A Small Place


Jamaica Kincaid



I just read the most fabulous book excerpt and had to share it.  It’s from a book called A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid, who wrote about the British colonial experience in Antigua. It’s heartbreaking, and goes to show how damaging and irreversible colonialism is, and how it changed the world.

The English have become such a pitiful lot these days, with hardly any idea of what to do with themselves now that they no longer have one quarter of the earth’s human population bowing and scraping before them. They don’t seem to know that this empire business was all wrong and that they should, at least, be wearing sackcloth and ashes in token penance of the wrongs committed, the irrevocableness of their bad deeds, for no natural disaster imaginable could equal the harm they did. Actual death might have been better.

They should never have left their home, their precious England, a place they loved so much, a place they had to leave but could never forget. And so everywhere they went they turned it into England; and everybody they met they turned English. But no place could ever really be English, and nobody who did not look exactly like them would ever be English, so you can imagine the destruction of land and people that come of that. The reason the English are so miserable now is that they have no place else to go and nobody to feel better than.

Do you ever try to understand why people like me cannot get over the past, cannot forgive and cannot forget?

This woman was 26, from Ireland, telling schoolgirls over and over to stop behaving as if they were monkeys just out of trees. No one ever dreamed that the word for any of this was racism. We thought these people were so ill-mannered and we were so surprised by this, for they were far away from home, and we believed that the farther away you were from your home the better you should behave.



We thought they were small-minded, we thought they were like animals, a bit below human standards as we understood those standards to be.  We thought that perhaps the English among them who behaved this way weren’t English at all, for the English were supposed to be civilised, and this behaviour was so much like that of an animal. 

What I see is the millions of people, of whom I am just one, made orphans: no motherland, no fatherland, no gods, no mounds of earth for holy ground, no excess of love, and worst and most painful of all, no tongue.

But nothing can erase my rage – not an apology, not a large sum of money, not the death of the criminal – for this wrong can never be made right and only the impossible can make me still: can a way be found to make what happened not have happened?

Even if I really came from people who were living like monkeys in trees, it was better to be that than what happened to me, what I became after I met you.

What an amazing story. The sad thing is – not only can colonialism never be undone, it continues today.


3 thoughts on “A Small Place

  1. I don’t think punishing the ancestors of the English Colionalists by making them wear sackcloth is going to help, humilation years later is not a helpful revenge. However, yes colonialism was very hurtful in countless ways – though the least that can happen is a constructive aftermath, something I don’t feel is happening in any side.

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