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Colonialism and Its Impact on Identity and Labor Power

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Table of Contents

  • The Colonization of Culture and Values
  • The Colonization of Language and Heritage
  • The Colonization of the Economy

The history of colonialism started during the formation of empires and powerful states. It had the aim of widening territories through wars and conflicts. It expanded enormously in the 15th century as Portugal and Spain started the age of discovery which involved controlling and exploiting the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. All the powerful countries in Europe eventually joined this phase while some parts of the Portuguese and Belgian empires were growing weaker. At the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution erupted in Europe which was the era of transition from hand production to machines. This change forced Europeans to look outside their boundaries and territories to acquire the resources and labor power needed for their growing industries. The Europeans at that time decided to fulfill these alarming needs at the cost of violating the independence and sovereignty of one’s nation. The quest for raw materials to provide for their growing urban industries; the need for new markets on and trade routes for their industries’ manufactured products were the primary causes leading to the era of colonial dominance, exploitation, and imperialism. Africa, the Middle East, and Asia were plotted as targets for these aims for their surplus natural resources and labor power although Europeans claim that this quest was a mission of civilizing and uplifting these barbarian nations.

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Colonialism can be defined as the practice of taking control over other sovereign nations’ social, political, and economic systems. It is a form of imperialism beginning with political domination and getting stronger and stronger with economic exploitations. It had different forms and strategies involving settlement and exploitation to obtain control. There are a lot of opposing opinions about colonialism these days but the fact that it serves to destroy a (colonized) nation’s identity because of its massive impact on the culture, language, heritage and economic structure of the colonized nation is unarguable.

The Colonization of Culture and Values

Nigeria was colonized by the British empire in the nineteenth century and did not achieve full independence until 1960. In this period, major parts of Nigerian culture were severely affected by this foreign rule and the imposition of alien cultural values. The main manifestations of this change were religion, language, traditions, marriage, dressing, and arts. Before being under the rule of Britain, Nigeria had a dominant traditional religion which had its own beliefs and rules. At the time British control, Catholic missionaries, and crusades converted most parts of the country to Christianity. In Precolonial Nigeria, there was not any type of Gender inequality and women even had high status and rank in the community. Colonial Christianity brought monogamous relationships in a family where the man has the highest power in the house. It also introduced the idea of “Victorian woman”; a woman who always stays in the households leaving the real work to the man of the house. This patriarchal Christianity excluded women from involving in politics and the social system. We witness many actions of gender inequality and discrimination against these days.

The Asa Ibale, the tradition of virginity in the Yoruba kingdom, is another victim of colonial rule which is no longer being practiced in Nigeria. This tradition instructs that A woman must be a virgin until she gets married and expected to lose it on her wedding night. Women who are not virgins are shamed, disgraced and even isolated from the tribe. Colonization brought with it an increase in sexual assaults on Nigerian women, the spread of prostitution and the acceptance of divorce which undermined the Asa Ibale culture. This custom was one of the fundamental traditional traits which were lost due to modernization ideas. (Olaoluwa, 2015). Marriage traditions in Nigeria have also been affected and change due to colonial rule. we can observe changes regarding marriage like the increment of divorce and the reduction of average family size. Divorce, which was seen as a God’s punishment and was feared, has now become a normal procedure. Marriages are hardly lasting for more than 10 years before the couples agree on splitting and this was all due to destructions of the traditional marriage system by European settlers. The above changes in Nigeria’s cultural trends and customs shows us how cultural identity had dissolved inside these colonial ideologies.

The Colonization of Language and Heritage

Language is the basic index of culture in a nation. The original precolonial language of Nigeria was the Igbo language which had more than 20 million speakers at the time. Daily activities and formal education were conducted using this language. During colonialism, the British imposed their culture and system of education in Nigeria where the English language was a big tool. European products and markets were preferred over the local products and This caused ideas of European superiority and devaluation of local elements. Being able to use the English language was seen as prestige and glory while using the traditional language is a sign of backwardness and uneducated. Nigerian students have to pass written and oral English exams to get into colleges. The Igbo language has undergone a transformation. It has acquired many themes, words, grammars and even alphabets from English. Some words were spelled and changed in accordance with English language rules. These effects overall brought about the underdevelopment of the native Igbo language. Today, the official language in Nigeria is English and it will not take long until we witness the Igbo language vanishing from the Nigerian community.

