By the 1930s the image of a cherished ayah had been enshrined in the nostalgia of the Raj that had been generated at the close of the nineteenth century. As that image took on a life of its own, individual recollections of British colonials were compressed and compelled into the one abiding memory, as Margaret MacMillan put it, of “a much loved ayah, usually a small, plump woman with gleaming, oiled hair, dressed in a white sari, who had sung to them, comforted them, and told them wonderful Indian stories”.  Responding to the West: Essays on Colonial Domination and Asian Agency, edited by Hans Hägerdal.

In addition to the ubiquitous ayah, cooks, gardeners, syces, and many other Indian domestics in colonial households influenced the daily lives of young residents. The results were predictable: British children grew emotionally attached to their ayahs and other Indian attendants, and they frequently acquired more familiarity with and fondness for the language and culture of these people than they did for the European heritage of their parents* The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj,  Dane Keith Kennedy.

The British in India, from the very beginning, were expected to maintain an establishment with a good number of staff. There are several accounts of the expenses incurred by domestic staff as early as in the late 18th century.  In letters home the problems and the conveniences of maintaining an establishment are detailed. Of all the employees a British household had, the ayah was the most cherished (though there are negative accounts too, particularly in the initial years of the British in India).  Functioning as domestic help but largely associated with being an Indian nanny, they appear in paintings and pictures on the 19th and early 20th century (the earliest probably being Joshua Reynolds portrait).  Partly this was to document - and perhaps boast - of their lives in India. Partly this was because social intercourse with Indians for the British was often restricted to their domestic staff, few Indian middle class families permitted the inevitable interaction in the public sphere to spill over into the private.

There are numerous photographs of ayahs, often seen with their wards and sometimes as part of a family picture. Almost always they appear in white saris with coloured borders, teamed with a printed or plain blouse. Ayahs were amongst the first Indian women to travel abroad on work, often finding themselves in a precarious position. By the 1950s, the saris are depicted a lot brighter as in this oil painting in London


*For precisely this reason, many British children were sent back home to boarding schools at an early age.


Note: Maids, attendants and the like also occur in Indian miniature paintings and in ancient Indian art, often as intimates, in for e.g. a woman at her toilette, delivering love messages etc. I won’t be covering that at the moment.

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Tags: colonialism
Tags: colonialism


In this last stage of the rebellion, Lakshmibai, now in open revolt, emerged as one of India’s most skilled military leaders……Portrayed as wearing trousers or a sari pulled up between her legs to allow her to ride effectively, she also (according to legend rather than fact) was reputed to ride into battle with the reins in her teeth so both hands were free to wield her sword. Skilled in military strategy as well as combat techniques, she devised plans that if followed by her male colleagues, might have led to victory rather than defeat of the rebellion - at least in that area of India. Women and War: A Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present, Bernard A. Cook. 

Without doubt the most famous of India’s women rulers - the “best and the bravest of the rebel leaders” according to the British commander who fought her -  is Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi.  Often portrayed as a virangana, she was not more than 30 when she died in battle during the Rebellion of 1857.

In pic 1 the Rani as a young girl in the television serial on the Rani’s life and in pic 2, the Rani as a young widow in Bharat Ek Khoj. Both the crescent shape and the horizontal line were traditional “bindis” in Maharashtra. 

The accomplishments of India’s women rulers - Razia, Chand Bibi, Ahilyabai Holkar, the Kittur Rani, the Bhopal Begum, Lakshmibai to name a few - were many. And importantly almost all were able administrators. 

(via talesofthestarshipregeneration)



Stephen Eisenman, author and Professor of Art History in Illinois, explains the negative impacts of colonialism and imperialism on traditional Tahitian life. English missionaries reformed the ‘sinful natives’ of Hawaii and French missionaries converted many Tahitians to Christianity. The invention of photography was used by Europeans to document the customs and traditions of Pacific Islanders, but the voice-over narration also implies that it was used to disguise a ‘prurient interest in the women as sexual objects’.

Excuse me while I vomit. These nasty palagis could never. 

