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Transoceanic Dialogues

Coolitude in Caribbean and Indian Ocean Literatures


Veronique Bragard

At the point in time when the abolition of slavery was being celebrated, another system of servitude was underway: indentureship. Indenture labor resulted in the transportation of one million Indians – called coolies – into British and French colonies. Unable or unwilling to return, a great majority of them stayed in the countries they had been shipped to and participated in the creation of new, creole cultures.
This book offers a close reading of literary works in French and in English by women writers whose ancestors originally came to the Caribbean or across the Indian Ocean as indentured laborers. Positing a dynamic and open approach, the author adopts the concept of coolitude to examine how their works capture, on the one hand, the Indian element of the creolization process and, on the other hand, the creolization of the Indian diasporic inheritance.
Organized around the paradigm of the crossing – historical, geographical, gender-based, corporeal, identitary – this study offers insightful transoceanic, transregional and transcolonial dialogues between Caribbean and Indian Ocean literatures. Focusing on themes of displacement, entrapment, metamorphosis and marginalization, the author explores the entanglements and tensions that characterize creole pluricultural landscapes while she underscores Caribbean and Mauritian literature’s engagement with alterity.


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CHAPTER 1 - Mapping Kala Pani Voices 27


CHAPTER 1 Mapping Kala Pani Voices When people were about to rejoice and celebrate the abolition of slavery, another system of servitude was in fact in the process of being born. This system called indentureship was to ship more than one mil- lion Indians into British and French colonies, turning them into new Untouchables: the coolies. Perceived as the latest arrivants and rivals, coolies have been stereotyped and silenced in a number of ways. But this silence has triggered a "cry from the hold" which has echoes in many contemporary literary and artistic productions. In this chapter I examine how older and more recent works defy images of exoticism and alienness. Despite V.S. Naipaul's contempt for his own people, which permeates his writing, his work is here read as one of the first literary expressions of coolitude. lt highlights a nascent engagement with his- tory as well as an ambivalent attitude to culture. lt is Torabully who first coined the term "coolitude" giving coolies a history and a voice. Fol- lowing Torabully' s poetic path and theoretical approach, coolitude emerges as a new conceptual lens to recover and reassess the transoce- anic crossing of coolies, establishing it as a metaphor that is constitutive of new perspectives on Indian identities. Coolie Crossings and Diaspora The abolition of the slave trade at the beginning of the nineteenth century did not, in the words of Hugh Tinker, "precipitate the end of plantation slavery"' and sugar planters looked for other ways to provide...

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