Treatment of the colonial history in Derek Walcott’s poetry

In his poetry Walcott is intensely engaged in the study of the Caribbean myths and history. The different parts of the African continent have been under the British colonial power for many years. Walcott’s own land St. Lucia was also under the British power. During the colonial age the British government exercised all sorts of cruelties and exploitation on the blacks. Even during his own age, Walcott saw the British exercise cruelties on the African people. He was very much aware of this ruthless exploitation of the British colonizers. Moreover, Walcott was aware about the White’s discriminatory behaviors against the black in America. All these elements found expression in Walcott’s poetry.

Walcott’s most famous poem for the treatment of the colonial history is A Far Cry from Africa. Derek Walcott's "A Far Cry from Africa," published in 1962, is a painful and jarring depiction of ethnic conflict. The opening images of the poem are drawn from accounts of the Mau Mau Uprising, an extended and bloody battle during the 1950s between European settlers and the native Kikuyu tribe in what is now the republic of Kenya. In the early twentieth century, the first white settlers arrived in the region, forcing the Kikuyu people off of their tribal lands. Europeans took control of farmland and the government, relegating the Kikuyu to a subservient position. One faction of the Kikuyu people formed Mau Mau, a terrorist organization intent on purging all European influence from the country, but less strident Kikuyus attempted either to remain neutral or to help the British defeat Mau Mau.

The ongoings in Kenya magnified an internal strife within the poet concerning his own mixed heritage. Walcott has both African and European roots; his grandmothers were both black, and both grandfathers were white.

In addition, at the time the poem was written, the poet's country of birth, the island of St. Lucia, was still a colony of Great Britain. While Walcott opposes colonialism and would therefore seem to be sympathetic to a revolution with an anticolonial cause, he has passionate reservations about Mau Mau: they are, or are reported to be, extremely violent—to animals, whites, and Kikuyu perceived as traitors to the Mau Mau cause. As Walcott is divided in two, so too is the poem. The first two stanzas refer to the Kenyan conflict, while the second two address the war within the poet-as-outsider/insider, between his roles as blood insider but geographical outsider to the Mau Mau Uprising. The Mau Mau Uprising, which began in 1952, was put down—some say in 1953, 1956, or 1960—without a treaty. Thus, in the poem Walcott records the history of the colonial Africa.

In his poem “The Glory Trumpeter” we also find Walcott’s treatment of the colonial history. Here through the life of Eddie Walcott records the history of the colonial people. Eddie’s fate reflects the life of most of the Africans. African continent is the poor continent. The aim of most of the Africans is to go to America, where “dry smell of money mingled with man’s sweat.” According to Walcott “Eddie’s features” hold the fate of all the Africans, because the fate of the people of the African colonies become secured during the childhood that they will have to go to America to suffer from “patient bitterness or bitter siege”. So, thorough Eddie we get the history of the colonial people.

The treatment of the colonial history is also found in The Gulf. In this poem Walcott also speaks of the colonial people and history. On the occasion of his farewell one of his American friends gave him a book of fables. But the pictures of the beasts’ claws in this book of fables remind him the actual lunacy that was exercised on the African people. Here in this poem he also remembers such colonial rebel as Black X’s. Moreover, Walcott records the nature of the African colonial people in this poem. Walcott says that unlike the so-called American civilized people, the African people do not exchange gifts. But without exchanging gifts they know that “those we love are objects we return”. So, the African people can be savages, but they know how to return love.

The treatment of the colonial Africans is also found in As John to Patmos. Here he mainly draws the picture of the African landscapes. The African people can be black, but they are surrounded by beauty. Several types of people live in Africa including slaves, soldiers, and workers.

Thus, we see that Walcott depicts the history colonial people in his poems.