These accounts are not particularly well-known. A lot of it is not being discussed by mainstream media, or the media we are used to. What is once said can be dismissed by lack of popular approval. Isn’t the term “racism” provocative enough? The soundbyte of this piece is to provoke thought and self-awareness, not into behaviors, but its predecessor: thought and knowledge.
Some of what we know about the history of colonialism, we can pin-point the exactness of the start of it with the first expansions of European monarchies. Portugal and Spain started waltzing around the World, what we call the “discoveries” and meeting strange cultures. From there, appropriated cultural aspects, spices, plants, and people, whatever was for the grab, we are conveyed an image of both despondences as well as a fake ingenuity.
Despite the abduction of what is now Brazillian territory being stated as the overall achievement of the Portuguese Quasi-Empire, it was actually started as such with the occupation of what was Ceuta, in India. To that in a minute.
There was nothing more terrifying in the seas than Portuguese Pirates at the time. It was clear that most of what is thought to be a well-rehearsed envoy of King-led creatures were mostly the exponentially distorted image of a guy with no teeth, holding a badly forged sword and a lot of rages to be discussed in therapy. What we, Portuguese people, are taught in history classes was that at first, it was mostly benign. There are multiple historical accounts of Portuguese explorers who stayed in the places found, married locals, and “converted” to the cultures— which may be the culprit of what happened next.
One particular soldier, in the time of the Spanish rule of Portuguese territory (which, despite popular Americanized knowledge, it was only a short period of time way too long ago for any of us to hold any grudges), was what we today would call a double spy. He has this incredible story of both converting into the local indigenous culture of where he was stationed, helping defend Amazonian Original cultures against the Dutch and the French, losing limbs because of it, being abducted and almost killed by the French for it in an “off-with-his-head” type of thing, being saved by the King of Spain, ending his career in Brazil, and then converting one indigenous person — only — to Christianism (which Portuguese scholars still say it’s the highlight of his career), only to go back to Portugal to escape imprisonment, and creating alongside the locals what we know now as Ceará. The veracity of this I can’t say for sure, but I did dig deep to find his writings and accounts — a grain of salt for you, a grain of salt for me. What mesmerized me about the story of this person was how hard he fought against the European version of colonialism, and his model on how to approach a found territory was used throughout Europe as a way in which to manipulate locals into submission, not what he actually did. At the time, in that particular rule, there were accounts of respect and solidifying indigenous culture throughout what was after a colonized territory with no respect for what was local whatsoever. I say in that particular rule because back then Europeans didn’t live long and there was all sort of weird Kings one after the other, each with different agendas. But that particular point in history, what we now know as Brazil, belonged to the locals, and the Spanish and Portuguese soldiers mostly helped fend off Dutch and French envoys, with little success — indigenous leaders and several populations had agreements in order to survive, with the Dutch in particular. It was like a little Game of Thrones happening, four different Kings fighting for that particular territory, to which, with the use of agreements with local populations, conversion to Christianism and other tools and methods of continuity of presence (like, marrying locals and having babies — or as we now know as rapes), Brazil became a Portuguese territory, belonging to what was once the Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and Algarves. But this is just one account about one person in a very bloody history, who does not exemplify Portuguese behavior in general, but it was one that was used as a role-model by anti-colonialists on one hand, and colonialists on another. He is revered by both sides in very different lights.
Currently, the idea of a “decolonized” Portugal rests on the shoulders of those who fight every day to tell these stories like a way in which we can understand the context in which anti-colonialism was born, and what we can learn from what went wrong. In Portuguese history, there are all sorts of accounts of soldiers and priests who fought hard against colonization of both Africa and America and are still revered today in statues and history books.
Going thousands of years back, we can find the first footprints of colonialism with the end of the Neanderthals, in which its only proof rests in the remains in our DNA’s, and some bones which indicate geographical presence. Humanity has long been both expansive as destructive, but has survived countless times in face of adversity, and has adapted to the needs of the collective. Right now, we do need indigenous cultures to teach the West how to survive itself.
