said and Salman Rushdie write back to the to centre of
the empire, telling it the elusive, contradictory and metaphoric
nature of the colonial and postcolonial condition, redefining its
textual canons through deconstructive interstices, ambivalence
and the third space. In their footsteps follow a whole army of
terminology prodigies powering their way through different
disciplines on the road to fragmentation, difference and otherness,
always already guilty of subversion and perverting the cause of
absolutism from every ideological position. But there is legitimacy
to their writing from the centre to the centre. It would be difficult
explaining to a student-filled Nigerian lecture room that their
existence is mainly derived from their manichean binarity with the
white middle class male and that they must constantly speak for
themselves and their race at all times. And then to present them
with the linguistic tools of trope and metaphor. It is a heavy
burden I believe they would rather not bear considering the more
pressing personal problems they face daily. It is a paradox that an
open theory that celebrates fragment identifies and scrutinises the
postcolonial condition as one undifferentiated mass. As Anne
McClintock (1994) argues, the post- in postcolonial not only
contradicts the aim of the enterprise, it legitimises the centrality
of the European conception of time, progress and history. That is
definitely one thing my fellow country people will not stomach at
this moment in time.

Creative writers have done a great deal to upset this balance that
theory has placed upon postcolonial discourse. Wole Soyinka asks
us in his preface to Death and the King’s Horseman (1975) not to
accept the play as a facile conflict of cultures. ‘The Colonial
Factor is an incident, a catalytic incident merely’. In Zakes Mda’s
We Shall Sing for the Fatherland (1973/79) the two Beckettian
tramps are mourning the wasted contributions of their lives to the
war of freedom in a newly independent state which has been
outsourced in very much the same way Zimbabwe was when it
negotiated an independence that still kept majority of the
economic resources in the hands of the very people they fought
against (McClintock). In these two examples the colonial and
postcolonial eras provide backdrops to larger indigenous issues
which the writers feel need addressing. They locate colonialism as
part of the historical process in time. For better or worse agency
of the indigenous peoples under colonial rule is portrayed as a
given. In this the creative arts are ahead of many other fields
where development is seen only in western terms and the
comparisons between people and areas within nations are subject
to the prejudices these monolithic interpretations entail. Again
referring to another Soyinka play, The Lion and the Jewel (1963),
the lecherous and corrupt chief, Baroka insists, ‘I do not hate
progress, only its nature/which makes all the roofs and faces look
the same.’ Elsewhere he claims that the old must flow into the
new. The dichotomy between old and new must be bridged, as
both ideally should co-exist in a symbiotic relationship. If the
destruction of one continues at the insistence of the other, then
the continuation of antagonism and one-upmanship will continue
the act of throwing the baby out with the water. 


CONSTRUCTION OF IDENTITIES IN COLONIAL AFRICA

Those of us from the continent of Africa know how easy identity
can be a pitfall. In the news whatever the medium, the part is
taken for the whole and vice versa. Kadiatu Kanneh (1998)
identifies this trend in fictional texts such as Joyce Cary’s 
'Mister Johnson' (1939). An American in Tokyo is from Brooklyn, 
Idaho or Washington. A European is from Germany, Britain or France. 
A Ghanaian, Ivorien or Nigerian is from Africa. As Stuart Hall
points out, ‘Englishness’ and ‘Americanness’ are never represented 
as ethnicities. Ethnicity is always-already named as marginal or 
peripheral to the mainstream. After being prodded into their model 
of nationhood by the colonial powers and the indigenous ruling 
classes, we now find the term in disrepute. After falling into debt 
in the rush to industrialisation, following blindly the materialist 
models of development we now find that the gold standard of development 
is as obsolete as the 286 processor. But despite the obviousness of 
reality non-western countries must continue to mimic the development 
patterns of the West. As Salil Tripathi (2001) comments, ‘As Silicon 
Valley has become the norm for the global information technology 
industry, others will imitate the model. The glamour surrounding the 
Valley has spawned a host of imitators: Massachusetts’s Route 128, 
India’s Bangalore, Kuala Lumpur’s Multi-media supercorridor (Cyberjaya), 
Singapore’s "intelligent island" and Taiwan’s science park in Hsinchu 
are all me-too imitators.’ This mentality is where structural adjustment, 
free trade zones, trade and tariff agreements and privatisation and 
commercialisation programmes have been forced on the populace and ended 
in tragedy. The citizens of these non-western nations spilled blood to 
assert an assumed identity. They now want to live the lives of the 
American on Dallas re-runs at all costs and by all means. 

