Tourism and Colonization in Antigua

Tourism and Colonization in Antigua Visiting someplace new is an exciting and stimulating event. There are new places to see, people to meet, things to eat, and memories to be made. However, the typical tourist rarely takes into consideration the type of people that inhabit their selected destination from day to day. These people are often poor and never will have the opportunity to visit far-away places like the tourists who have come to experience their home have. The visitor seldom realizes the antipathy and bitterness that is felt towards them by the resident of their selected vacation destination.

Because of this they are often ignorant as to the appropriate ways to act and leave the native occupants feeling even more negative towards these vacationers. In Antigua these negative feelings have their roots in the history of oppression of the people by foreigners. The people of Antigua have been forced into slavery and ruled by “white” people since the islands first discovery by Christopher Columbus. The history of oppression and dominance over them by foreigners has left the natives with extreme feelings of resentment towards any person that is not an original resident of the island.

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In Jamaica Kincaid’s book “A Small Place” the effect that tourism and colonization has had on the inhabitants of Antigua is explored. Motes 2 The first essay in “A Small Place” focuses on tourists. Kincaid starts the novel out with a description of what a visitor to Antigua might experience. The opening narrative leaves a reader with the impression that while Antigua is a beautiful place that many people come and visit every day, the native residents view tourists with disgust. The format of her description is in the style of a typical guidebook, saying what one will see.

Staying true to this design she describes the airport one would see if they “come by aeroplane”, calling it the “V. C. Bird International Airport” and sharing that “Vere Cornwall (V. C. ) Bird is the Prime Minister of Antigua” (Kincaid 3). However, as Lesley Larkin points out, right after the Prime Minister is mentioned “Kincaid distinguishes her work immediately from the guidebook genre by also telling readers what they will not see as tourists” (Larkin, 196). A tourist will not see government official’s names on hospitals, schools, or public monuments.

Kincaid states that if “you [are] the sort of tourist who would wonder why” it is an airport and not a more publicly inclined building that bears the Prime Ministers name, it is because “you have not yet seen a” school, hospital or public monument (Kincaid, 3). These buildings are later described as rundown, dirty, and like unto a “latrine” (Kincaid, 3). It is because of their neglected state that government officials don’t place their names on the old and shabby public buildings – they want tourists to see their name associated with grandeur and new buildings.

The desire of the government to only make the things that tourists are going to regularly associate themselves with causes a feeling of neglect with the natives. Their Motes 3 government that is supposed to be concerned with their well being is far to busy taking care of foreigners to even fix their hospitals. In fact, even when the “Minister of Health himself doesn’t feel well he takes the first plane to New York” to be taken care of in a real hospital (Kincaid 8).

The difference between what the tourist experiences as Antigua and what the natives know to be Antigua can be seen in the construction of buildings that are to be used by the general population of Antigua. Another instance where there is a stark contrast between what the tourist sees and what really exists is the beauty of the island itself. As a tourists “plane descends to land” the vacationer is presented with a stunning view of the island (Kincaid 3). The first view indicates to a tourist that island is not “to green” (Kincaid, 4).

This is good in that it implies that Antigua does not get “quite a bit of rain” and that “the sun always shines” and the “climate is deliciously hot and dry” since, while a visitor is on Antigua, they don’t want their “holiday” to be ruined by bothersome rain (Kincaid 4). The other side to this problem is that the inhabitants of the Antigua are constantly in a drought and must carefully “watch… every drop of fresh water used” and “at the same time [be] surrounded by a sea and an ocean – the Caribbean Sea on one side, the Atlantic Ocean on the other” (Kincaid 4).

This predicament, as Kincaid points out, is not considered by the tourists who are only interested in a rain free vacation. Another beautiful part of the Antigua that would immediately come to your attention is the coloring of the sea. The water has three distinct Motes 4 shades, “far out, to the horizon, the colour of the water is navy blue; nearer, the water is the colour of the North American sky… from there to the shore, the water is pale, silvery, clear, so clear that you can see its pinkish-white sand bottom” (Kincaid, 12-13).

However, Antigua has “no proper sewage-disposal system” and while a tourist “wade[s] carefree in the water”, “the contents of [their] lavatory might, just might, grazer gently across your ankle” (Kincaid 14). The details of where a tourists waste goes is typically not considered, and in Antigua doing so would ruin one’s appreciation of the beautiful water and therefore ruin a part of the tourist perfect holiday.

The first essay in “A Small Place” ends with a forthright account of the feelings of Antiguan natives towards the foreigners who visit their home. The overall attitude towards tourist can be described in one sentence; “a tourist is an ugly human being” (Kincaid, 14). These vacationers are not always ugly human beings, in fact “from day to day” they “are nice” people (Kincaid, 14) and “all the people who are supposed to love [them] on the whole do” (Kincaid, 15).

It is, however, a fact that as a person lives their day to life they began to feel “ordinary” and because “being ordinary takes all you have out of you”, a tourist takes “a leap from being that nice blob just sitting like a boob in your amniotic sac of the modern experience to being a person visiting heaps of death and ruin and feeling alive and inspired at the sight of it” (Kincaid 16). Up until this point the language has been somewhat vulgar and dark, but it is nothing compared to the bitter and depressing tone that pervades the descriptions of Motes 5

Antigua as tourists see it. In fact, from this passage it is understood that it is a foreigner trait to turn that which is sad, dark, and lonesome into a cultural, exciting thing. The things that the people “can do with a piece of ordinary cloth, the things they fashion out of cheep, vulgarly colored (to you) twine, the way they squat down over a hole they have made in the ground” and “the hole itself” are all extremely fascinating to tourist who “marvel at” they way they do everyday, ordinary things (Kincaid 16-17).

