Edward Said & The concept of Orientalism… Applicable to the Caribbean?


Said’s theory of Orientalism was developed with the Middle East and Islam in mind. Although not directly appropriated to the Caribbean, his theory does in fact explain who—Europe&The West— holds the power to define the “other/Orient” –the Middle East and can now be extended to everyone outside of Europe&The west.— // The theory goes on to highlight that they usually tend define prematurely and negatively. Descriptions are usually based on the direct or indirect relationship and experience that the colonizer/ the Orientalist have had with the Orient.  Said mentions that compared to European countries like Britain and France, America has had more of an indirect experience with the Orient. Due to that indirect experience it leads to highly clichéd and abstract descriptions of the Orient. Said makes reference to the Orientalist discourse in the way it perpetuates the inaccurate notions about the Orient.

Pirates of the Caribbean’s depiction of Caribbean natives.

When considering the Global South the inaccuracy of information that originates from the West is problematic and becomes dangerous when relied upon to solely define countries. Said explains that definitions are usually narrow which removes diversity and encourages generalization. These lazy definitions are then emphasized by the media. The inaccuracy of information that originates from the West shapes the more widely accepted or known global image of countries.

Pirates of the Caribbean Cannibals set up to eat their catch.
Pirates of the Caribbean Cannibals set up to eat their catch.

The Caribbean has not been exposed to the level demonization—by the West – attributed to the Middle East and many aspects of their culture and people. We, however, throughout our history have experienced earlier European and continued Western ills being made against us. For example the earlier discussed, transgressions made against the first people which lead to the genocide of many of the first peoples of the Caribbean & for more recent reference; the concept of media and technology imperialism. There has been an uprising of a new colonialism in the way we are dominated and exploited on the economic global stage and this is done under the veil of “Globalization.”

1st, 2nd 3rd

In accordance to Said’s message (the ability of the West to define) it can be said that they have the ability to forcefully define who we are within their literature. There is also the present affliction of Globalization which in many ways perpetuates the core and periphery type relationship and definition of the Global South as ‘Third world’ and ‘Developing.’ These definitions are made in relation to their standards. There is a form of generalization being made here, in that there is the expectance of Caribbean countries to develop at a rate and in likeness to that of West and European societies. It is important to remind them – The West&Europe – that their development was as a result of exploiting the global south and using our resource to develop their societies. To follow in this approach, from start to finish, would mean adopting unconceivable and unethical means of accomplishing development and validating the wrongs they initially did to us. (A means that should never be adopted again for any reason)

In solving this definition bias that leads to the ill mannered form of treatment of the Global South, it would be wise to draw upon the work of Antonio Gramski as Said did. Gramski outlined that; “history deposits traces within us and we must try to compile an inventory of those traces that history has left in us. In other words we must try to make sense of it. This is one of the interesting tasks of humans; the task of interpretation. This inventory would give history shape and sense and allow us to understand our own history in terms of others history and to eventually move beyond generalizations.” (Antonio Gramski) Said mentioned that Gramski outlined the greatest goal is to become someone else, to transform your own, singular identity to include another without suppressing and forming a hierarchy in the interest of one.

It is, also necessary that the Global South rises up to defend their true history and culture, rebut against inaccuracies that are defined and perpetuated by the Western media as well as to own their right to define their status as a country – ‘developed’/ ‘developing’ – and dispel notions of a ‘third world’ country.


-Leah Elbourne


“Edward Said on Orientalism,” Youtube video, posted by Palestine Diary, October 28, 2012.

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