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“Oceans without Borders”: Dialectics of Transcolonial Labor Migration from the Indian Ocean World to the Atlantic Ocean World 1

  • Yoshina Hurgobin (a1) and Subho Basu (a2)
Abstract

By investigating the hitherto unstudied trans-colonial migration between Mauritius and the Caribbean in the nineteenth century, this article complicates liberal Eurocentric perceptions of global labor force formation under the auspices of colonial capital. Indeed, coercion, as depicted in liberal historiography, was a crucial component of indentured migration but indentured workers themselves sometimes availed of the opportunity of the global demand for their labor by engaging in trans-colonial migration. The dialectic of the formation of globalized indentured labor regime was such that while capital sought to confine workers to specific plantations, the very nature of the demand for labor enabled workers to defy the dictates of capital and further enabled them to move from one colony to another in search of better livelihoods and thus made them globally mobile. These migrations did not follow the so-called boundaries between the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. Rather such migrations reflected workers’ search for jobs through trans-colonial networks within the framework of imperial domination.

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Archival records used for this essay were consulted at the: MNA (Mauritius National Archives) in Coromandel, Mauritius; MGI (Mahatma Gandhi Institute) in Moka, Mauritius, and BNA (British National Archives) in Kew, England. The abbreviations used in this essay are as follows: British Parliamentary Papers (BPP), Calcutta Commission Enquiry (CCE), RRC (Report of the Royal Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the Treatment of Immigrants in Mauritius, 1875), GRCLEC (General Report of The Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners), WICM (West India Colonies and Mauritius), and Report of the West India Royal Commission (hereafter RWIRC). Subho Basu has presented versions of this paper at the Indian Ocean World Centre, McGill University, Montréal, Canada (October 9, 2013) and at the Annual Conference on South Asia, Madison, Wisconsin, USA (October 17, 2014). The authors express our sincere thanks to Anna Winterbottom, Angela Tozer, Cindy Hahamovitch, Sandeep Banerjee, and Varun Sanadhya for their comments and help.

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NOTES

2. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Online, volume 15: May 21, 1915 to August 31, 1915. http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL015.PDF (accessed March 23, 2015). Gandhi to Jehangir Bomanji Petit, June 16, 1915.

3. While “Indian indentured worker” and “coolie” are used interchangeably, we prefer the use of “Indian indentured worker.” Dirk Hoerder has suggested that the generic use of “coolie” leads to conflation and blurs specificities of contexts leading to African and Asian migrations. See Hoerder, Dirk, “Global Labour Migration and Transnational Communities: Asian Cultures, Images, Resistances, Class Interactions,” in Asian Migrants in Europe: Transcultural Connections, ed. Hahn, Sylvia and Nadel, Stan (Göttingen, 2014), 16.

4. Tinker, Hugh, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830–1920 (London; New York: Oxford, 1974).

5. Indentured labor was introduced into the following places: Mauritius (1834), British Guiana (1838), Jamaica (1838), Trinidad (1845), Reunion Island (1862), Guadeloupe (1864), St. Lucia (1866), Danish St. Croix (1870), Surinam (1870), Fiji (1879).

6. For a detailed discussion of the Indian Ocean World and its related historiographies, see Vink, Markus P. M., “Indian Ocean Studies and the ‘New Thalassology,’Journal of Global History 2 (2007): 4162 . For a discussion of the Atlantic World and definitions, see Coclanis, Peter A., “Atlantic World or Atlantic/World?The William and Mary Quarterly 63 (2006): 725–42; Games, Alison, “Atlantic History: Definitions, Chges, and Opportunities,” The American Historical Review 111 (2006): 741 – 57. For connections between the Indian Ocean and Atlantic worlds, see Hoerder, Dirk, “Crossing the Waters: Historic Developments and Periodizations Before the 1830s,” in Connecting Seas and Connected Ocean Rims: Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans and China Seas Migrations from the 1830s to the 1930s, ed. Gabaccía, Donna R. and Hoerder, Dirk (Leiden, 2011). For epistemological approaches about oceans and seas and possible distinctions in their definitions, see Lambert, David, Martins, Luciana, and Ogborn, Miles, “Currents, Visions and Voyages: Historical Geographies of the Sea,” Journal of Historical Geography 32 (2006): 479–93; Miller, Peter N., “Introduction,” in The Sea: Thalassography and Historiography, ed. Miller, Peter N. (Ann Arbor, MI, 2013). For this article, we privilege the use of “ocean” over “sea.”

