Send forth the best ye breed —
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild —
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
from The White Man's Burden
This poem, of which I have only reprinted the first verse, was written in 1899, a year after the USA took the Philippines from Spain and began the slaughter of Filipino people in order to bring the survivors a "perfect justice" as US General William Shafter put it at the time. Shafter thought that goal might require killing half the population. Kipling’s poem reflects the attitude of empire, whether of Victorian England, the USA, or any other empire that pretends to be doing good as they subjugate other nations and peoples to serve their own economic and strategic ends. It is the patronizing attitude that Europeans had a solemn duty to impart their "superior" culture to the wild heathens which occuped the rest of the planet - even if it killed them.
I have just started reading a rather amazing book of this period, published in 1907. It is about Fiji and other island nations, the author having been hired by Cunard Steamship Line to write travel brochures for South Pacific destinations as well as an investment prospectus for British entrepreneurs who might wish to invest and settle in Fiji. Those islands had been ruled by Britain since 1874, having been signed over to them by Ratu Sera Espenisa Cakobau, the King of Fiji, to avoid possible military action by the USA due to Fiji's default on debts to American businesses.
A striking attribute of the author of the book I am reading is that she is, well, a "she". Beatrice Grimshaw was born in Ireland in 1870. She became a journalist in Dublin and then worked for a series of steamship companies. She traveled the South Pacific, wrote a lot of books, both non-fiction and novels, and lived twenty-seven of her years in New Guinea. She never married. The biographies I have found about here are mostly dry and factual and don't delve into her thoughts or personal life, which is a shame. What she did with her life is so interesting and unusual for a woman of that time (I think) that it would be fascinating to know more about what her motivations were.
The book, titled "Fiji and Its Possibilities", first appeared in England as "From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands", for in addition to Fiji, she also wrote about the New Hebrides Islands (now Vanuatu).
Her voyage to Fiji in 1904 was arranged by Union Steamship Line of New Zealand. Grimshaw spent a good deal of time in Fiji and visited Viti Levu, where her ship ported at the capital city, Suva. She took another ship to Labasa on Vanua Levu and spent six weeks exploring that island. I was delighted to see that she also visited Taveuni. You'll forgive me if I've peeked ahead a bit in the book. My copy is literally falling apart, which is to be expected from a book that is ninety-nine years old. I have put a plain cover over it to hold it together and just leaf through it at the dining table where I don't have to put undue stress on it. I'd like to get one in better shape, but they come rather dear on the used book market. An interesting aside - my copy is stamped on the copyright page with the seal of the Kansas State Library, Topeka, Kansas with the date July 30, 1908.
It promises to be interesting reading. The colonial attitude is a bit hard to take I'll admit. At times she is downright racist, such as this line which came after her description of an incident on Vanua Levu. She felt slighted by some Fijians who didn't stop to remove their headbands in respect as she passed: "A Fijian, at best, is only outwardly submissive to the white race. He is a craven at heart, and therefore easily kept down by the British rule; but loyalty to an employer is not one of his virtures." Whoa! Obviously both the lands and the people of acquired nations were there for sole purpose of serving the empire, of which she evidently felt she was a representative by birth. The white woman's burden I suppose.
At the same time, I find it remarkable that a woman who grew up in Victorian England was so independent as a journalist and writer and so adventuresome as to travel to the other side of the globe and experience undeveloped countries such as Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea and run a plantation for several years. I am not sure whether the case is that she was a remarkable woman for the time, or, perhaps rather that the accomplishments of women are largely ignored by historians, so when I do read about one, I assume she was an aberration. Food for thought.
The history books we get in school - including many at university - are at the very least watered down, and more often than not entirely biased. Reading contemporaneous accounts of events is a good antidote.
Grimshaw also has a religious bent that is not lost on the reader. (I'm not knocking anyone's religion here, just the condescending attitude that a person of one faith might have for a person of a different one.) Though born into a protestant family, she converted to Catholicism at age 23, the act of which itself indicates a level of dedication regardless of the specific religions involved. She says that she found strength in the church where ever she went. That fits into the colonial mind set as well. As they say in Hawaii, the missionaries came to do good, and did very well. Not that money was the motivation of the missionaries - it certainly was not in Hawaii's case, but colonialism is a kind of package deal in which most of conquering people believe they are doing the new subjects a favor by blessing them with a better economic system, medicine, education, modernization, religion, "spreading democracy", etc. Whatever benefits, real or imagined, accrue to the conquered, the bottom line is that the empire profits in commerce and influence.
In future posts, I'll share some of Grimshaw's observations and experiences, along with some photo illustrations from the book and some of my own photos of the same areas as they appear today.