Deforestation and Decolonization: Lafcadio Hearn’s French Antillean Writing
Looking outside at my breadfruit tree reminds me how European colonialism shaped Caribbean landscape through the genocide of indigenous peoples and colonization of their lands, followed by the theft, commodification and dispersal of indigenous plants and botanic knowledge. Furthermore, these processes were accompanied by the production and hierarchization of race and the enslavement and exploitation of African and Asian populations. As Elizabeth Deloughrey, Renee Gosson, and George Handley note, ‘there is probably no other region in the world that has been more radically altered in terms of human and botanic migration, transplantation and settlement than the Caribbean’. Yet, our ability to detect ecoimperialist activities by reading Caribbean landscapes is hampered by ‘the ever-expanding and ambitious imaginative symbolism’ through which the colonizers constituted the islands as tropical paradises’. As Deloughrey explains, ‘at the height of the process of altering and damaging island landscapes, tropical islands were interpellated in Edenic terms, removed in space and time’ and segregated from human agency. This interpellation, still active in today’s tourism advertisements, naturalizes the altered landscapes, thereby effacing the violent ecological history of the Caribbean plantation economy.