My point is, anti-colonialism started with colonialism. That’s how long we’ve been fighting this, and there is a clear distinction in our political game in what is those who don’t live well with Portugal’s colonialist history, and those who admire it. The public narrative is one of enjoyment and hidden shame.
For those of us who belong in a social stratosphere of questioning everything we read, for the sake of our sanities, morality, and integrity, we also understand that somehow, in the midst of this the narratives being told should belong to those who lived it, on both sides, with honesty.
A difficult journey to dismantle such deep-rooted racism has begun long ago, and it’s still difficult to discuss these issues. Not that long ago, I was leaving a movie theater with a friend and our car broke down with no battery. I stuck my head out of the window to a guy in a car and asked if he had battery cables, he said yes. When I looked at my friend she was petrified with fear. It was only after the guy helped us and moved on, that I realized she was in fear because he was black, maybe she would‘ve been less afraid if he was white. But regardless, these notions of danger arise from somewhere. And this is what I’m aiming to shed a light on in this article, that danger has nothing to do with whiteness, blackness, or skin color, but how things happen and how the stories are told.
For instance, I could have told this story above in a more “favorable” light of my friend. I could’ve said, “she seemed afraid” instead of “petrified”, but what resonates with me is why not being afraid is a reason for favorability. Because of her own life story, it was fairly natural for her to have fear of men, of black men, and of being on an isolated parking lot alone with another woman asking any man for help, regardless of skin color. But what I chose to highlight was that she was petrified with fear of blackness. Why?
Because it’s true.
When telling the story of the soldier above, I made a question of not highlighting what I don’t know — examples of his misdemeanors, for example, because I couldn’t find any in my searches. He was thought of as exemplary to all sides, except the French and Dutch. That was what I found, and that was what I stated. But I did focus particularly on how interesting his story was, mostly because it was one of the few accounts I found that did not involve religious abstinence that had respect for indigenous women, but I did not even mention that until now. He married one indigenous woman, who he lived with until he moved to Portugal when he was 80 years old, who he never converted to Christianism. He could’ve stayed in Portugal after the French arrest, but he decided to go back to Brazil, particularly not to continue his work as a soldier, but to solidify Indigenous presence in the area. The conversion of the Indigenous Cacique was one thought to be exemplary by the colonialist scholars but there are doubts if it wasn’t a scheme to maintain control of the territory, which makes perfect sense given the history.
But that is purely speculation at this point, all we have is a book by him which tells a different story than the one told by the scholars who aim to pronounce Empire in every sentence. He didn’t gain anything in his 80 years of age, from stating he was in favor of Indigenous rule of a territory which was already theirs.
Long is the forgotten tale of the hijab. It may seem for the layperson an object of oppression, and it may seem for the ignorant a purely religious obligation. In fact, in our contemporary history, there isn’t one single most profound statement of anti-colonialism, of going against Western narratives for the World.
The hijab tells a tale of how culture-shock and Americanized history speak in terms of the hegemony of cultural narratives. And it also speaks about how to protest in a way that is so ingrained in societies that it becomes a huge symbol.
To tell this story, we need to begin by speaking about the history of the veil in the West. The veil was one that was born in the Mediterranean in Ancient Greece, or earlier, and had a movement throughout religious apparel in terms of how proper women should behave in social settings, particularly through Christian and Orthodox religions. Today, we still see the veil connected to marriage, either by the wedding itself, or the funeral veil, or the grief veil we still see particularly in rural Europe, which is thought to be particularly religious, but it’s not quite so. The impregnation of religious cultural aspects in these communities goes further than religious feasts and holidays, but it’s engrained in the wardrobes and cultural fashion. It’s interesting that the veil has become this symbol of womanhood in magazines, that depicts the higher classes in their yachts with a margarita in one hand and the other hand free in laughter as if nothing is needed for the hand to be doing. So, the usage of the veil spread from Mediterranean Antiqueness and the Middle East, as a symbol of femininity and it is still today a symbol of the Woman.
So, when the narrative of Islam being oppressive began in the West, Islamic leaders decided to start a statement with the veil, they decided it would be mandatory for women to use a veil to protect themselves against Western oppression of the female body. Seeing how rapidly the so-called sexual revolution spread out to the entire world, is by no means a surprise to agree that the introduction of wardrobe which is meant to protect women from what in the West we call the male-gaze, is something to be respected and acknowledged.
