Week 4- Mimicry

 “As a general rule then, cultural hybridity under colonialism seems to be a close cousin of mimicry.” (Amardeep Singh)

And that is how I came to understand it. How one simple sentence could untangle the web of confusion that was Homi Bhabha’s writing “Of Mimicry and Man”, how one simple sentence could define two words, two completely different (and yet similar) concepts, how one sentence has opened a door of complete fascination into something I didn’t know had a name. Until now.

(I cannot wait to delve into hybridity next week)

Though mimicry is just as fascinating, if not more so. Now, I know how to define mimicry -and I will further into my writing- a definition I came to understand, fully grasp, when I read Singh’s piece. I now see why our professor suggested we read Singh’s piece before delving into Bhabha’s.

However, I’m an educational/intellectual masochist. I read Bhabha’s essay first, just to see if I could come away understanding this weeks’ concepts, and got a headache for my effort. “I do respect the sophistication of Bhabha’s thinking — and the following is not meant to be an attack on his work — but I do not think his essays were ever meant to be read as pedagogical reference points” (Amardeep Singh). Agreed.

What is mimicry? In simple terms it is to imitate. But when defining mimicry in terms of PoCo literature I must give credit where credit is due, I did enjoy this sentence by Bhabha “colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite” (Bhabha 266).

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When the Others fight back

 

Mimicry: the process by which the colonized imitate and adapt modes of behavior, language, religion, lifestyle of those doing the colonizing.

The more I was able to understand and define mimicry, the more I was able to understand Tambu. Tambu, the teenaged narrator of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s book Nervous Conditions. I was confused by Tambu’s resentment (I mean, not the resentment that reflected her envy) towards her brother Nhamo or her cousins Nyasha and Chido. There is one passage in particular where Tambu’s disgust was palpable. On page 37 Tambu says “I could not condone her lack of decorum. I would not give my approval. I turned away” (Dangarembga 37), her disapproval directed at her cousin Nyasha’s choice of clothing after Nyasha’s return from living in England. Tambu’s displeasure also extends to that of her cousin’s adoption of the English language. “They have been speaking nothing but English for so long that most of their Shona has gone” (Dangarembga 42), but what is interesting is that it’s not only displeasure that Tambu is feeling; “What Maiguru said was bewildering, bewildering and offending. I had not expected my cousins to have changed, certainly not so radically, simply because they had been away for a while. Besides Shonda was our language. What did people mean when they forgot it?” (Dangaremga 42). The above passages show a direct reaction of the consequence of mimicry. Nyasha and Chido, both taken to England, both mimicked and adapted to the English lifestyle to come back to their home having forgotten everything they’d once been a part of.

As another example think of Nhamo’s active form of mimicry, as Tambu describes it of course, his change in clothing, in hair, skin, tastes, language, and disposition. Once he’d been exposed to his uncle’s way of living, he stopped being an Other as his family was, but rather he began to imitate the lifestyle he’d been exposed to while living with his uncle.

I mean, it could be argued that Nyasha and Chido were just “going native” (Singh), and imitating the English. 

As I continue to read more of Nervous Conditions, I wonder, will Tambu find herself guilty of mimicry as well?

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3 Comments

  1. One thing that I found striking about this week’s readings was the insidiousness of mimicry. This is a form of colonial control that is often willingly adapted by the colonized. In Nervous Conditions, the culture of the mission reflects that of the colonizer. In this instance, many facets of this culture is far more comfortable than that of the colonized: indoor plumbing, better clothing, better hygiene, better food etc. Because these aspects are so appealing, it is easy to understand why the colonized would be so willing to embrace them. However, what they may not realize through this mimicry is that they are abandoning their cultural heritage by doing so. In Nervous Conditions, it is apparent that those who are mimicking the cultural aspects of the colonizer are alienating members of their family as well as their social peers, and may also disconnect themselves from their cultural history by doing so.

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  2. I am also grateful for the wonderful essay by Amardeep Singh. After reading Bhabha for the first time, I was confused and not grasping his entire concept (which saddens me, because I do believe he penned a thoughtful piece). However, Singh so simply explained mimicry and hybridity that everything else just clicked into place. I found that Singh’s writings on mimicry stayed with me as I explored Nervous Conditions. I began to understand the effects of mimicry as I got to know Nhamo and Nyasha.

    I came to understand that Tambu’s disgust with Nhamo’s “assimilation” and disregard to his own identity and culture as ambivalence. Tambu was disgusted with Nhamo’s new sense of superiority because he was the only educated one in the family and the only one to enjoy the luxuries of the mission. Yet, at the same time, Tambu is jealous of her brother. She too wants to be educated and enjoy those experiences; she wonders about the commodities of the mission that Nhamo explains, and can’t help but want them too because they are unattainable on the homestead, and these commodities and luxuries would offer a more comfortable living. Tambu’s struggle with wanting it while also being disgusted by it is representative of the colonized and the colonizer. The colonizer offers many luxuries not afforded the the colonized native land, but the luxuries are so appealing, with many of them being simple comforts such as running water, that the colonized cannot help but mimic the colonizer in hopes to attain the same place and power.

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