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Authenticity in Colonial Literature

Updated on November 7, 2014

Post colonialism

Post colonialism is a phenomenon being discussed by every scholar. The post modernists linguists like Derrida has opened new vistas to study such delicate things in language. The binaries are there to compare the discourse of various hierarchies. The post colonial theory has given rise to many such dichotomies which are still being explored. Authenticity is one of them. It is a term which has manifold influence and aspects for every body. The rulers of colonial era used it in different sense while the post-colonial researchers are using it in another completely different sense.

History not of us but for us

It is a phrase which reveals the meanings and gist of the word authenticity as used and understood in post colonial literature. The colonized or the natives are aware of the shenanigans of the colonizers about authenticity. The indigenous people think that the history and culture which is represented in the writings of the colonial era is not real, original and authentic but is construed and presented by the usurpers for his covert purposes. The colonizers have constructed and instated their own version of history and have labeled it as authentic for the sake of exploitation of the colonized even after the decolonization.

Authenticity is a word that originated from Greek root ‘Authentikos’ meaning author, authority, original and primary. In English it means to be genuine, real, free from hypocrisy, sincerity, not false and not copied. When we cogitate the term in post colonial perspectives we come to understand that the colonizer has used all its antonyms for creating fake authenticity. There is a hypocrisy, falsehood and insincerity in its implementation. It is done primarily in the words of Gareth Griffiths to construct authenticity. The indigenous, native or aborigines have their own version of their history and culture while the colonizers pose and impose their own version of the local culture, traditions and history. In fact the subalterns are not allowed to speak in equal terms with usurpers. The subalterns use mimicry and parody to get some different meanings of their discourse but are often trapped in the whirl of the same discourse which is the emblem of colonizers. Achebe tried his best to keep the colonizers discourse at a distance and explained many times that the discourse or English which he is using is African not of colonizer. He partially succeeded in his effort, partially because after all he was using English which originates from the colonizers.

In a book the Post colonial Studies Reader Bill Ashcroft has given proper importance to the ‘’Myth of Authenticity’’ an article written by Gareth Griffiths. In this article he has quoted a newspaper reporting about a mining dispute. Both the parties claim authenticity of the story or tradition about the disputed place in their own way. Gareth has amply defined and explained the tricks of the colonizers to destabilize and destruct the indigenous identity by constructing and installing or reinstalling authenticity with legitimate signs as elders, the locals and tribal and counterpoising illegitimate signs of outsider, the Southern and the fringe dwellers for Australian aborigines. He says that Authenticity is ‘constructed’ to cripple the efforts of indigenous people for evolving an effective strategy of recuperation and resistance.

An example from the sub continent will clarify the guile of the colonizers to construct authenticity. Everybody listens, shares and enjoys the jokes and anecdotes about the Sikhs, Pushtun and weavers. It was a part of conspiracy to demean the bravery, courage and craftsmanship of the above said communities respectively. The English were afraid of their traits, so they hire some buffoons and clowns to spread such anecdotes to defame the Sikhs, Pushtun and Weavers as fools and stupid. They constructed authenticity among the masses and spoiled the reputation of bravery of Sikhs, courage of Pushtun and craftsmanship of weavers.

The subalterns, natives, indigenous or aborigines have been made to continue fathom their identities from the deep depths of ocean of constructed authenticity.

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