30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
White Settler Empire,
This review is from: Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (Paperback)As a professional legal historian with an interest in both social history (I was nurtured in "Warwick school" historiography) and in colonial legal histories I have a strong professional interest in the subject matter of David Anderson's account of the Mau Mau period in Kenya. The book is first-rate in all respects.
It is more than this however. Thoughtful and learned, it nonetheless reads beautifully.
The book resonated with my own family history however - as it will for many readers around the world. Born into the British Empire of the 1950's, I was raised in a British settler society (Canada), saluted the Union Jack in school each day, and heard stories of Dominion and Empire as I grew up. The British Empire was the best of all possible Empires and its treatment of subjects more humane than others (the USA "Indian Wars" provided particularly strong contrast for one raised in the prairie west). Part of an Irish diaspora family, my cousins lived and live in the old country but also in Canada, Australia, the United States, and New Zealand. One uncle lived out his days in India and one black sheep dedicated herself to a communist liberation of Ireland (another served Scotland Yard arresting suspected IRA terrorists: I think they never met).
Anderson's account of Mau Mau is disturbing, not just for explaining the violence on all sides and the state excesses conducted in the cause of "security" in times of "terror", but for its account of settler society in a colony where the "native" was in the numerical majority.
Ever-smug, Canadians are too prone to celebrate our country's commitment to civil liberties, human rights, and anti-racism. The parcitular features that make Kenya's "White Highlanders" (as the settler society was known) seem vile, however, are features also present on both sides of the border in North America: the first-people's deprivation of lands; the denial of customary entitlements long-established under native law; the refusal of one generation to acknowledge the wrong-doings of their testators; the insistence on non-native political control; and subtle and not-so-subtle racism directed against the lands' first inhabitants.
Though the reader is drawn at every juncture to critical judgment of "White Highlanders", and - by necessary implication on the part of anyoone locating the book in its temporal and spatial context - white Rhodesians, and the creators of South Africa's apartheid state, no descendant of immigrants to any "settler land" can fail to recognize that their own status bears more relation to the "White Highlanders" than to the "native" victims of colonization.
HISTORIES OF THE HANGED is must-reading for settlers and their children everywhere.
Read against the background of telling classics such as Harold Cardinal's UNJUST SOCIETY, it is informative and disturbing in equal measure.
W. Wesley Pue,
Nemetz Chair in Legal History,
University of British Columbia
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Initial post: Aug 8, 2013 12:20:28 PM PDT
Valuable remarks, but I disagree with the reviewer's statement "no descendant of immigrants ..."native" victims of colonization". Time passes and some people remember (or mythologize) a lot and others don't. They also construe their own identity differently. This all aside from the fact that history, when discoverable, frequently demonstrates a long series of tribally justified theft and murder. The reviewer seems to assume a power to judge that doesn't exist outside a courtroom.
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