National Identity And Cultural Heritage

“Either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.”

The self that represents a “nobody” is one without origin and nameless in the eyes of a dominant culture; a self that represents a “nation” is one where it forms itself out of its past. ‘The Schooner Flight” written by Derek Walcott encapsulates the issues of identity and community as being formed from the pressures of a foreign power, but also an identity that contains its country’s future. In Jamaica Kincaid’s novel, A Small Place, and Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, both authors maintain the idea of the inevitability and inescapability of history shaping a community such that it is forced to carry on with what has been passed down to it, superimposed upon its body and culture through traditions of oppression and domination.

Cultural heritage is defined as a community’s language, history, and traditions passed down by time and its people and tied to the environment. The colonized states, Antigua, and countries of Southeast Asia such as Jakarta and Cambodia, in A Small Place and Imagined Communities were subject to several institutions that created significant roles in redefining and appropriating their cultural heritage.

As a result, both authors seem to say that the new national consciousness and community that arose from these institutions were based on the national identity shaped by the colonial powers. One of three instruments of power that were mentioned in Anderson’s novel is the census which “shaped the way in which the colonial state imagined its dominion – the nature of the human beings it ruled” (Anderson 164).

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With Malaysia, British census-makers began limiting the possible identifications of its inhabitants such as religious, ethnic, and tribal, and instead created condensed categories for the people primarily based on race.

They eliminated the ambiguity of identification by combining or making new labels because they needed to erase the language of the native and create their own. They produced a grammar that expressed their own interests in keeping a social hierarchy in which the colonizers were superior and the natives were inferior. Consequentially, Anderson writes that even after independence, “the large racial categories were retained… and reranked” (Anderson 165) which demonstrates that the new state was not able to dismiss the established practice of excluding people from the community and ranking them by using the categorization that began from its time as a colonized state. The colonist mentality still presented itself throughout the census that was used by the Malaysian government, and this example serves to show that it was pervasive and intruded upon the functions of the government and the social relations of its people, how the community was built and existed.

Going on with the idea of language and continuation of an oppressive practice, Kincaid writes that the “language of the criminal can explain and express the deed only from the criminal’s point of view.” (Kincaid 32) Kincaid must communicate her message in the language of the “criminal,” the British oppressors, because she was raised into speaking it through the educational systems that sustained a pro-colonial point of view. Because English is deemed the official language of Antigua, all Antiguans are forced to acknowledge the erasure of their freedom for self-expression and negation of the possibility of having their own tongue, thus they continue to live their lives with the constant reminder of their history. The indelible mark of history that is pressed upon those communities is demonstrated in both texts through their utilization of a rhetoric that derived from their oppressors, either through terms of categorization or in an entire language.

In order for colonial powers to justify the oppression of the native state and use it for its own benefit, they manipulated their environment and thus transformed the native state’s perspective on its own identity as a nation and community. As Anderson wrote in chapter 10 of his book, the “geography of [the colonizers] domain” (Anderson 164) was reimagined, transformed from its original shape, and repurposed by using the map. Territories mapped and boundaries created by the colonizers were completely arbitrary, unnatural, and superimposed upon the land because it was a method colonizers used to classify and control the people and region. By using a grid, colonizers would be “be able to say of anything that is was this, not that; it belonged here, not there” (Anderson 184). The map was an actively political instrument that foreign powers used to reinforce their hegemony by pushing their own agenda upon the nation and categorizing the natives into groups and locations that they themselves did not recognize.

Natives were told that they belonged to a certain community of people only because of their relatively close distance to each other, regardless of religion, language, or ethnicity, and so the map was able to reconstruct their reality and image. To cement the idea that history leaves paths that are followed, Anderson “In this turn, this narrative was adopted, by the nation-states which… became the colonial states’ legatees” (Anderson 175). Even after the colonial state had withdrawn from the land, its presence and story were still seen and felt throughout the organization of the land, its borders, and concretizations. Similarly, in Kincaid’s text, Antigua seems to have adopted the narrative passed down by the colonial state. In this narrative, tourism, instead of the map, was the way oppressors manipulated the environment to change the image and formation of the national community. Natives were simply props to a play that only featured the tourist as the main character.

Natives were taxi drivers, guides, servants, waiters, and occupied positions that supported this system of inequality. Through the eyes of the tourist, Antigua exists as a location solely for his pleasure and excitement and only occupies his mind during his time there. Therefore, Antigua became a temporary and short-lived thing in the mind of the tourist. In this story, it was only there whenever the tourist was there. A reason for this Kincaid writes is that the British “turned it into England; but no place could ever really be England, and nobody…would ever be English” (Kincaid 24). The people and the land became tools to reflect the will of the colonial power, so Antigua lost its ability to define on its own terms its identity and community. The processes of colonization, such as tourism in this case, made Antigua and its people be labeled as something “other” than English, not English because they didn’t look like them, but also not completely themselves either because they had lost their connection to their cultural heritage, wiped away by the English. The physical space and territory was used to reinforce the national identity of Antigua as being a Caribbean “haven,” a beautiful island full of lush, green vegetation, clear and magnificent beaches, and full of people that were there to serve. However, this image and myth is what Kincaid attacks through her narration style and confrontational writing because she wants to demonstrate that the lives of her people, of Antiguans, are more complex than that. 

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National Identity And Cultural Heritage. (2022, Jul 15). Retrieved from

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