De/Colonial Boundaries, Cultural Difference and Shared Indigeneity in the Poem “The ‘Red Indian’s’ Penultimate Speech” by Maḥmūd Darwīš

In: Quaderni di Studi Arabi
Stephan Milich Senior Lecturer, Institute of Languages and Cultures of the Islamicate World, University of Cologne Cologne Germany

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Simultaneously addressing the (Native) American and Palestinian/Israeli context, Maḥmūd Darwīš’s poem Ḫuṭbat al-Hindī al-aḥmar – ma qabla al-aḫīra – amāma al-raǧul al-abyaḍ (The ‘Red Indian’s’ Penultimate Speech to the White Man), published in 1992 to critically commemorate the ‘discovery’ of ‘America’ by Columbus in 1492, is a deep reflection about the violence of borders and frontiers created by white European invaders. In my article, I aim to answer the question of how the poem’s manifold boundaries (between colonizer and colonized; nature and culture; equality and hierarchization; the living and the dead; identity and otherness) are addressed and re-framed. Although partly essentializing cultural difference by drawing from a romanticized image of the “noble savage” (the “Red Indian”), the poem nevertheless finds a voice to raise crucial questions regarding the self-perception of European/western modernity, anticipating the recently discovered fact that (white) human agency has pushed ‘progress’ so far as to enable humanity to destroy itself, nature, and earth. In intertextual dialogue with key texts of de/coloniality and western modernity, I attempt to show how the poem confronts us with fundamental questions about humanity in the face of self-destruction.

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