Of course, as Westerners, we can speak about oppression. But maybe we can begin by talking about this: the pill was introduced as a revolution to womanhood, sexual freedom from the slavery of baby-making. But what actually happened was how Latina women were guinea-pigs of the pill-predecessors and had horrible side effects from it. The pill, like all women know, is a way in which we can be sexual freely with men, with the use of a condom because who knows where he’s been? But also, it’s a tool. A very effective tool to sexualize the female body. I’ve never been in a relationship where the pill wasn’t a pre-requisite, and I’ve never been in a long-term relationship when there isn’t a process of getting off the need to use condoms, just as long as I’m on the pill. From hormonal imbalances to hair growing in weird places, to skin issues, to hair falling out… I can state multiple issues as to why I do not like to take the pill. But also, it helps with PMS and the horrible pains of menstruation, so it has been in my life a symbol of relief. Questioning deeper the issue of the pill, I can say that it sexualizes women a lot sooner than it is okay for children to have sex. I was introduced to the pill by a medical professional when I was 13, and shortly after, it was useful.
I’ve spoken to a female colleague in a System’s Thinking course, who was studying the effect of the pill in young girls in South America, and it’s quite astoundingly horrible how it sexualizes young girls from early on.
When we speak of sexualization and freedom of sex for women, we aren’t speaking in terms of what a woman actually wants to do. But in terms of the social narrative of what is publically and privately acceptable. What women actually want to do is a revolution in itself, and it began about 20 to 10 years ago. Recently, I’ve come across this: Want, Will, Won’t List. And it wasn’t until I actually took the time to go through it and check a few boxes that I realized the amount of what I actually like and want in sexual relationships, and what I simply accept out of social inclusion of what is deemed acceptable or sexy, or pornographic or even pleasurable. After I finished the list, I had both a sense of empowerment and a sense of disgust for what is allowed to be said about women’s sexual processes and needs.
After speaking about colonialism and geopolitics, about the sexualization of women in both religious and secular aspects, I’m going against the grain in a very unpopular opinion that is being both shouted from the rooftops by anyone who begins some sort of self-exploratory journey, and dismissed like a moratory fad that will fade out eventually: love is the ultimate statement against oppression, the ultimate anti-colonialist story, the ultimate aspect of what it means to be alive.
Why is this unpopular? Isn’t it being said by basically everyone? Isn’t the whole freedom movement and grassroots movements based on it? No and no.
A lot of people can say it, few can understand it and that also means freedom and grassroots movements. And even fewer people live up to the true aspects of love.
I was taught love by a gay couple and a couple of swallows. The gay couple raised me like their daughter and niece and have been in my life since I consider myself to have this particular name and ever-changing body. The couple of swallows came into my life fairly recently, and by observation, I can understand a deeper natural, organic, nuance of love that I had never seen before.
Not going into personal details, I can say that I found that love is both built as it is found, it’s both a need and a hedonistic pleasure, and it’s ever, always, a miracle in this world.
The thing about love being the ultimate statement is that it transcends all barriers. We can be divided by a screen and still have deep touch and affection by the senses, we can be oceans apart and still feel the closest we’ve ever been, and we can be a memory in someone’s mind that somehow, that memory is sweet and the bad eventually crumbles. Love is what heals trauma, anxiety, depression, and most emotional illnesses. Love is what unites and confronts the hard realities of society, it’s through love that we’ll solve racism and it’s through love that we have environmentalism.
I don’t mind that somehow in the midst of all of this, we are confused about what love is and isn’t. What is true, however, is that when there is true unbinding love, we can clearly state a healing process, a conclusion, a statement mark of something well done. Nothing of honesty is done away from love, nothing which is integral is done away from love.
Most of what we see today are statements of self-appreciation and self-compassion, but we are still some steps away from self-love.
