Trigger warning for mentions of rape.
I’d like to take some time to examine the lyrical content of the standout track of M.I.A.’s “Arular”, the catchy-yet-mysterious “Amazon”. The song posits M.I.A. as a foreign captive by what we presume are Brazilian terrorists who have taken her to an undisclosed location in the Amazon. There seems to be an element of stockholm syndrome as well, as the chorus gradually changes from “Can you please come get me?” to “It’s OK you forgot me”, implying that she makes peace with her captors at some point. Taken literally, the song is an interesting story, but I believe it may serve as a dual metaphor for the blurred lines of borders, nations and the peoples that inhabit them.
First of all we have to consider the setting of the song: “Amazon” almost certainly takes place in Brazil, and there’s a reason for that. South American countries like Brazil that were formerly European colonies were known for presenting the tricky problem of miscegenation to the European colonizers. As the Europeans settled, they often took African slaves or native women as mistresses, and as a result, children of mixed descent were born. As time passed, these “mixed” people made up an increasing amount of the population and the Europeans, who up to this point had established very strict hierarchies based around race, were unsure of how to classify these people. The “mixed” descendants, in their very existence, helped to deconstruct the idea of having separate classes of people based on race as they defied traditional categorization. Now consider how this relates to the sexual element in M.I.A.’s song. If we’re to understand the line “bodies started merging” as describing some sort of sexual contact between the narrator and her captors, then there’s clearly an element of something similar to miscegenation in “Amazon” as well, considering the narrator is a foreigner. This mixing of peoples through sexual contact is how M.I.A. shows the weakness of borders both cultural and national (consider “the lines got grey”).
But there’s another element in “Amazon” that makes it more complex. What role does the stockholm syndrome-esque shift in views play in how the listener perceives this interaction? While it’s true that the miscegenation aspect may represent a sort of defiance of colonialism through the deconstruction of borders, there may be a darker interpretation lurking beneath. Note that when the narrator describes the captors “trying to get me undone/Let me go, I don’t want your attention”, she is, in her own words, “under submission”. This sounds a little too close to rape for comfort. Clearly she is resisting the captors’ sexual advances on her. Up until this point, we have thought of that as a way that the colonizers resisted contact with the people they thought were beneath them, but what if the narrator simultaneously represents these people as a nation as well? The stockholm syndrome that takes effect on her could also represent the colonizers’ relentless suppressing of the colonized until they became submissive to the larger colonial state. This is, essentially, the rape of an entire nation, and it even fits in with the miscegenation theme, as many of the white masters in the colonies would have had mixed children through the rape of women of colour. The lines are grey, indeed. At what point does this colonized nation even fully gain its independence when they still trust those who enslaved them in the first place? When M.I.A. sings “I’ll do it, I’ll scream for the nation”, which nation is she screaming for?