“The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire:” How the Decadence of the British Museum was Built Over the Victims of Imperialism


Ever since the dawn of civilizations, imperialism has played a major yet pessimistic role on society and culture.  There are four major issues that have resulted from imperialism.   Cultural assimilation; cultural endangerment; cultural and environmental exploitation; and cultural diaspora.  From the Romans to the Napoleonic, the conquest of a widespread empire has been a driving force for imperialism.  However, after witnessing the all of the different collections of artifacts from nearly every civilization, there is no doubt that no empire has exemplified imperialism better than the British Empire. From half of the African continent; India; Pakistan; China; Japan to our own nation, the U.S.A.; Southwestern and South-central Canada; and Jamaica; for over 350 years British colonialism and imperialism ruled the world.  The British Museum is a prime example of these distraught feelings being represented in the form of preserved artifacts from these fallen nations.  For example when I saw the collections from orient I asked myself; why is this amazing statue of the Buddha displayed here in England when the birthplace of this work of art is in India?

It all goes back to how the culture was brought here to England which was a major result of imperialism.  In this sense of realizing the imperialistic intentions of empires like Great Britain especially back then, it was taken from the native land and brought here not to preserve its history but to preserve the history of Great Britain’s glory and power.  Do not get me wrong, I thought of my excursion to the British Museum to be one of awe-inspiring proportions.  To see the legendary Rosetta Stone; one of the only existing copies of the Parthenon; or as I mentioned before the different statues of the Buddha; it was truly an amazing experience.  But as I said before these artifacts should be displayed in their area of origin not in the nation who stole them from all of the different tribes and native people of these lands.  To conclude, I feel my share of excitement to see such historic treasures but I personally would feel better if I knew that these artifacts were displayed in their country of origin. Whether it is a collection from Egypt, or a collection from China; imperialism is the main reason we see these artifacts displayed there still to this day.


History’s Push and Pull: Kwasy (On John White’s Lost Colony)

After our discussion in class, I felt that going back and analyzing one of Padel’s poems using the supplemental information was pertinent. I chose to hone in on “Kywash (On John White’s Lost Colony).”

Padel gives a concise description of White’s history, putting in her own thoughts here and there when she mentions “he painted in watercolour (unusually – most painters preferred oil-based paint)” and that “one thing I love about White’s portraits…is their warm smiles” (123). What I was most interested in, both in the poem and the prose, is the conflict between the English and the Indians. The paintings that White did on his first expedition depict a good relationship between the two groups of people. Here are a few pictures from his collection now pictured at the British Museum:
Group of Indians during a ceremony (possibly “their circle-dance” that Padel references in her poem.)
Woman and a girl
Like Padel notes, the people in the pictures are friendly and happy, which may be evidence that they had a good relationship at first. The poem on page 140 writes that “our first sight of them, fishing…I see myself/ painting an old man smiling at me from his winter rug/ Their sitting at meat: a husband and his wife, / smiling at me and at each other.”

I found this article that expanded on Padel’s information on John White. When it comes to the dispute, it reads that “although relations with the local Indians had been mostly friendly at first, they deteriorated as the military men struggled to feed themselves… During the summer, a dispute with the Roanoke Indians provoked Lane to storm their town of Dasemunkepeuc, where his men killed and beheaded the weroance Pemisapan (formerly Wingina).” What’s interesting is that Padel doesn’t really touch upon the disputes and the violence in her prose, but explores it in the poem. The first act of violence from the English was when “we burned/ the village of Aquascogoc” because they assumed that the Indians stole the Governor’s silver cup. I couldn’t find any information on this particular instance; what’s interesting is how these few lines subtly introduce the idea of the scapegoat into the poem. Up until that point, the relationship between them is positive. The shift is brief and almost possible to miss; immediately something is missing and it’s clearly the native people’s doing. Padel doesn’t have White, the narrator, present and evidence that it was them, they just burn down the town.

The second instance of violence is on pages 141-2, where White is the one that burns down an Indian village. By this time he is the governor and writes “then we lost a fellow/ shot in the surf by an arrow. In punishment/ I burned their village. I would to God/ men could undo what they had done.” Again, there is no evidence that an Indian shot the arrow or that it was intentional. Padel shows how easily the people jump to violence to answer the dispute.

At the end of the prose, Padel ends White’s story telling us about his return to find the settlers. On another website sheds light on what was written on the tree: “‘CRO’ carved into a tree and the word “CROATOAN” on a post of the fort. Croatoan was the name of a nearby island)…and a local tribe of Native Americans…the colonists had agreed that a message would be carved into a tree if they had moved and would include an image of a Maltese Cross if the decision was made by force. There was no cross.” We discussed in class how the last two lines of the poem, from White’s perspective, were positive about the whereabouts of the settlers and how this is more hopeful than truthful. But this new information about the cross might add to the truth of his hopefulness; on the flip side, the history of violence between the settlers and the Indians.