‘Creolizing the Caribbean ‘Coolie’: A Biopolitical Reading of Indian Indentured Labourers and the Ethnoclass Hierarchy’

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Abstract

Indentured immigration from India to the Caribbean began after abolition. In the French context, it is estimated that a total of 74,386 people undertook the transoceanic journey. These indentured labourers became known as ‘coolies’,
although the term itself is inherently transnational, projective and ambiguous, and carries (to this day) considerable pejorative nuances. Significant differences exist between Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean perceptions of coolies. Whereas in the Anglophone world, authors such as V. S. Naipaul have raised the visibility of coolies, in Francophone Caribbean literature, coolie authors, and indeed coolie protagonists, have occupied an ambiguous, subaltern position. Drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s understanding of the relationship between biopolitics, violence and power, and in particular his concepts of ‘homo sacer’, ‘bare life’ and the ‘state of exception’, this article examines the narrative strategies adopted by Raphaël Confiant and Maurice Virassamy in their contrasting accounts of the coolie experience.
The neglected position of the coolie in the complex French Caribbean ethnoclass
hierarchy is explored through a biopolitical reading, reassessing questions of marginalization and exclusion to ask to what extent the coolie may be considered ‘creolized’?

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-419
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Francophone Studies
Volume17
Issue number3/4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014

Keywords

  • indenture, coolie, biopolitics, Caribbean literature, slavery, ethnoclass