The politics of culture in exile
in Chagos islanders in Mauritius and the UK
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Culture [kiltir] has been an issue for displaced Chagos islanders in Mauritius for two reasons connected to the Chagossian struggle. First, in order to make a case for special treatment — compensation, the right of return, UK citizenship — they must show cultural uniqueness and demonstrate their distinctiveness from other Mauritian citizens and lack of integration into Mauritian society. Second, in order to be recognised as victims they must demonstrate suffering and loss as a result of the displacement. These two requirements imply contrasting notions of the characteristics of culture. On the one hand, emphasising distinctiveness implies certain static, authentic, or essential characteristics of ‘Chagossian culture’ distinguishing it from correspondingly authentic ‘Mauritian culture’. On the other hand, emphasising loss indicates that Chagossian culture underwent transformations as a result of the displacement, which requires recognition that culture is not static but changeable. This chapter investigates how Chagossian socio-political and socio-cultural groups have responded to the dual challenge of needing to represent both cultural continuity and cultural change. It starts by outlining the main issues in the anthropology of the politics of culture. It then explores how Chagos islanders came to identify collectively as Chagossians. Next, it illuminates processes of Chagossian cultural revival and gendered transmission in exile. Finally, it shows how Chagossians have simultaneously associated with and dissociated from other Indian Ocean island Creole cultures.

Chagos islanders in Mauritius and the UK

Forced displacement and onward migration

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