These things are only special because they are different than what a tourist is use to, and because they not abnormal to the natives, they find a tourist interest extremely annoying and rude. Many foreigners are often relieved that it is not them who is “in harmony with nature and backwards in that charming way” and as this “ugly but joyful thought… swell[s] inside” them they become that “ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish” that a tourist is (Kincaid, 17). However, Kincaid does recognize that “every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere” (Kincaid, 18h).

This being said, because the natives of Antigua are “too poor to go anywhere” and “escape the reality of their lives” and they “are too poor to live properly in the place where they live” they “envy” the foreigners ability to not only leave their ordinary lives, but also the “ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure” (Kincaid, 19). The natives of Antigua are trapped where they are and the freedom of the tourists to enjoy their ensnared state of living is what lies at the root of their resentment.

Motes 6 Yet Antigua was not always in the condition it is in now. In fact, the change happened in the last 35 years when Antigua was granted it’s freedom from British rule in 1981 (U. S. Department of State). In the second essay in “A Small Place” the colonization of Antigua and the effect it had on the people is explored. The opening sentence “The Antigua that I Knew, the Antigua in which I grew up, is not the Antigua you, a tourist, would see now. That Antigua no longer exists” (Kincaid, 23).

The old Antigua was ruled over by the British and when freedom was granted to Antigua, the country underwent a makeover and the British influence on the people’s lives was removed. This detachment from England was unsettling for the narrator and this feeling is understandable since, as the narrator explains, “I met the world through England, and if the world wanted to meet me it would have to do so through England” (Kincaid, 33). However, this disconcerting feeling associated with no longer being under British rule is only felt when wishing for a better government then that which rules Antigua today.

Although, British rule was not perfect and Britain did do many negative things to the people of Antigua. The English took over Antigua, made the island their own, conformed the people to their ways, and turned the native inhabitants into a race worth less than themselves. They required that the people speak English only, even though it was not their native tongue and effectively took away the part of the native’s identity that they used everyday, multiple times a day. As such English became a daily reminder of whom they were ruled by.

It is an ironic fact that the only way that natives could “speak of Motes 7 [the] crime” that is their colonization is in “the language of the criminal; who committed the crime” (Kincaid 31). The English who came to Antigua to settle it “murdered people, … imprisoned people, … robbed people, [and] opened [their] own banks and put [the native peoples money] in them” even though the accounts were in the English colonizers name (Kincaid, 35). Kincaid does acknowledge that there must be “some good people among” the English, “they [just] stayed home.

And that is the point. That is why they are good. They stayed home” (Kincaid, 35). Colonization has only negative effects on a people and in the end it would have been better to live “like monkeys in trees” than to experience “what happened to [the narrator]” and “what [they] became after [they] met” the British (Kincaid, 37). The narrator uses the same sarcastic, dark, and negative language to describe the British now that was used to describe the tourists at the beginning of “A Small Place”.

They are described as a “pitiful lot”, “with hardly any idea what to do with themselves now that they no longer have one quarter of the earth’s human population bowing and scraping before them” (Kincaid, 23). The English are known for “fuss[ing]” over their empire and worrying over having “to leave but … never forget[ing]” (Kincaid, 24). The narrator sarcastically remarks that since they loved England so much, yet felt compelled to leave, “everywhere they went they turned it into England; and everybody they met they turned into English,” whether the people wanted to live in a pretend England and be pretend English or not (Kincaid, 24).

However, no place can Motes 8 ever be an exact replica of England, and “nobody who did not look exactly like them would ever be English” and since they were never able to make their new homes exactly like their old they destroyed themselves from the inside out (Kincaid, 24). This need of the British to imitate England wherever they are is why they “are so miserable now” (Kincaid, 24). The similar negative language used to describe both the British and the Tourists make it hard to discern whom the narrator is taking about if one were to just pick up “A Small Place” and start reading.

This parallel is meant to establish the truth that any foreigners on another’s nations land, whether ruling the government by intentional or accidental influence, is a negative thing. When the British colonized Antigua, they were seeking to expand their empire and spread out their rule. The influence they had over the inhabitants was extensive as they sought to mold them into the form of the typical Englishmen. This plan to conform the natives left deep scars that caused the Antiguans to harbor a deep distaste for any person who exerts any influence over the government that is not an resident of Antigua.

Today, tourists and vacationers are the main source of income for the island and it is because they are the money that they hold sway over what the government spends their funds on. The earthquake of 1945 left the beautiful building that housed the library in ruins, and it has yet to be fixed since the government would rather spend their money on a new shopping center for tourists then on a library for Antiguan nationals. This library represents Antigua as the people see it- ruined Motes 9 during the British rule and left to decay as the people are neglected and the foreigners continue to receive preferential treatment.

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Tourism and Colonization in Antigua. (2016, Oct 27). Retrieved from