7. See the classic work of Tinker, Hugh, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830–1920 (London; New York, 1974); Gupta, Ranajit Das, “Structure of Labour Market in Colonial India,” Economic and Political Weekly 16 (1981): 17811806 ; Breman, Jan, Taming the Coolie Beast: Plantation Society and the Colonial Order in Southeast Asia (Delhi; New York, 1989); Behal, Rana P. and Mohapatra, Prabhu P., “‘Tea and Money versus Human Life’: The Rise and Fall of the Indenture System in the Assam Tea Plantations 1840–1908,” Journal of Peasant Studies 19 (1992): 142 – 72; Daniel, E. Valentine, Bernstein, Henry, and Brass, Tom, Plantations, Proletarians, and Peasants in Colonial Asia (London, 1992), 5.

8. Hazareesingh, Kissoonsingh, Profil de l'Ile Maurice (Paris, 1976), 35–8; Lal, Brij V., “Approaches to the Study of Indian Indentured Emigration with Special Reference to Fiji,” The Journal of Pacific History 15 (1980): 66 ; Ali, Ahmed, Plantation to Politics: Studies on Fiji Indians (Suva, 1980), 5.

9. For African Indentured workers, see Carter, Marina and Kwong, James Ng Foong, Forging the Rainbow: Labour Immigrants in British Mauritius (Terre Rouge, Mauritius, 1997), v.. For a critique of the Afro-Atlantic model's predominance, see Zeleza, Paul Tiyambe, “Rewriting the African Diaspora: Beyond the Black Atlantic,” African Affairs 104 (2005): 3568 ; Zeleza, Paul Tiyambe, “African Diasporas: Toward a Global History,” African Studies Review 53 (2010): 7 . Allen, Richard B. has emphasized this point here: “Slaves, Convicts, Abolitionism and the Global Origins of the Post-Emancipation Indentured Labor System,” Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies 35 No. 2 (2014): 328 – 29.

10. Kale, Madhavi, Fragments of Empire: Capital, Slavery, and Indian Indentured Labor Migration in the British Caribbean (Philadelphia, PA, 1998).

11. Hazareesingh, History of Indians in Mauritius. Lal, Brij V., “Kunti's Cry: Indentured Women on Fiji Plantations,” Indian Economic & Social History Review 22 (1985): 5571 .

12. The indentured system (1834 to 1925) in Mauritius was not static. Reasons for migrating changed over time. In the early phase (1834 to 1839), workers were fraudulently recruited. In the second phase (1842 to 1860s), migrant workers followed their relatives or brought their relatives with them. Returnees as early as the 1840s started returning to India to recruit more labor.

13. Carter, Marina, Servants, Sirdars, and Settlers: Indians in Mauritius, 1834–1874 (Delhi; New York, 1995), 2.

14. Indeed in recent work, rather than London, Calcutta appeared to be the center of subimperial system of British control over the Indian Ocean region. See Metcalf, Thomas R., Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860–1920 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 2007), 13 .

15. We refer to five main colonial governments in this essay: (1) the London Colonial Office, (2) the Indian colonial government (and more specifically, the Emigration Agents based in Calcutta, which regimented outflow of labor to both the Caribbean and to the Indian Ocean), (3) the colonial government in Mauritius, (4) the colonial government in British Guiana, and (5) the colonial government in Trinidad.

16. Cooper, Frederick, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 2005), 7, 9.

17. Lamusse, Roland, “The Economic Development of the Mauritius Sugar Industry—I. Development in Field and Factory,” Revue Agricole et Sucrière de L’île Maurice 43 (1964): 2228 , 113-27, 354-72. Also see Porter, George Richardson, The Nature and Properties of the Sugar Cane; with Practical Directions for the Improvement of Its Culture, and the Manufacture of Its Products (London, 1830), 241: “The legislature, having from the 5th day of July, in the year 1825, allowed the importation of sugar from the Mauritius at the same rate of duty as that levied on West India sugar, instead of the higher rate previously imposed; this abatement has given a very considerable impulse to the settling of sugar estates in that Island.”