Cultural heritage is part of a society’s identity and is embodied in arts and cultural works. Most of these works belonging to colonies were stolen and destroyed by the colonial reign during war and occupation. Some of them were even bought or given out by some biased leaders and traitors to get benefits and promises from the rulers at that time. We can mention the statue of Queen Nefertiti, the 3,400-year-old bust of the great queen, which are now in Neues Museum, Berlin. This was one of the heritages of Egypt which shows identities of the past generation. It was taken away forcefully by France during colonial rule and still has not been given back. (Moyo, 2017) All the above discussions explain the imposition of western cultures during colonization displacing or destroying the indigenous cultures, languages, and heritage of the society.

The Colonization of the Economy

Colonialists conquered countries and nations intending to exploit the resources, manage their capitals and new products produced to elevate their economy and development within the world. To acheive these goals, they had to take direct control of the economic system and political administration. In Africa, this control gave the Europeans the upper hand over the local people in controlling and changing traditional production systems and trades in a way that they wanted it to be. Those who were disobedient to these rules and systems were killed or forced to work in industries and factories harshly. Pre-colonial had a communal ownership system of land where it was seen as a property of the community till colonizers created subdivisions of Land ownerships. They distorted the native economic patterns, trade systems and changed them to the new westernized system which was disadvantageous and exploitative towards the Africans. Africans were only allowed to work in those industries being involved in producing raw materials and initial products from the natural resources which will be used for the production of finished products in the big industries of Europe. The system had the aim of devaluing raw materials that are gathered from the colony nations and giving more price to the finished products. This ideology has stayed for long and can be considered as a cause for the backwardness and underdevelopment of most African countries these days.

Even though India was the wealthiest nation in the past, Colonialism has diminished its potential in the economic world. There was no increase in per capita income in India during the entire period of British rule. This was mainly due to due to exploitation and abuses of the British economic system. The macroeconomic studies of experts such as K.N.chaudhuri state that India was the center of the emergence of the world economic system alongside China but they were not able to keep up with that level after they encountered downgrading impact of colonialism. Deformation of original economic structures and replacement by the new odd system which only benefits the colonizers was part of the core issues back then. The exploitation of resources and labor power and loss of lives of working labor power through wars and mass killings were pulling India from where they were. The life expectancy dropped by 20 percent during the British rule as compared to the years since independence when it increased by almost 66 percent. The mortality rate was also higher at the time due to famines caused by the process where products and foods were being used by the British people, not the Indian producers even though they provided all their resources and labor power on it. (McQuade, 2017) All these ideas show us that British rule has destroyed India’s economy and stability which had a massive impact on the country’s development.

Colonialism had also distorted the traditional marketing systems and routes the colonies had. Destroying the local market centers and creating new routes were done to connect the premature African economy to the advanced world economy. This led Africans’ to be taken advantage of by the developed and strategic countries. This has made the African economy stay stagnant and even move backward with no advancements and improvements which we can still see today.

In contrast to the above ideas, we can also see countries that are not colonized who preserved their identity and development through their history. The ottoman empire was one of the strongest and powerful empires in the world. This empire had stayed as a threaten to the European nations for decades although it collapsed after consecutive losses in WWI. After their decline, European powers tried to control some territories of the empire although Turkish nationalists resisted successfully. This resistance was mainly due to the idea of ‘Turkism’. A concept of cultural, educational, linguistic and religious unification led to the development of Turkish national identity. The people were able to protect their cultural heritage and traditions from the influence of western colonizers embracing their indigenous customs. One of these preserved customs can be the tradition of henna night, where henna is applied on a bride’s hand symbolizing blessing prosperity and some even say virginity. Moreover, the traditional oiled wrestling, Yagli gures is one of the oldest cultures which is still being practiced. Turkish people kept their originality as they managed to push out European impositions. Turkish forces resisted effectively in unity and expelled the foreign force in a war of independence creating the Republic of Turkey, modern world Turkey. Turkey is now among the world's most developed countries with a vastly growing economy. This can manifest that a nation would have been better without the intervention of Europeans with the aim of exploitation and destruction.

In conclusion, colonialism has brought a lot of impacts and long-lasting damages to the colonized nations. This is evident with respect to the cultural changes that have occurred in Nigeria; the economic devaluation in India and the destruction of educational and political systems. Colonization was set out to destroy a well-established nation rubbing off indigenous cultural heritages and traditions. It is not up for debate that it has distorted the social, cultural, political and economic structure of the colonized nation leaving deep scars on the people’s tradition and identity. This part of history has already passed but fighting and standing against its’ long-lasting effects is what will keep us moving forward. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, in his Independence Day Speech, states: 'I believe that culture is the spirit and essence of any nation. A country that lacks its own culture is no more than a collection of people without the spirit that makes them a nation.' Preserving our traits and fostering native traditions is what makes us unique and stand out within this vast world. Every colonized country should strive to reembrace its customs and reestablish its forgotten traditions showing that history will never take over their future.

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