(Source: bisousmwah)



More specifically, it is a glimpse at how urban centers led by Lagos, Africa’s biggest city, are positioning themselves to accomplish what any number of rebel groups and secessionists movements have failed to achieve since the continent’s independence era commenced in the late 1950s: redraw a remarkably static political map of Africa, imposed by European imperialists over a century ago”


Namaqua and Herero Genocide

"…the death rattle of the dying and the shrieks of the mad…they echo in the sublime stillness of infinity." - German soldier

View and read more at Gallery Ezakwantu



Potraits from South African photographer Andrew Putter’s ethnographic series Native Work which consists of 21 photographs of black Capetonians photographed in black-and-white dressed in various traditional Xhosa attire, each of a particular significance, juxtaposed against colour photographs of the same individuals wearing casual Western garments.

The series undoubtedly carries a heavy colonial framing demonstrated in the nature of Putter’s black-and-white anthropological-like portraits that resemble modern-day versions of colonial postcards that became a norm in colonized lands around the world. This concerning element in Putter’s series is also made more problematic through the racial dynamics of a white photographer in South Africa photographic black ‘subjects’, as well as in the title of this work, which, despite Putter’s admission and recognition of this element of his series, is not something that can entirely be dismissed.

Native Work is a highly intriguing visual framework that provokes the consciousness of the viewer to consider the critical and historical role of photography and the photographer, in both the colonial and post-colonial context, as well as the forced transitional process that colonized populations underwent that violently compromised and stripped them of various foundational elements of their identities.

‘Cognizant of the dangers inherent in Duggan-Cronin’s colonial, ethnographic approach to making images, Native Work nevertheless recognises an impulse of tenderness running through his project,’ writes Putter in an article about his project published recently in the journal Kronos: Southern African Histories. ‘By trusting this impulse in Duggan-Cronin’s photographs, Native Work attempts to provoke another way of reading these images, and to use them in the making of new work motivated by the desire for social solidarity, a desire which emerges as a particular kind of historical possibility in the aftermath of apartheid.’

By exploring his own complex feelings towards an ideologically tainted but aesthetically compelling visual archive, Putter enters the fraught terrain of ethnographic representation to wrestle with himself about his own complicity, as an artist and a white South African, in this troubled visual legacy. Art critic Alex Dodd writes that this new work ‘constitutes one of those rare instances in which it becomes unmistakably clear to the viewer that the primacy of authorial intention has everything to do with the subtle alchemy that determines the meaning and affective power of images. In this case, the immense respect and tenderness that went into the making of the photographs registers visually as a kind of auratic quality of dignity that shines through each and every portrait.’


(via musingsofanawkwardblackgirl)

"While the institution of informed consent policies has somewhat curbed the abuse of sterilization, it has reappeared in the form of dangerous contraceptives such as Norplant and Depo-Provera. These are both extremely risky forms of long-acting hormonal contraceptives that have been pushed on Indian
women. Depo-Provera, a known carcinogen which has been condemned as an inappropriate form of birth control by several national women’s health organizations, was routinely used on Indian women through Indian Health Services (IHS) before it was approved by the FDA in 1992. It was particularly used for
Indian women with disabilities. The reason given: hygienics. Depo- Provera prevents Native women with disabilities from having their periods, keeping them “cleaner” for their caretakers. Once again, Native women’s bodies are viewed as inherently dirty, in need of cleansing and purification. The Phoenix IHS policy in the 1980s, according to Raymond Jannet, was, “We use it to stop their periods. There is nothing else that will do it. To have to change a pad on someone developmentally disabled, you’ve got major problems. The fact they become infertile while on it is a side benefit.” Jannet argues that Depo Provera helps girls with emotions related to their periods. “Depo Provera turned them back into their sweet, poor handicapped selves. I take some pride in being a pioneer in that regard.” But, he said, while he has no problems using the drug on Indian women, “I will not be going out and using it on attractive 16–year-old girls who one day hope to be mothers” (Masterson and Guthrie 1986)."