These assumed identities that are presented as essences on which
national identity can be built are the fictions that are beginning 
to unravel, albeit to the beat of new fictions. The project of
capturing cultural identities in a sepia-tinted freeze frame of
essentialism is politically and economically motivated. In West
Africa, group identities traditionally formed around familial
relations, not tribal ones. Robin Law (1973), in deconstructing 
the historiography surrounding the Oyo Empire accepts that the
Yoruba shared a common language and culture but were not a
political unit until the late 19th-early 20th century. Chris
Waterman (1997) adds that up to the 1930s several people
refused to be called Yoruba, identifying themselves with the 
area they lived and the dialect they spoke. The creation of 
Yoruba identity started with Reverend Samuel Johnson’s account 
in History of the Yorubas, (1923) which was biased towards the 
Oyo version. Bishop Ajayi Crowther weighed in with an Oyo dialect
translation of the Bible and a dictionary of Yoruba. Thus the 
Oyo variant is the lingua franca used among the Yoruba-speaking
peoples today. The role of the missionaries in language development 
and literacy was very important in this regard. (Vail: 1999)

Another example of tribal formations is in Southern Africa. Joey
Power (1992) describes how the British administration tried to 
use both indirect rule and cooperative associations to control
migratory patterns among the indigenous population in 1930s
Malawi. It was part of a programme to prevent the petit bourgeois
from class formation that could have created similar political
aspirations as that of the petit bourgeois in West Africa. For 
the British, they felt that rampant individualism and capitalistic
tendencies were ‘un-African’. These two programmes would return 
the African to the traditional communal order as well as to
the feudalistic order, which would be in line with their policy
regarding Native Administration. The cooperatives failed
miserably because the Africans were as individualistic as the next
man. Self-interest prevailed above group interest. They were
suspicious of Government objectives, since laws that were passed
discriminated against their progress. Also, the ‘traditional’ chiefs
who were the main point of contact between the indigenes and the
government were despotic and corruptly accumulative. As in other
areas of Southern Africa, young people sought to flee these areas
for the same reasons immigrants seek greener pastures abroad
today: a better quality of life and the right to self-assertion. 

According to Leroy Vail, indirect rule became strengthened by the
petit bourgeois who, with their mission education were able, like
Samuel Johnson did for the Yorubas, to interpret these invented
traditions. It is worthy to note that the Malawi chiefs had to go 
to school to learn the traditional ways of how to rule their tribes.
Men who were able to find work in the cities found them mostly
through ‘home boy’ networks. Since pass laws did not permit them
to stay permanently in urban areas, they had to protect their
interests back home. The chiefs acted as surveillance on their
wives and property back home, rather than family members as
was the previous practice. It led to a curbing of women’s freedom
and greater economic dependency on their absentee husband’s
remittances. These chiefs were rewarded for their efforts and
thus their status as ‘traditional’ power brokers became
consolidated. In The Making of Africa (1984) Bill Freud says that
the group formations were created by the divide and rule tactics
to support capitalist interests and reinforced by the survival
instincts of individuals as in the home boy network stated before.
Lineage and kinship relationships were the most important and
they were not associated with tribal or ethnic identity. 

It is through this mish-mash of group identification that nations
arose to attain flag independence. The crude nationalist beat that
moved the spirit has proved inadequate to satisfy the body. The
cabal of administrative bourgeoisie, feudal leftovers, military
despots and one-party dictators had no master plan other than to
fill the boots of the retreating colonialists and admire how well
kept their garden lawns are in reserved areas, their new abode.
Instead they decided to continue down the path their lords took:
divide and rule, law and order, subjecthood rather than citizenship. 
As in the days of imperialism, guns are trained on defenceless 
citizens protesting undemocratic policies. Freedom of speech is 
denied with brutal consequences. The bandwagon of progress that 
has created wealth for the few with access to the government through 
clientship relations is stubbornly adhered to at the expense of 
health and education. This has led to the intensification of tribal 
affiliations. People had already given up on the idea of nationhood 
before independence. But there is a lack of political will to 
initiate the proper projects to defuse the situation. In the instance 
of Nigeria, state creation has been the primary solution to tribal 
antagonism but as long as the Federal Government continues to be 
their major source of revenue their autonomy is as much a fiction 
as the country itself. 

We are now the focus of attention of NGOs and world bodies
worried about the distance of the continent to the information
highway. The United States business class continues to promote
the market as the democratic solution to every problem, as if all
problems stem from solely a financial perspective. This fallacy is
underwritten by the myth of the so-called New Economy consigning 
the old boom and bust cycle to history. That the only way is up 
with new technology that allows us to participate directly in the 
stock market, cutting out the broker. Irrespective of status, race, 
colour or creed, you are welcome to the floor with open arms so 
long as you do not come empty-handed. This illusion, Thomas Frank 
(2001) says, even identifies a new enemy: the labour union. They 
represent those who want more of our hard-earned money. They want 
more benefits for actual, not virtual, work done at the expense 
of our retirement pension fund. If they threaten disruption, why, 
we just ship our money to sweat shops overseas where the indigent 
are grateful for work. That will show them! As Gramsci has shown, 
the difference between the ruling classes of the past and the 
bourgeoisie is that while the former were a closed shop, the latter 
extends its power by co-optation. The state has become educator of 
the masses and in Britain we hear Government making this clear by 
pronouncing that making everyone middle class is its very intention, 
that we should all think of becoming investors. Indeed, through its
self-praise of fiscal responsibility, ‘The modus operandi of the
profit-maximising private firm has become the model to which even 
government aspires’ (Hobsbawm, 2001). As Foucault states, ‘Any 
system of education is a political way of maintaining or modifying 
the appropriation of discourses, along with the knowledges and powers 
which they carry.’ While in support, Fareed Zakaria (2001) notes that 
so far, proponents like him have been incapable of providing a 
justification other than economic for globalisation. The economic 
collapse of 1929 was caused by unfettered capitalism. The system was 
rectified and invigorated by government policy, the same policies that 
have been hewed at ever since by rightwing administrations in the U.S. 
and Great Britain. The crash of 1987 was due to the speed of computerised
trading that like a virus stampeded to recession within the global
finance circuit. But as soon as one lesson is learned, the page is
turned, oblivious of the ones preceding it.