I was doing yoga the other day and I was trying to glue my chest to the ground in Balasana to rest my aching legs, and somehow this deep sense of self-nourishing, a deep sense of love for myself came through. It was quite amazing, and I hadn’t felt it before. A few days later, while meditating, I realized that that is who I am. I found myself in a deep love for who I am. This didn’t come out of self-aggrandizing behaviors, it didn't come out of struggle or fight, and not by trying to, by out of rest, movement and self-care. Out of embodying who I am, I felt myself in myself. It’s quite difficult to describe because it was intense but fleeting. As soon as I noticed it and shock about it arose, feelings of unworthiness began to creep back in.
So, when I go to the city and see these billboards of women who are skinny and look like they’re ready to jump ship to whatever life’s next adventure is, I feel like I’m not on my right path — that I could be much better, that I could do much better, that if I had just done that or this, that if I don’t do that or this… and so forth.
To realize the ever-going process of self-love annihilation and overcoming it, realizing the love we have for others and how a one-minute-smile can melt all the barriers that we had imposed on ourselves for decades, how another person’s mind can be met with compassion and how the integrity of the other can be met with respect… there is no greater statement.
Ever noticed how colonialism coincides with speaking about food? One of the most spoken sentences out of my mouth is “It’s mostly hunger, not bad intent” when speaking about Chinese cultural gastronomical habits.
A very particular habit that I’ve witnessed in every single place I’ve visited is how the local food is never the same elsewhere, whether it’s national-wide or international-wide, the localization of food is something and particularly the need to state it is, always, very funny and interesting, because it is one of the most prominent factors of colonialism.
I’ve been studying Paris for a project, of all places, and one interesting time period in France’s history was how the then-contemporary aristocracy wanted to have ethnic foods and exotic animals and plants for their feasts and so the French ecosystem changed with the introduction of new species. It didn’t go much further because it wasn’t a tolerable or sustainable practice, but it’s quite interesting that it happened — it notes that specific issue we are indoctrinated with “We really didn’t want to invade that country, but they had tea, so…” or “We really didn’t want to change the course of that place’s history, but they had a type of pig that we really wanted”.
The thing about “want” in food is particularly distressing, for a lot of folks with eating disorders. Anorexia ranges from eating too much to eating too little, and it isn’t going far by saying that either way, it’s a question of survival to solve the issue. When we want food, we can go to great lengths to get it. I often question if someone is going to Japan for proper sushi because it’s so hard to find good sushi here. Migrations of populations have brought interesting aspects of cultural food and what’s considered ethnic food. The sushi we know in the West is actually fusion-cuisine, started by Japanese immigrants in Brazil, who, out of lack of original products, invented what we know as sushi in Western society. So, instead of going to Japan, folks may go to Brazil to taste the actual sushi we know and adore.
The way Catherine the Second took tea to Great Britain is also an effect of colonialism and migrations because Catherine was actually Catarina and was Portuguese and married the British King, she had access in Portugal to tea leaves from the colonization process of India, Ceuta and Goa in particular, which then led to the colonization of the Indus Valley by the British.
Even more interesting is how we call India, India. It’s not its original name, and it’s a colonized name. Hindu religion did not exist before British colonization and was actually comprised of hundreds of different sects or smaller religions that were brought together by the need to homogenize the culture that was being colonized. In India’s constitution, it states “India, that is Bharata, shall be a union of states”, which acts as a bridge between what once was the territory, and what might be again eventually.
The way we eat Indian food is actually very eccentric too. First, with knife and fork. Second, it may come from Bangladesh, Nepal, or even some parts of Pakistan, but it’s all encompassed under the “Indian” umbrella.
The fact that we attribute India as the tipping point of colonized history is by no means a mistake. When I lived in China it was well known that certain products were tested in India and South America first, and then accepted into the superpower’s markets. And we, in China, got to test all the technologies first, there are things that were part of my reality growing up that no one in Europe even knows about. Laser disks, anyone? They didn’t last long, the DVD won.
Anyway, all of this to pinpoint exact stories on how the decolonization of the world happens, but it’s still intrinsically needed to state that is a slow-moving process with a lot of obstacles that are inculcated into our belief systems, behavioral patterns, and even emotional patterns. I could go on about the role of music and the role of spiritual practices, and stories about fighters who every day win battles against colonialism, so I will write a second series on this for sure.