- Fortifications, Post-colonialism and Power: Ruins and Imperial Legacies by João Sarmento
For far too long the Portuguese Empire has been relegated to the margins when discussing empire. In his aptly titled book Fortifications, Post-colonialism and Power: Ruins and Imperial Legacies, João Sarmento reminds us of the great geographic reach and long duration of the Portuguese Empire. By highlighting the Portuguese imperial project and its postcolonial legacies, Sarmento extends our understanding of empire, postcolonialism, sites of memory and heritage, tourism, and the recent expanding spatial geography of neoliberalism.
Spanning the Age of Discovery and colonialism, a period of over 500 years (1415-1974), the Portuguese empire impacted a vast landscape that stretched across the coasts of Asia, Africa, and South America that are currently situated in the boundaries of approximately 25 nation states. The fortified enclaves they founded or altered acted as nodes in an expanding mercantile network and empire that was headquartered in Lisbon, Portugal. This multi-nodal hierarchical network created a "discontinuous geography" of fortified far-flung settlements that attempted to be self-sufficient in their varying scales of settlement and degrees of isolation, resulting in what Sarmento evocatively refers to as "an archipelago of empire" (5).
One of the great strengths of this ambitious book is Sarmento's detailed focus on case studies in four countries in Africa where he endeavors to tease out the colonial histories of specific sites and bring them into dialogue with their postcolonial trajectories. This requires an attention to both the local and the global, to colonial histories and current developments, and to possible interconnections between sites. To accomplish this, Sarmento used various methods including archival research, extensive use of secondary literature, field trips that include touring and closely observing the sites multiple times, and interviews with museum curators, politicians, journalists, tour guides and others who intersected with the sites selected.
The plan of the book includes a preface, an introductory chapter, five chapters that focus on case studies, and a brief conclusion. In short, this book is built around detailed case studies. These include colonial and postcolonial histories [End Page 253] and experiences at Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya, in East Africa; three sites—the Fort and an old town, a concentration camp, and a global resort—on the island of Santiago in Cape Verde; a fort and two stone monuments in São Tomé and Príncipe in West Africa; the Medina of Azamour, Morocco, a town under Portuguese control for under three decades in the sixteenth century and its intersection with contemporary tourism experiences at the Mazagan Beach Resort located a short distance away. The author correctly limited the scope of this project by focusing on sites in Africa and jettisoned his original plan to examine sites in Africa, South America, and Asia, a project with huge logistical challenges for an individual researcher. The author does a good job of providing a thick description of the historical and contemporary context for each case study. Each of the five chapters that focus on case studies can stand on their own and in fact, many have been published earlier.
The multiple case studies are tied together by common theoretical concerns. Sarmento is particularly interested in issues of memory and space and their relationship to forgetting, celebrating and the invention of the past. Pierre Nora's work on the emergence of sites of memory where memory is actively produced and negotiated is especially pertinent in the selection of case studies in this book. Postcolonial theory is another important influence, particularly in its refusal to forget the colonial past and to continue to examine and interrogate it. Thus, in the case studies, Sarmento takes on the challenge to uncover a messy colonial past. Through an examination of tourism and celebratory rituals he shows that brutal stories of colonialism are usually forgotten, obscured, or unknown in the contemporary era. Scholars of colonialism have argued that even though formal colonialism has ended, the forces that created it are active in the contemporary era. The...