Welcome to the website of the research project “Colonial Mimesis in Lusophone Asia and Africa”.

Colonialism is conventionally understood as a violent intrusion into the lives, cultures, and societies of the indigenous people in the extra-European world. From this perspective, a definitional feature of European colonization practically since the sixteenth century has been the effort put into drastically transforming the indigenous ways of life according to the cultural norms and social principles of the colonizers. ‘Education’, ‘conversion’, ‘civilization’, ‘assimilation’ are all terms that have conveyed this imagery in colonial discourse and practice. Within this framework, the notion of ‘imitation’ as a trope and as a practice is typically conceived of ethnocentrically as an attribute of the indigenous peoples alone, a ‘natural’ property of their supposedly ‘primitive’, ‘savage’, and ‘childlike’ condition. The Europeans were the bearers of higher civilizational standards that the Indigenous, in the face of colonial contact, could not help but reproduce, copy, imitate.

Cover of “La Diffeza di la Razza”, II, 19, 20 March 1939 – XVII, “Antirazzisti de tutto il mondo, unitevi!”

The current project intends to look at the role played by processes of imitation and mimesis in colonial situations from a reverse perspective, that is: as a process and as a practice of the colonizers themselves that could bear productively on colonial relations of power. The study is set in the context of Portuguese colonialism in Africa and Asia, in the nineteenth and twentieth century. By focusing on a variety of ways of ‘becoming Other’ and ‘going native’, the project aims at investigating the incorporation of indigenous ideas, technologies, materials, symbols or customs by colonial agents, and the consequences it entails for colonial interchanges, forms of knowledge, power relations, and modes of identity. In addition, it is our purpose to reassess the concepts of mimesis and imitation in history, anthropology and postcolonial studies, in order to explore their potential beyond the conventional themes of ‘resistance’, ‘opposition’ and its indigenous performances.

The project’s empirical focus is on Portuguese-speaking contexts. Thus it will consider mimesis and power in relation to the lasting centrality of the themes of creolisation, race, and intercultural exchange in academic and public discourses about ‘Portuguese colonialism’, from the colonial idiom of luso-tropicalismo to the postcolonial trope of lusofonia. However, the empirical specificities that the phenomenon might have acquired in Portuguese-speaking contexts will be examined critically and comparatively.

The productive connections between mimesis and colonialism are investigated through a twofold comparative strategy: (1) the study of colonial mimesis across distinct types of colonial projects and activities, such as conquest, administration, religion, medicine, or settlement; (2) the study of how mimesis across these activities comes into emergence in distinct Lusophone colonial settings in Asia (Goa and East Timor) and Africa (Angola and Cape Verde).

The project is coordinated by Ricardo Roque and is based at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon (http://www.ics.ul.pt). Research work began in March 2010 and the project is currently in progress. Funding is provided by a grant from the Foundation for Science and Technology, Portugal  (http://alfa.fct.mctes.pt) (Reference PTDC/CS-ANT/101064/2008).