Book Review: Lost White Tribes

Lost White Tribes: The End Of Privilege An The Last Colonials In Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Brazil, Haiti, Namibia, and Guadalupe, by Riccardo Orizio

Someone who judged this book by its unfortunate title would assume that the colonials spoken of in this book were once privileged white colonists in various countries around the world. This would be a mistaken assumption to make, however. The foreword to this book makes the following comments: “The lost white tribes are in fact individuals still living a chapter of history that for the rest of mankind is forever closed. Which is why, despite Riccardo’s sympathy with these obscure heroes, his is nevertheless an anticolonial book, a demonstration of the fact that this particular human adventure can never be relived. It belongs to the past and only to the past.” This may be true, but it is hardly the point, and the foreword’s rather defensive tone about the need to point out that this is an anti-colonial book, and it is, only draws attention to the fact that colonialism and imperialism are typically judged by race, and this is a particularly unfortunate way to judge the fate of these lost tribes, which both receive and in many cases deserve the sympathy of the author as well as the reader, regardless of their unfortunate skin color as far as sympathy is concerned.

The contents of this book consist of six vignettes over about 270 pages that examine a half dozen obscure white tribes who live in post-colonial countries and face obscurity as well as official discrimination on a part of their background. This is so even though the peoples themselves were never really a privileged part of the colonial order in which their existence serves as a hated or pointedly ignored reminder. Included among the book’s lost white tribes are the Dutch and Portuguese-descended Burghers of Sri Lanka, the Germans of Seaford Town in Jamaica, the Confederados, Confederate refugees who departed the reconstruction South for a life of adventure in Brazil, the remnant population of Poles in Haiti, the Basters of Namibia, descended from the union between Boer fathers and Khoisan mothers, and the Blancs Matignon of Guadalupe, insulted as inbreds but proud of their own supposedly noble French heritage. In all of the cases, the white tribes were never the privileged classes of the places they colonized—they were political and religious refugees, soldiers fighting the wars of others facing oppression in their own homeland, people facing economic hard times and looking for opportunity in exotic locales, and in one case at least indentured servants brought over fraudulently and shortchanged on their wages, or the offspring of unions that brought them isolation from both sides of their ancestry. Such people may be considered white tribes, but they are hardly privileged ones. If anything, they remind one of the often maligned and forgotten poor folk of Appalachia, with a sullen mistrust of outsiders and a life that lacks any privilege save personal honor.

It is therefore of little surprise that the author, an Italian reporter with an English wife, would have sympathy with these peoples. Those who come from similar backgrounds of European commonfolk seeking new lands and better opportunities will find much to empathize with in the stories provided here. The stories are all too familiar to at least some of the readers, with the curse of family secrets, the continual insults of incest, the feeling that one is an alien in one’s own homeland, the feeling of extreme isolation, the struggle for honor and personal dignity and demographic survival, the difficulty of finding suitable mates. These are not the sorts of problems faced by snobby elites receiving their deserved comeuppance in a postcolonial world, but are a poignant reminder that imperialism and colonialism has never been entirely about race [1], and that privilege is not as straightforward a matter as many hostile anti-imperialist leftists would like to believe and to promote among the world at large, and that a large part of the discourse of white privilege is in fact an illusion, spread to justify continued ethnic envy and hatred, rather than to encourage the sort of self-examination and search for peace and reconciliation that this world so seriously needs.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Book Review: Lost White Tribes

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