The White Man’s Burden: Quintessential Representation of Subjectivity in Post-Colonialism Africa

by valdesjoha

Robin Morris and Johannes Valdes

White Man’s Burden

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–Pears Soap Ad circa 1890's
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper–
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard–
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–
“Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Ye dare not stoop to less–
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Have done with childish days–
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

¬-Rudyard Kipling

Question: Why might the poem, “White Man’s Burden” relate to the novel “Nervous Conditions”? What effects has colonialism had on Africa since the 1960s?

“The White Man’s Burden” has become emblematic both of Eurocentrism and of Western aspirations to dominate the developing world.  Nervous Conditions, a novel about post-colonial Africa, relates to this poem as it discusses the issues surrounding colonialism and its effect on former colonies.

The characters in this novel face many psychological pressures through colonialism and the system within that exerts pressure on many of the decisions and opportunities that arise.

Tambu and Nyasha get to be accepting of colonialism’s benefits without questioning and become fixed into a national identity reflecting colonialist’s elements on Africans. The characters struggle to face and merge into the social and political influences shaping their lives, forms the foundation and main conflict of Nervous Conditions.


7 Comments to “The White Man’s Burden: Quintessential Representation of Subjectivity in Post-Colonialism Africa”

  1. The first stanza of this poem to me relates very well with the central theme that i found in this novel. Clashing culture within a colonial world brings a struggle to the people trying to live in a world that is torn between what the colony believes is right and the traditions of the previously ruling culture. The whites say these people need education but they aren’t looking at the effects this so called education is having on the people. They are “Half-devil and half-child”. They need the Europeans to teach them how to be. At worst colonialism pushed Africa into a world that it wasn’t ready for. it destroyed many cultures and put a generations of people the struggle of choosing between their future and their family.

  2. I think that this poem perfectly exemplifies the roles, pressures and expectations put on both the colonizers and colonial subjects, including the individuals we read about in “Nervous Conditions.” The “white man” coming into the colonies was branded as a hero, a god, or an authority figure at the very least. It was his responsibility to “Fill the mouth of Famine/ And bid the sickness cease.” He seemingly brought hope, relief and progress. The “burden” in this poem were of course individuals such as Tambu and Babamakuru, who were seen as the “sullen peoples/ Half- devil and half child,” and needed to be reformed and reintroduced into society as productive members. The White man’s burden therefore was this perception that it was the noble duty of the colonizers to accomplish this. Further, individuals such as Babamukuru did not owe their accomplishments to themselves, but rather to the opportunities presented to them by the “White man.” We see this idea reoccurring in the story, to the point where it is even perpetuated by Tambu when she mentions the “special kind of white person” on the mission, and how their sacrifices made them superior to everyone else (Pg. 105).

  3. 1) This Kipling poem was published on 12 February 1899 in MCLURE’S. In the spirit of comparison, consider checking out Ernest Crosby’s “The Real ‘White Man’s Burden'” published in the NEW YORK TIMES on 15 February 1899 and Henry Lacbouchere’s “The Brown Man’s Burden” published in TRUTH on 25 February 1899.

    2) Kipling was born in India and then sent to England at the age of six to be educated “at home” while his parents continued to live and work in India. After finishing his schooling there, his father found him a position in Lahore. I mention this in light our focus on education during our work on NERVOUS CONDITIONS.

  4. The last stanza of Rudyard Kliping’s poem makes me think about the role of Babamukuru in Nervous Conditions. Although the main focus of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel is the female struggle, it is interesting to see how this male character plays in the story. Babamukuru was given the opportunity to escape from poverty through the access of education and although he knew this would bring heavy responsibilities, he left Rhodesia to study in England. On his return, the education and wealth he gained placed him at the head of the family with the responsibility to financially support his relatives and the obligation of solving the issues that were present in their lives. Due to his status in the family, Babamukuru is frequently criticized by his relatives for the choices he makes, the actions he takes and the attitude he embraces towards his commitment of ensuring the wellbeing of the family. This “[c]old, edged with dear-bought wisdom” describes Babamukuru not according to “[t]he judgment of [his] peers,” but the judgment of his family.

  5. the poem clearly elaborated the meaness of the whites on other races

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