Over 300 hundred years ago, the first European colonists landed in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean to found permanent outposts of the great empires. This epic migration continued until after World War II, when some of these tropical colonies became independent black nations and the white colonials were forced -- or chose -- to return to the mother country. Among the descendants of the colonizing powers, however, were some who had become outcasts in the poorest strata of society and, unable to afford the long journey home, were left behind, ignored by both the former oppressed indigenous population and the modern privileged white immigrants. At the dawn of the twenty-first century these lost white tribes still hold out, tucked away in remote valleys and hills or in the midst of burgeoning metropolises, living in poverty while tending the myths of their colonial ancestors. Forced to marry within their own group if they hope to retain their fair-skinned "purity," they are torn between the memory of past privilege and the extraordinary pressure to integrate. All are decreasing in number; some are on the verge of extinction and fighting to survive in countries that ostracize them because of the color of their skin and the traditions they represent. Though resident for generations, these people are permanently out of place, an awkward and embarrassing reminder of things past in newly redefined countries that are eager to forget both them and their historical homelands. In the remote interior and in bustling Sao Paulo, the "Confederados" of Brazil linger on, the descendants of Confederate families that fled the American South to rebuild their society here rather than face victoriousYankees. Wrenchingly poor then and now, these would-be genteel planters cling to their romanticized memory of a proud antebellum past. In Sri Lanka, once Ceylon, the children of Dutch Burghers haunt their crumbling mansions, putting on airs and keeping up appearances. In the steaming jungle of Guadeloupe, the inbred and deformed Matignons Blancs scrape out an existence while claiming the blood of French kings in their veins. On the beaches of Jamaica, a young man with incongruously blond dreadlocks -- the destitute descendant of a shoemaker from the Duchy of Saxony who became an indentured servant to earn passage from Germany to the new world -- still gazes out at the Caribbean over a century and half later. The Poles of Haiti are descended from troops lured over by Napoleon to quell slave rebellions. His promise of independence for their homeland went unfulfilled; they persist in hidden valleys in the island's interior. In the desert expanses of Southwest Africa, the famously devout Basters, the green-eyed, mixed-race Afrikaners, still doggedly pursue vast territorial claims as the continent's new power brokers sweep them aside. These are the lost white tribes. More than an entree into a world we are unfamiliar with, this amazing chronicle opens up a world that we did not even know existed. In his masterful report, Riccardo Orizio has written the final chapter in the history of the postcolonial world, and in him these forgotten peoples have found their unique historian.
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Riccardo Orizio, a former correspondent for Italy's main daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera, is the senior editor of CNN Italia. He lives in Atlanta.From Publishers Weekly:
Ever wonder what became of that unfortunate Belgian clerk in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, who insisted upon wearing a starched collar despite the stifling Congo heat? Italian journalist Orizio shows that he may well have stayed on. Like Ryszard Kapuscinski, who provides a brief foreword, Orizio has a wonderful eye for cultural anachronisms and uncovers colonial remains in the form of white enclaves in Third World settings. His six subcultural portraits follow a similar pattern (which by no means detracts from their appeal), personalized by his subjects' discussions of their peculiar insider/outsider position. The opening chapter takes Orizio to Sri Lanka, where he contacts the remnants of the Dutch community, a group that originally arrived some 400 years ago with the Dutch East India Company and, for whatever reason, chose to stay on after the collapse of Dutch rule. Now they are doubly isolated not only have they lost their mother tongue, but they never acquired the national language, Sinhalese. Instead they speak English, the language of an intervening empire. And with whom do they identify? Orizio ably addresses that complicated question, conveying the ambiguities of identity that attend these historical holdovers by amplifying their voices with background information. All of the countries Orizio visits house small communities of whites who have been bypassed by history. Although Orizio (now editor of CNN Italia) refrains from drawing any overarching conclusions from these disparate narratives, he successfully conveys the dilemmas posed by being a member of a vanishing postcolonial tribe.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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