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Disciplining Coolies

An Archival Footprint of Trinidad, 1846


Amar Wahab

The early years of the East Indian Indentureship system in the Caribbean saw experiments on "coolie" laborers under the British Empire. Colonial Trinidad was one of the main sites for this experiment. This book foregrounds one of the earliest cases (1846) of occupational and physical cruelty against East Indian indentured laborers in Trinidad within this very early period of experimentation. It presents and analyzes the full transcripts of an inquiry concerning the ill-treatment of "coolie" laborers and the severe punishment and death of one laborer, Kunduppa, by a Scottish planter in Trinidad. Drawing on the concepts of discipline, governmentality, and Orientalism, the main argument of the manuscript is that within the early experimental period of Indentureship, the figure of the "coolie" and disciplinary tactics of bodily torture were instrumental to redrafting and stabilizing the colonial governance of contract labor. It also argues that Crown investigations of "coolie" abuse and death became occasions for establishing a new colonial order, in which the disciplinary powers of planters were curbed in the interest of protecting and "caring" for the "coolie" —a discourse that was crucial to re-inventing colonial rule as benevolent. As such, the author’s analysis of colonial violence has crucial implications for critically re-thinking colonial liberalism and its legacies in the present.

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Chapter 4. Postscript: ‘Coolie’ Hauntings


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‘Coolie’ Hauntings

The postscript consists of six experimental photo installations which attempt to open up a conversation about how the inquiry prompts us to imagine the haunted present. The installations return us to an affective space where we can process the complexities of colonial violence through a ‘mash-up’ of perspectives gleaned from a range of scholarly texts in critical (post)colonial studies, Indo-Caribbean studies, critical race studies, critical studies of disability and debility, feminist and queer studies, and critical animal studies.1 Most of the images utilize key moments from the transcript to make possible the methodology of juxtaposition and collage (using Photoshop and Pixlr). In so doing, the installations offer strategies for placing ideas and images in resonant proximity to each other, to provoke questions of relationality within and between the past and present. They also aim to re-center the embodied ‘coolie’ as a ghostly figure who hovers over and under history from a certain disruptive positionality and therefore performs a strategic fetishism of (post)colonial power relations. In lieu of a conclusion, the ‘figures’ in this postscript force us to listen to that which has been silenced to death; the loud stench of that which we cannot refuse. ← 259 | 260 →

Figure 4.1(a): Abbey of the Parasite: on Human Remains.

Source: Author. ← 260 | 261 →

Figure 4.1(b): Abbey of the Parasite: on Human Remains.

Source: Author.2 ← 261 | 262 →

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