The Legacy of Colonialism

Gillam, Victor. A Thing Well Begun is Half Done. 1899.

Colonialism has many effects that are not immediately noticed, but upon closer observation those effects are seen. Through colonialism “communities were displaced, marginalised and sometimes subjected to attempted genocide through the colonial process” (Coombes). In the late 18th century one of the most famous polymaths, Alexander van Humboldt, noticed the lasting effects of colonialism in South America and even published a paper on it that became one of his best and most popular works. To paraphrase, he observed that the Spanish Empire’s colonial policy wreaked havoc on the natural landscape which in turn decimated native populations (Humboldt). Andrea Wulf provides a good summary of Humboldt’s main points in his essay (Wulf). Even after a country has gone through decolonization the “centuries of oppression have left many aboriginal peoples second-class citizens. The social, economic, educational and health conditions of these indigenous minorities are poor and there is little hope of breaking free of this status” (Cassidy 409). In Australia many aboriginals struggle with poverty and feel the effects of climate change more harshly because they live in poorer areas that receive less help from the settler-state government. Not only that, but the population of aboriginals compared to the settler population is significantly smaller as seen in the table (Figure 1) produced by Julie Cassidy in her study on the legacy of colonialism.

Figure 1: Percent of Aboriginal Persons to Total Population (Cassidy 411)

Aboriginals, unlike most of the settler population, are still living in rural areas; and despite recent demographic shifts to urban areas a significant portion of aboriginals have not made the transition. Those that have moved to urban areas often live in what are called “town camps” and those that are hit the hardest are the ones that live on the edges of these communities. They face socio-economic problems such as “government dependency, unemployment, violence, low education, ill health and inadequate housing and utility services” (Cassidy 415). While it may seem that aboriginals may not be doing better in urban environments there are some benefits such as increased employment opportunities and more accessible education and health facilities. Some say that as aboriginals begin to shift to urban environments that they will start to lose their tradition and go into isolation without their kin-ties. This is not the case as there are a lot of urban aboriginal organizations that promote aboriginal identity. These organizations provide “assistance to aboriginal persons with housing, legal and employment problems” (Cassidy 415). These urban aboriginal organizations have also had an unexpected impact. As urban aboriginals begin to identify as aboriginal and learn about their ancestry they started to move out of the urban areas and back to rural areas. Moving back to rural areas allows them to become more in touch with their traditions.


Works Cited

Cassidy, Julie. “The Legacy of Colonialism.” The American Journal of Comparative Law, vol. 51, no. 2, 2003, pp. 409–455. JSTOR.

Coombes, Anne. Rethinking Settler Colonialism: History and Memory in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. Manchester University Press. Manchester, UK. 2012

Humboldt, Alexander von. “Political essay on the kingdom of New Spain…” London :Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown … and H. Colburn …,1811.

Wulf, Andrea. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. Vintage Books, Penguin Random House. New York. 2015.