Frameworks for Intercultural Learning


Colonial shadows

To slow a beast you break its limbs. To slow a nation, you break its people. You rob them of volition. You demonstrate your absolute command over their destiny. You make it clear that ultimately it falls to you to decide who lives, who dies, who prospers, who doesn’t. To exhibit your capability you show off all that you can do, and how easily you can do it. How easily you could press a button and annihilate the earth. How you can start a war, or sue for peace. How you can snatch a river away from one and gift it to another. How you can green a desert, or fell a forest and plant another one somewhere else. You use caprice to fracture a people’s faith in ancient things – earth, forest, water, air.


Once that’s done. What do they have left? Only you. They will turn to you, because you’re all they have. They will love you even when they despise you. They will trust you even though they know you well. They will vote for you even as you squeeze the very breath from their bodies. They will drink what you give them to drink. They will breathe what you give them to breathe. They will live where you dump their belongings. They have to. What else can they do? There’s no higher court of redress. You are their mother and their father. You are the judge and the jury. You are the World. You are God.


Power is fortified not just by what it destroys, but also by what it creates. Not just by what it takes, but also by what it gives. And Powerlessness reaffirmed not just by the helplessness of those who have lost, but also by the gratitude of those who have (or think they have) gained. (p. 99-100).


Extract from Roy, A.(1999) The Cost of Living. London: Flamingo.


  • Can you think of any occasions in the past where you have experienced colonial shadows?
  • How do you think about these now?



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