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The Chagos islanders were forcibly uprooted from the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean between 1965 and 1973. This book compares the experiences of displaced Chagos islanders in Mauritius with the experiences of those Chagossians who have moved to the UK since 2002. It provides an ethnographic comparative study of forced displacement and onward migration within the living memory of one community. Based on in-depth ethnographic fieldwork in Mauritius and Crawley (West Sussex), the six chapters explore Chagossians' challenging lives in Mauritius, the mobilisation of the community, reformulations of the homeland, the politics of culture in exile, onward migration to Crawley, and attempts to make a home in successive locations. The book illuminates how displaced people romanticise their homeland through an exploration of changing representations of the Chagos Archipelago in song lyrics. Offering further ethnographic insights into the politics of culture, it shows how Chagossians in exile engage with contrasting conceptions of culture ranging from expectations of continuity and authenticity to enactments of change, loss, and revival.
This introductory chapter first sets out the purpose of the book, which is to explore Chagossians' recollections of forced displacement, their reformulations of the homeland, their challenging lives in exile, their experiences of onward migration, and their attempts to make home in successive locations. It then details the Chagossians' forced displacement from the Chagos Archipelago and the onward migration to the UK. An overview of the subsequent chapters is also presented.
This chapter outlines the history of colonisation, settlement, and decolonisation in Mauritius and the Chagos Archipelago. It shows that the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago were already marginal within colonial Mauritius, and that their marginality was compounded by their relocation to Mauritius during the decade around independence, which was a period of social, economic, and political unrest.
This chapter describes the mobilisation of Chagos islanders in Mauritius. Chagossian groups have historically been united concerning their desired ends, with a shared focus on compensation and the right to return to the Chagos Archipelago. Competing Chagossian groups have, however, disagreed on whether negotiation or litigation is the best means to achieve these aims. The chapter outlines these tensions before focusing on the ideological and pragmatic disagreements within and beyond the community concerning two key issues. The first is debates about whether Chagos should be under British or Mauritian sovereignty. The second is debates about the legitimacy or otherwise of the US military base on Diego Garcia, which is seen by some as a necessary opportunity for employment and by others as conflicting with their visions for the resettlement of Chagos.
Displaced Chagos islanders are not only embroiled in political mobilisation and protest: they also participate in cultural expression in exile. This chapter illustrates how representations of a homeland in song lyrics and oral narratives have been transformed through experiences of displacement and relocation, and asks to what extent such transformed representations help or hinder political and legal struggles in exile. Focusing on the relationship between displacement and musical production, it reveals the changing structure and thematic content of Chagossian song lyrics by comparing the lyrics of songs composed by Chagos islanders while living on the colonial Chagos Archipelago with those composed by displaced Chagos islanders living in exile. The latter songs form part of an emergent collective historical imagination motivated by the political and legal struggles for compensation and the right to return to Chagos.
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.
This chapter reveals the similarities and differences between the Chagossians' forced displacement from the Chagos Archipelago and their onward migration to the UK. The ‘echoes of marginalisation’ include bureaucratic hurdles in acquiring citizenship status and the relevant identification documents, familial separation across continents, and the implications of relocation to an area of relative ethnic diversity, socio-economic deprivation, and educational challenges. The similarities go only so far, of course. In particular, unlike the high rates of unemployment in Mauritius in the 1960s, late 1970s to early 1980s, and again since the late 1990s, Crawley has had consistently extremely low rates of unemployment since its inception as a New Town in the 1960s. By and large, Chagossian migrants in Crawley have managed to find jobs and adequate housing, and have been able to access state welfare when required. Compared to their overwhelmingly negative assessments of their lives in Mauritius, they have reported a far wider range of experiences, both negative and positive, relating to education and employment, taxes and benefits, and racism and discrimination in the UK.
This chapter continues Chapter 5's ethnographic focus on the Chagossian community in Crawley, while revisiting the themes of home and homeland explored in Part II. It starts by revisiting debates amongst scholars of migration and displacement about the distinction between ‘forced displacement’ and ‘voluntary migration’. It asks to what extent Chagossians contrast their forced displacement from Chagos to Mauritius with their onward migration from Mauritius to the UK. The data reveal that experiences of onward migration to the UK and settlement in Crawley have challenged Chagossians' preconceptions of Britons and of life in the UK, and subtly altered their assessments of Mauritians and life in Mauritius. Next, the chapter examines the degree to which experiences of migration and settlement in the UK and changing visions of the future are delineated according to stage in the life course. It concludes that, despite very different experience of forced displacement and onward migration, claims of a desire to return to Mauritius take much the same form amongst migrant Chagossians in Crawley as claims of a desire to return to Chagos take amongst displaced Chagos islanders in Mauritius.
Throughout their decades in exile, Chagossian groups have focused on their campaigns for compensation and the right to return to Chagos, while other interest groups have worked against the resettlement of the Chagos Archipelago. According to the terms of the 1966 Exchange of Notes, the UK Government made Diego Garcia available for US defence purposes for an initial period of fifty years, renewable for a further twenty years. Given the military significance of the US base on Diego Garcia, it seems likely that both governments will seek to renew the lease in 2016. Meanwhile, the UK Government has allocated considerable resources towards preventing Chagossians from returning to Chagos, directly through immigration legislation relating to the British Indian Ocean Territory, and indirectly through the creation of a Marine Protected Area in Chagos.