— Not an Indian Tradition: The Sexual Colonization of Native Peoples ANDREA SMITH (via whitedenial-ontrial)

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“Don’t let anybody tell you not to be angry. We have every right to be angry. We have every reason to be angry. And we ARE angry. And the reason that we’re angry — the reason we are angry — is because this is OUR country, and they took our government and imprisoned our queen — right here she was imprisoned in her palace. And they banned our language. And then they forcibly made us a state of the racist, colonialist United States of colonial America. Do you have a right to be angry? Of course you do. Of course you do!”
Speech by the Native Hawaiian Leader Haunani-Kay Trask for the 1993 Centennial Commemoration of the American overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom at ‘Iolani Palace, Honolulu


“Don’t let anybody tell you not to be angry. We have every right to be angry. We have every reason to be angry. And we ARE angry. And the reason that we’re angry — the reason we are angry — is because this is OUR country, and they took our government and imprisoned our queen — right here she was imprisoned in her palace. And they banned our language. And then they forcibly made us a state of the racist, colonialist United States of colonial America. Do you have a right to be angry? Of course you do. Of course you do!”

Speech by the Native Hawaiian Leader Haunani-Kay Trask for the 1993 Centennial Commemoration of the American overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom at ‘Iolani Palace, Honolulu

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The 1945 French Massacre in Setif & Guelma Algeria

TW: Savagery, brutality, violence, horrific images.

Despite the fact that most of the fighting against the Axis forces and Vichy France in North Africa had been conducted with honour and dispatch by Algerian troops the French decided to celebrate the victory of the Allies (a small part of whom were French) by committing an act of barbarism and genocide that echoes to this day. In one weekend of violence they murdered 45,000 Algerians.

Peaceful demonstrations had been taking place across Algeria for some months against the unfair treatment of indigenous Algerians (an oft-mentioned example was the reservation of bread for Europeans, the others only having the right to barley) and 15,000 people had protested in the streets of Mostaganem earlier without any incidents.

On May 8, 1945, a day chosen by the allies to celebrate their victory over Nazi Germany, thousands of Algerians gathered near the Abou Dher El-Ghafari mosque in Setif for a peaceful march - for which the sous-prefet had given permission. It was a market day.

At 9am, led by a young scout Saal Bouzid, whose name had been drawn for the honor of carrying the national flag, the demonstrators set off. A few minutes later the crowd, chanting ‘vive l’independance’ and other nationalist slogans, came under fire from troops commanded by General Duval and brought in from Constantine.

Saal Bouzid fell dead, becoming a national martyr. The scene soon turned into a massacre - the streets and houses being littered with dead bodies. Witnesses claim terrible scenes, that legionnaires seized babies by their feet and dashed their heads against rocks, that pregnant mothers were disemboweled, that soldiers dropped grenades down chimneys to kill the occupants of homes, that mourners were machine gunned while taking the dead to the cemetery.

A public record states that the European inhabitants were so frightened by the events that they asked that all those responsible for the protest movement should be shot. The carnage spread and, during the days that followed, some 45,000 Algerians were killed. Villages were shelled by artillery and remote hamlets were bombed with aircraft.

A Colonel in charge of burials being criticized for slowness told another officer ‘You are killing them faster than I can bury them.’ These incidents led to the upsurge of the PPA and ultimately, 17 years later to the country’s independence. In the retaliatory violence that immediately followed 104 Europeans were assassinated, but by the end several thousands were to die.

These incidents were particularly hard for Algerians who had fought the Nazis alongside the French forces, some of whom came home to find that their families had been decimated by the troops of General de Gaulle.

Led by the FLN (the national liberation front) the independence struggle caused France to draft in thousands of troops. In spite of opposition by Europeans living in the country a cease-fire was agreed to in March 1962. An extremist wing of the Army, the OAS, expanded its campaign of murder, torture and destruction, carrying on despite the cease-fire.

Survivors say that to this day France as a colonial power ‘has not had the courage to recognized its crimes. carried out in its former colonies and that it pretends to be a champion of human rights’.

Ending the liberation war, the Evian Agreement declared that extremist French soldiers (both regular, OAS and pieds noir irregulars, would not be prosecuted for crimes carried out in Algeria.

Both Chirac and Le Pen served in Algeria in the French Army.


Further reading:

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