18. Allen, Richard B., “Capital, Illegal Slaves, Indentured Labourers and the Creation of a Sugar Plantation Economy in Mauritius, 1810–1860,” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 36 (2008): 154 .

19. Carter, Servants, Sirdars, and Settlers, 4; Slaves, Freedmen, and Indentured Laborers, 16. While immigrant registers in Mauritius indicate 1910 as the last year of arrival of indentured workers, the Protector of Immigrants has stipulated there were arrivals as late as 1924. More broadly, throughout the British Empire, the system ended in 1919. See Tinker, A New System of Slavery, 334–66. Fiji was more reluctant to stop the indentured system and did so only in 1921, Tinker, A New System of Slavery, 365.

20. British National Archives (hereafter BNA), alternatively known as Public Record Office (hereafter PRO), PRO 30/12/31/5, Enclosure 2, Gillanders, Arbuthnot and Co. to John Gladstone, June 6, 1836, 2 in “British Guiana, Copy of a Letter from John Gladstone Esquire to Lord Glenelg—With Enclosures.”

21. Ibid.

22. Most Indian indentured workers employed for agricultural labor had to prepare holes for the cane, plant the cane, weed the ground, and cut the cane.

23. BNA, PRO 30/12/31/5, January 4, 1836, Gladstone to Arbuthnot. The whole quote is, “It is of great importance to us to endeavour to provide a portion of other labourers whom we might use as a set-off, and, when the time for it comes, make us, as far as it is possible, independent of our negro population; and it has occurred to us that a moderate number of Bengalees, such as you were sending to the isle of France [Mauritius], might be very suitable for our purpose; and on this subject I am now desirous to obtain all the information you can possible give me. The number I should think of taking and sending by one vessel direct from Calcutta to Demerara would be about 100; they ought to be young, active, able-bodied people. It would be desirable that a portion of them, at least one half, should be married, and their wives disposed to work in the field as well as they themselves. We should require to bind them for a period not less than five years or more than seven years.”

24. BNA, PRO 30/12/31/5, June 6, 1836, Gillanders, Arbuthnot, and Co. to John Gladstone, 3.

25. Ibid.

26. BNA, PRO 30/12/31/5, June 6, 1836, Arbuthnot to Gladstone, 3.

27. See discussion of colonial anthropometry in Bates, Crispin, “Race, Caste and Tribe in Central India: The Early Origins of Indian Anthropometry,” in The Concept of Race in South Asia, ed. Robb, Peter (Delhi, 1995), 219–59.

28. The term “Indian” is not used here to assume or connote ideas about territorial and national attachments during the early phase of indentured labor (1834 to 1838). Rather “Indian” here is used to identify various indentured workers from the Indian subcontinent.

29. British Parliamentary Papers (BPP), 1841 XVI (45) Report of Committee Appointed to Inquire Respecting the Exportation of Hill Coolies (Calcutta Commission Enquiry, hereafter CCE), paragraph 9, 5. From T. Dickens, James Charles, and Russomoy Dutt to G. A. Bushby, Secretary to Government of Bengal, October 14, 1840.

30. Appendix to CCE, 177. From F. W. Birch to H. T. Prinsep, Secretary to Government of India, February 8, 1838.

31. CCE, “List of the Men who went to the Mauritius from various villages, 1838,” 185.

32. Ibid.

33. Mauritius National Archives (hereafter MNA), Immigration Department of Mauritius, Indian Immigration, Arrivals, Births, Departures & Deaths From 1834 to 1st January 1853 (n.p., n.d.). Table 2nd Immigration “Arrivals of Indian Immigrants from 1843 to 31st December 1852”; Immigration of 1859. Report Thereupon by The Protector of Immigrants. Presented to His Excellency The Governor on the 20th February 1860. (n.p., 1860); “Table A, Arrivals of Immigrants from each of the Presidencies of India, and the proportion of females to males introduced from each Presidency in the year 1859.” From 1849 to 1859, there was an increase of 84 percent in the total number of arrivals from India to Mauritius (including males, females, girls, boys, female infants, and male infants).

34. MNA, RA 1071, Thomas Hugon, Protector of Immigrants to Governor of Mauritius, January 11, 1850.

35. MNA, RA 1071, Memorandum of Thomas Hugon, Protector of Immigrants, February 2, 1850.

36. