18 pages 36 minutes read

Derek Walcott

The Almond Trees

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1985

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The Impact of the Colonial Era

Using the vehicle of the stand of sea-almond trees, one of the tropic’s most enduring and lucrative cash crops, the poem suggests, at least metaphorically, the dramatic impact of colonialism on the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. Beginning with the arrival of Columbus and the first wave of Spanish explorers in the early 16th century, all intent on claiming so-called uninhabited resource-rich lands for their governments, the Caribbean islands endured centuries of routine occupation by cultures often openly hostile to the traditions and customs of the Caribbean people. In addition to imposing their culture, their customs, their religions, and their political and economic institutions on the native people, these foreign governments enslaved the indigenous peoples and, in turn, introduced African cultures through the institution of slavery itself. Despite the fact that by Walcott’s generation the actual presence of European colonizers had long since diminished, the poem suggests that the impact is enduring. The poet intones that despite outward appearances and a tranquil beach scene, history and its legacy are nevertheless always present, if one is perceptive enough.

The poem uses the image of the ever-present blistering sun and the island’s vulnerability to tropical storms to suggest how the impact of European colonization has registered in the Caribbean culture, which the poet, understanding the implications of colonialism, calls “this further shore of Africa” (Line 16).