‘Kind words from a distant friend are the most precious of all gifts’: manifesting colonial power under the guise of ‘gift’, from India to Iraq by Nesma Shubber
Beyond mere expressions of sentimentality or altruism, gifts are mechanisms of exchange providing sociological and anthropological insights into systems of power and governance, as well as highlighting the role that material culture may play in manifesting that power. Intercultural gifts exchanged under colonial rule were invested with financial, political and cultural significance. This article analyses two colonial artefacts that represent the act of gifting from either side of this hierarchical divide: an image of gift-giving between an Indian Maharajah and Queen Victoria (c. 1884-90) and a gold watch given by a British General to an Iraqi tribal leader in 1922. Analysing the artefacts in conjunction permits an exploration of the relationship between the roles of giver/receiver and those of the coloniser/colonised.