The Art of Belonging



Imperial colonizers do not seize land with guns and plows alone. In order to keep it, especially after imperial dissolution, settlers must establish a credible sense of entitlement. They must propagate the conviction that they belong on the land they have just settled. At the very least—and this may be difficult enough—settlers must convince themselves of their fit with the landscape of settlement. In other words, while excluding natives from power, from wealth, and from territory, overseas pioneers must find a way to include themselves in new lands. Two factors interfere with such public and private persuasion: pre-existing peoples and the land itself Known as natives, Indians, aboriginals, and so on, the people settled upon clearly hold a stronger claim to belonging. If colonization requires a contest of ancestral ties, then colonials will surely lose. The landscape itself also competes—in an oblique fashion—with settlers. As they seek to understand, name, domesticate, and farm the outback, the bush, and the desert scrub, those strange ecosystems spring traps and surprises. On riverless expanses, for example, the frontiersman finds he can neither till the soil nor mark a boundary. Amid failed crops, doubt and ambivalence overwhelm the hubris of settlement. White African writers have taken this uncertainty as their imaginative terrain.


Okavango Delta Virgin Land Aesthetic Sensibility White Settler Desert Scrub 
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© David McDermott Hughes 2010

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