The persistent relevance of the history of colonialism in the contemporary world

The persistent relevance of the history of colonialism in the contemporary world

When European countries invaded African and Asian countries during the colonization era, they never imagined that the effect of their action would be long term. The presence of the colonizers in these colonies had a vast array of influences on the socioeconomic and political livelihoods of the people. Most of these effects remained intact among the colony countries and are visible even in today’s world. While some of the influences were negative in nature, there still remains a positive effect whose impact is felt even today. One of the most prevalent ways of noticing these influences is in the writings of contemporary writers in many disciplines. The writings of today’s writers display the persistent relevance of colonial history.

In Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The White man’s Burden’ the impact is well articulated as the persona in the text complains of a burden inflicted by the colonizers. In choosing the title of the work, the writer captures the entire message as if to state that the influence of the colonial history is so persistent in today’s world that it has become a burden. Indeed, the influence of the white man is so prevalent in today’s culture that it shapes almost every aspect of the people. For instance, the way that people dress is influenced by the culture of the white man. In addition, the armies of many countries dress in the same fashion that the colonizer’s army dressed. The relevance of the colonial history is thus widespread to reflect individual and collective social behaviors in many countries. Another instance is in the lanes that cars use in different countries. Francophone countries use the right lanes while countries that were colonized by Britain stick to the left lane rule. These practices are adopted from the cultures of the two different colonizers.

The poem is a call for men to take up arms and fight for their country’s freedom. This is reflective of the colonial times when the resistant groups in the different countries fought against foreign colonial invasions. Kipling (1899) commands the people to “send forth the best ye breed” to fight in the battle of serving their captives’ need. The call to action reflects the colonial times when the people were called out in large numbers to fight for their countries’ independence from colonial powers. The concept of rebellion against oppression is a visible imprint from the colonial times when the colonies fought off the foreign powers to claim their independence. In essence, the colonial past has built a people who are conscious of the threat of oppression and who are always ready to protect their countries.

The poem further makes reference to the achievements of the white man referring to it as “his old reward”. It is this reward that the people are called upon to reap. In fact, the poem calls on the people to avoid the ports and the roads but mark them with their living and their dead. This is to imply that the people should not run away from the war but should confront it whether it brings life or death. The notion is visibly captured from the colonial times when even young people were forced into militias fighting off the white man. The people did not retract even when defeat was imminent but fought on until they achieved their independence. In this text, the impact that the fight had on the people is inferred in today’s world to persuade the people to work for their country.

The colonial past also has the influence on the people as regards the virtue of servitude. The poem calls on the people to take up the ‘tale of common things’ and not the ‘tawdry rule of kings’ in toiling as serfs. In this aspect, the people are dissuaded from yearning for the cheap and shoddy rule but instead desire to serve others. The practice can be traced to the colonial times when the people were encouraged to fight for the country and not concentrate on ruling the people. In fact, most of the founding fathers of the different countries were leaders in the war against the colonizers.

In Kajii Motojiro’s ‘The Lemon’, the persistence of the colonial past is prevalent in the language used in expressing the message. The short story castigates the universality of the Western culture that is prevalent in the Japanese society. Essentially, the story alludes to the fact that the culture of the colonizers is deeply rooted in the Asian country. In addition, the book captures the influence of the white man’s ideals in the art in Japan. This, the writer refers to as the ‘hegemony of the Western art’ which is seen as having a lasting impression even in Japanese art. The writer does not like the fact that the Western culture superimposes itself on other world cultures in the field of art. The writer goes on to state that he could no longer bear the music or poetry ‘no matter how beautiful the poetry or music’ (Motojiro, p. 335) was.

The relevance of the colonial history is also captured in the language that the people adopt in their communication. For instance, citizens in countries that were colonized by Italy have their national languages as Italian while those colonized by Belgium speak the country’s language. Similarly, those colonized by German and Britain, have German and English as the official language respectively in their countries. The language used in ‘The White Man’s Burden’ is similar to the language that Britons used during the colonial period. The word ‘ye’ (Kipling, 1899) is dominant in the entire text thus showing the influence of the colonial past in the language of the people. Although English is an international language that is used in virtually all countries in the world, its use in the literature is also a pointer of the influence of colonialism in today’s world. Some scholars have argued that the colonizers did not just colonize the physical people but also their minds and rationales. It is not surprising therefore that the publications are done in English to point out to the fact that the language of the colonizers had a lasting influence on the choice of language of communication.

The exploitative nature of the colonial time is also articulated in today’s world. One of the lasting influences of this exploitation is in the concept of colonialism which pits one man against the other. In fact, every man aims ‘to seek another’s profit, and work another’s gain’ (Kipling, 1899). This sentence captures the fact that colonization was intended to exploit the resources in the colonies including the human capital. The concept of exploiting one another is still prevalent in today’s world and has its roots in the colonial era when every man was for himself.

It is no doubt that the colonial past influences today’s world in countless ways. Most of these influences have a lasting impact on the people and affects their way of doing things. The impact of the colonial history is thus an important factor in shaping the dynamics of the world today. These influences are captured in the writings of contemporary writers that display the various aspects of societies. Whether negative or positive, it remains true that the past colonial happenings continue to influence today’s life in countless ways.



Kipling, R. (1899). The white man’s burden: A poem. New York: Doubleday and McClure Co.

Motojiro, K. (2009). Lemon: A Story by Motojiro Kajii. Cold Green Tea Press.


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