2 August 2021 10:22

Indian Diaspora and Hybridity: Where do I fit?

At the end of the 18th century, the English administration wanted to convert their Indian subjects to Christianity but did not want them to be too Christians or too English as they foresaw that they were simply producing a colonised mimic”

Indian Diaspora in the Pacific (Fiji) and around the world (Guyana, Mauritius, Suriname,  Trinidad and Tobago etc.) have transformed into forming a hybrid culture, by adopting many aspects of the host’s culture, rework, reform and reconfigure them to form a hybrid culture.

The notion of ‘hybridity is emphatically raised by postcolonial literature. Postcolonial studies have made an academic rethinking in the arts and humanities, as a process of interpreting and criticising the culture of colonialism and imperialism, reflecting the idea of resistance and anti-empire feeling.

Colonialism was constructed as a ‘civilizing mission’ of the East, this has been revisited by post-colonial theorists to decolonize the legacy of colonisation in the formerly colonised nations.

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They have a non-Eurocentric perspective and question the values of imperialism. Post-colonial theorists have analysed this by the colonial powers considered themselves superior over the colonised nation, so tied to dominate and enforce hegemony. Under this movement, the scholars raised a voice against the colonial empire with strong resistance.

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A school-based Indo-Fijian dancing troupe performing a Pacific item. Photo: PMC archive; Supplied

‘Holy Trinity’

Major post-colonial studies’ scholars include Edward Said’s Orientalism concept, Gayatri Spivak’s idea of ‘Subalternity’ and Homi K. Bhabha’s ‘hybridity and Mimicry’. These three are together known as the ‘Holy Trinity’ in postcolonial studies. 

Here we enlighten Bhabha’s work as a cultural critic and develop a theoretical understanding of postcolonialism, based on his work and other multiple available sources for mass readers. This scholar discussed the marginalisation of natives without any agency and identity of their own. They have been misrepresented and their identity has been distorted.

Bhabha (born in 1949 in India, higher studies in the UK and employed in the US) is a cultural critic, literary and prominent theorist of postcolonial culture. His terminologies are closely related to the ideas and terminologies from Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan (French thinkers).

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His text is difficult to understand due to the complex style of writing. He coined a large number of neologisms and key concepts like mimicry, hybridity, ambivalence, difference, dissemination. These terms reflect the manner in which the colonised people have resisted the power of the colonisers.

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Overall, postcolonialism studies raised an issue of marginalisation of natives without any voice and identity, thus leading to distortion of native subjects and misrepresentation of native culture.

Neologism Terms

Bhabha’s work The Location of Culture (1994) highlights the negotiation of cultural identity during colonial times prevalent in race, culture and gender. He explains the emergence of new cultural forms from multiculturalism with a theory of ‘cultural hybridity.

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Girmit Boat Image: Shyamni. Read more at: https://www.newsgram.com/girmitiyas-from-indenture-labour-to-political-and-economic-scenario/

In simple terms, it means a mixture of two cultures that leads to an emergence of a new culture. The work believes that culture is not a static entity, but it is fluid and in motion; and discourse of colonisation works in two directions, first, establish the colonised as ‘others’ or ‘colonising subject’, while it also abolishes their radical ‘otherness’ understanding by the ‘West’.

The concept of ‘Mimicry’ is reflected in Bhabha’s work Of Mimicry and Man (1985), which beliefs in the process of imitation by the colonised society of the lifestyle of colonisers in terms of culture, education, language, dress and politics. This imitation is done in the hope to have access to the power (colonial) in oneself.

As colonisers have civilised and taught discipline to the indigenous people, but still maintained a significant difference between coloniser and colonised. The reason behind it is to continue their dominance and colonial rule forever.

Colonial mimicry arises due to colonised’s desire to be reformed, recognisable other, but it is “almost the same, but not quite.”  He believes the “menace of mimicry is its double vision which in disclosing the ambivalence of colonial discourses also disrupts its authority. And it is a double-vision that is a result of what I’ve described as the partial representation or recognition of the colonial object” (Bhabha, 2001, p. 383).

This mimicry leads towards hybridity. It is described with an example “He states that at the end of the 18th century, the English administration wanted to convert their Indian subjects to Christianity but did not want them to be too Christians or too English as they foresaw that they were simply producing a colonised mimic” (Bhat, 2015).

He postulates the concept of hybridity that negates the concept of purity of race and national identity whereas this hybridity develops in between the real and idealised space called ‘third space’. The notion of pure and uncontaminated culture is a myth for this work. This concept is based on cultural differences between the colonisers and colonised, that noticed cultural exchange between them and leads to the production of hybridity.

This is cross-cultural exchange and it has effects on different ways like social, cultural, political and religious. The coloniser and colonised are not a separate entity, so they are interdependent during the colonial period that even continues in the post-colonial period. He tries to find the location of culture in marginal spaces and believes in the idea of misrepresentation in the postcolonial world.

As per Bhabha, ‘ambivalence’ was used that signifies the coloniser’s intention to reform the colonised but did not make a complete transformation. This is a way in which coloniser and colonised regard each other. The coloniser usually regards the colonised as inferior and exotic, whereas the colonised regard the coloniser as enviable and corrupt.

This uncertainty resulted in mimicry when natives try to mimic the colonisers’ culture but fail to realise the power of reform, unable to get recognition and fail to undermine the colonisers’ system. Thus, the process of mimic by natives leads to ridicule.

Conclusion

Peter Burke’s work Cultural Hybridity (2009) stated the process of hybridisation and globalisation are interconnected. As hybridisation has a major impact on the identity of a person, culture and opinion.

The response to cultural hybridity can be accepted, rejected, segregated and adapted. Thus, the Indian Diaspora has resulted in the formulation of a hybrid culture in the Pacific, and this hybridity is further extended when Indians from Fiji move towards nations (majorly have migrated to neighbouring countries Australia and New Zealand).  

This mixture led to the development of a new identity and culture distinct in itself but more oriented towards the present homeland since some only imagined/noticed their forefather’s country with stereotypical picture of mass media.

Author: Dr Sakul Kundra, A.HOD Department of Social Science, College of Humanities and Education, Fiji National University.

Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied
Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied

Disclaimer: The views expressed are his own and not of The Australia Today or his employer. For comments or suggestions, email. [email protected]

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