The colonial nostalgia of a bygone era


THERE was an era where colonialists ruled the empire.
But they did not just rule, they also built for themselves hotels and tourist places where only European people would frequent.
After many years of independence, the British and others who still dream of the glory days of empire like to come back and enjoy colonial nostalgia.
During the time of the empire, we Africans were only meant to serve the colonialists as they enjoyed life in the sun.
When we visit these old tourist places today, we find mostly European visitors. They come to remember their past and also to honour the glory days of the empire.
The British colonials still remember with nostalgic fondness the times they lived.
The feeling of nostalgia can best be described as a bittersweet longing for a time gone by, for things, people, or situations of the past.
It can also be regarded as a condition of being homesick.
For the Europeans, one way of remembering this past is to return to the places and to the hotels built in the colonial era.
In Zimbabwe, they return to the Matopos National Park established in 1926 as Rhodes Matopos National park.
The Matobo Hills were designated as UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003. Cecil John Rhodes is buried there and thousands of European tourists flock there every year.
This is a reminder of Zimbabwe’s colonialist past.
As noted in the Daily Telegraph in London, “The self-chosen burial place of Oxford-educated mining magnate and pioneer Rhodes in 1902 still attracts thousands of visitors each year, bringing much-needed tourism revenue to the area.”
Then we have the Victoria Falls Hotel which dates back to 1904 built during the time when the Cape to Cairo Railway line first reached Victoria Falls.
This was Cecil John Rhodes’s dream; to colonise Africa with a railway line.
The Victoria Falls colonial hotel is over 100 years old.
Its records show that visiting members of the British Royal family, international and local statesmen as well as celebrities have often stayed at The Victoria Falls Hotel.
According to Trip Advisor website, the hotel has maintained its ‘colonial mood’.
“At the entrance is a map of the BOAC South African route and a real postage stamp dispenser.
“Unabashed nostalgia showing Stanley’s Room, The Stanley Terrace, and Livingstone Bar presents an atmosphere steeped in history.
“The old fashioned and traditional décor throughout the hotel is full of colonial grandeur and old world charm.”
Descriptions of the hotel speak of an era of a civilisation that has been maintained and remembered by the visitors.
These descriptions add more to the feeling of colonial nostalgia.
The grounds of the Victoria Falls are described as having been manicured, and the courtyard filled with lily ponds in the middle of the hotel, “gives a feeling of colonial tranquility and sheer relaxation. Inside the hotel, one walks into a bye gone era of colonial prints and Edwardian styled furniture.”
In Mozambique the Portuguese built the Polana, a big colonial hotel when the city was called Lourenço Marques.
The Polana hotel, built in 1898, is a grand colonial architecture renowned to host many Portuguese and other European travellers in Victorian England right up to the time of the Second World War.
As one writer on Wikipedia noted, the Polana “hosted world celebrities of the 19th and 20th centuries, and some are mentioned in classical works of fiction.”
When describing the colonial hotels like Raffles in Singapore and the Mount Nelson in Cape Town, one visitor wrote that, “the elegant British colonial overtone never fades.”
Apart from the hotels that remind the Europeans of the time of British power, the Europeans also try and recreate memories when they had “sundowners on the veranda, hunting with hounds, Yorkshire pudding at the club, after days spent under the fan at the office building railways and making laws.”
They lived in good weather conditions where it was mostly sunny, especially in Southern Africa.
Because of these nice conditions, Zimbabwe became a colony for settlers.
One British writer in his diary presented a picture of daily life where he recalled that he was in Rhodesia and he swam in the pool while his grandmother tended her roses and the African maid made the beds.
He also recalls an image of two old white ladies in Harare taking afternoon tea in the city’s Botanical Gardens.
The writer goes on to write in his diary: “No wonder old colonials felt nostalgia. “After the empire ended, they realised they would never live such a good life again.
“A draughty two-bedroom apartment in south London didn’t appeal.”
Michael Twaddle, the British historian says that many former British settlers in Southern Rhodesia could not handle the changes to black rule.
They left Africa and migrated to “the wide open spaces of the US, South Africa or Australia.”
Sometimes colonial nostalgia has moved to the extreme.
In order to remember and recall those days when they had power, the Rhodesians have established a magazine called Rhodesians Worldwide which is “a contact magazine produced for Rhodesians, by Rhodesians about Rhodesians.
“It can be found in 60 countries, including Zimbabwe!”
Colonial nostalgia was also expressed in novels of the empire.
In Britain, the memories are captured by the writer Rudyard Kipling when he wrote many novels about colonial India.
Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown was also very popular on television.
It brought back the colonial nostalgia to the minds of many British people.
Pamela Hicks book titled Daughter of Empire: Life as a Mountbatten also tracked the same nostalgic feelings.
When the colonials remember the past, they do not see people or acknowledge some of the exploitation of the indigenous people that happened as a result of colonial rule.
David Anderson has noted that in “these renderings of colonial life, black and brown people tend to figure as features of the landscape, like elephants or mango groves.”
This era is hardly taught in British schools.
One historian, Niall Ferguson got a huge following in the UK for his thesis when he argued that on balance, the empire ‘was a good thing’.
In 2005, France went as far as passing a law ordering secondary schools to teach ‘the positive values’ of colonialism.
This law was fortunately repealed within a year.
Such nostalgic feelings for empire had gone too far.
In remembering the past, there is a tendency by most Europeans to forget about the brutality of empire.


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