Category Archives: Gilbert Islands

An attribute of the Gilbertese

It was no concern of the men with canoes

Dalrymple notes that the Gilbertese

neither forgot nor forgave an injury. They might take their revenge many years later.

They were

entirely lacking in public spirit, seemingly concerned only for the welfare of their own extended families.

They were capable of displaying

a callousness towards the sufferings of those not of their lineage which foreigners were bound to find repellent.

In Fool or Physician, Dalrymple relates that the Pacific historian and anthropologist H.E. Maude, who was Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellis Islands Colony in the late ’40s,

told the story of how he one day saw a woman drowning out to sea. He asked some men with canoes who were standing on the shore watching her plight why they did not rescue her. ‘Why should we?’ they replied. ‘She is not our relative.’

Report on the colonisation of the Phœnix Islands

Dalrymple’s linguistic shame

Maugham made the same mistake

Dalrymple confesses to what he calls

a serious omission,

something which

causes me much embarrassment.

He explains that although he was more than three years in the Gilbert Islands,

I never learnt more of the language than simple questions after health.

He offers these excuses, none of which satisfy him:

  • he was never sure how long he would stay
  • it was a language spoken by only 60,000
  • it was a language with no written literature
  • the nurses and doctors with whom he had to deal all spoke English
  • his social life was almost entirely among the expatriate community

Dalrymple concludes regretfully:

It was laziness combined with an attitude of cultural superiority I should certainly have condemned in others.

The British Resident’s flag

 

Antipodean canard

Hospital, Bikenibeu

Hospital, Bikenibeu

One evening in the Gilberts, writes Dalrymple,

I was having a beer with an Australian as the sun was going down lilac and gold and crimson over the lagoon.

You know, it’s not true Australians are uncultured,’ he said. ‘Some of my friends are fucking cultured.

Tarawa atoll

Tarawa atoll

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 14.32.43Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 14.32.52

How aid workers pay off their mortgages

Dalrymple explains that, with cash saved from his taxpayer-funded salary while employed on an aid-and-development project in the Gilbert Islands, he was able to purchase a whole house. And working on such a project in Africa, he found that it

enriched an inefficient British company and its personnel, and those…officials whom it bribed, while the country remained poorer than ever, a…tropical Merthyr Tydfil.

Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 17.44.10

The house that Dalrymple built: is this the charming bijou residence, nestled among the palms, that was purchased by the good doctor with such ease out of his aid-work earnings?

Aid, Dalrymple argues, is

neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition of…development…there is no country that has been lifted out of poverty by aid, which is…international social security for corrupt governments. To lump poor countries together as if they were…in the same category is false, a form of uninterested and morally frivolous condescension.

He describes Britain’s obsession with sending aid to India as ‘the hangover of a colonial superiority complex’. It is

a manifestation of the national administrative, mental and ethical torpor, as well as incompetence and corruption, that is leading us…to economic and social disaster. It is…time we stopped such aid, and not only to India.

Hindustan, he points out,

has a long, varied, glorious (and terrible) history of civilisation, with the sophistication necessary to absorb influences from abroad, including Western scientific ones….It is outrageous that we condescend to it with our paltry aid, just to pay the mortgages of aid workers.

Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 17.11.24

Sir Ronald Ross (1857-1932)

Ronald Ross’s poem ‘India’ is cited:

Here from my lonely watch-tower of the East

An ancient race outworn I see —

With dread, my own dear distant country, lest

The same fate fall on thee.

Lo, here the iron winter -oi curst caste

Has made men into things that creep ;

The leprous beggars totter trembling past;

The baser sultans sleep.

Not for a thousand years has Freedom’s cry

The stillness of this horror cleaved,

But as of old the hopeless millions die,

That yet have never lived.

An ancient race outworn indeed.

(2012)