So what can the postcolonial citizen bring to the table other than
rhythm and emotion a la Senghorian Negritude? Besides his I.T.
skills and donations to the building of millenarian projects, he 
first wants the table set properly. He wants to know if the way 
forward is through Many Cultures, One Nation, or through One 
Nation only. According to the International Organisation of 
Migration more than 150m people live outside their country of 
origin and more are set to join them under the present conditions 
of inequalities. What has happened now is that the battle for
identities and their recognition being fought for bloodily in 
their countries of birth are ‘allowed’ to certain degrees in the 
West. It is a paradox that continues the tradition of the journey 
of discovery. The first agitators for independence were those who
travelled abroad for higher education. They met prejudice and
also discovered that their colonial masters did not come from
paradise. In Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, Elesin
Oba’s son, Olunde, returns from studying and practising medicine
in London to take his father’s place in a suicide ritual. Rather 
than lament the tragedy of the waste of this young man, we gaze upon
his naivete and his inability to see what his father saw but could
not speak. It was a moribund tradition that had had its day. Today
we find ourselves under a Rubik’s cube of choices and the ability
to define ourselves and our position in a cosmopolitan society that
purports to celebrate difference through the same colonial process
of difference solidification. It is a society that categorises its
citizens according to accent, credit ratings,alphabetic-postal-address 
significations and rural/urban dichotomy. It divides by politicising 
where to put a national stadium or where to host end of millennium 
celebrations one year before the time. You mean we have to meander 
through all this and still think of ourselves as ethnic? You think 
too highly of our capabilities. 

The postcolonial citizen is still encased in a symbolic reference
very much and constantly shaped by agencies beyond his control
for straddling two worlds makes him a double agent. He/she spies
on behalf of both sides. When caught, it is always red-handed,
always with the mouth crammed with cookies and bean balls. His
anxiety is one guaranteed by the suspicion that, after creating a
space to define his condition with the fluidity of an open theory, 
he might have revealed a little too much for both sides to be
comfortable with. 

 

                          Notes

  1.Anne McClintock, ‘The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the
    Term "Post-Colonialism"’ in Patrick Williams & Laura
    Chrisman (eds.), Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial
    Theory: A Reader, Harvester Wheatsheaf, U.K. 1994, pp
    291-304. 
  2.Bill Freud, The Making of Africa: The Development of
    African Society Since 1800, Indiana University Press, U.S.A.
    1984. 
  3.Chris Waterman, ‘"Our Tradition is a Very Modern
    Tradition": Popular Music and the Construction of
    Pan-Yoruba Identity’ in Karin Barber (ed.) Readings in
    African Popular Culture, The International African
    Institute/James Currey, U.K. 1997, pp 48-53. 
  4.Eric Hobsbawm, ‘Democracy can be Bad for You’ New
    Statesman, 5 March 2001, pp 25-27. 
  5.Fareed Zakaria, ‘No, Economics Isn’t King’, Newsweek,
    December 2000-February 2001, pp 14-17 
  6.Joey Power: ‘"Individualism is the Antithesis of Indirect
    Rule", Cooperative Development and Indirect Rule in
    Colonial Malawi’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 18, 2,
    1992, pp 317-347 
  7.Kadiatu Kanneh, African Identities: Race, Nation and
    Culture in Ethnography, Pan-Africanism and Black
    Literatures, Routledge, London, 1998, pp 21-30 
  8.Leroy Vail, ‘Ethnicity in South African History’ in Roy
    Richard Grinker & Christopher B. Steiner (eds.),
    Perspectives on Africa: A Reader in Culture, History and
    Representation: Blackwell, U.K. 1999, pp 52-68. 
  9.Robin Law: ‘The Heritage of Oduduwa: Traditional History
    and Political Propaganda Among the Yoruba, Journal of
    African History: 14, 2, 1973, pp 207-222. 
 10.Salil Tripathi, ‘On the Dark Side of the Valley’, New
    Statesman, 8 January 2001, pp25-26. 
 11.Thomas Frank, ‘The Big Con, Guardian Saturday Review, 6
    January 2001, pp1-2. 
 12.Wole Soyinka, Collected Plays 2, Oxford University Press,
    U.K. 1974. 
 13.Wole Soyinka, Plays: 1, Methuen, U.K. 1998. 
 14.Zakes Mda, We Shall Sing for the Fatherland, Ravan Press,
    South Africa, 1997.




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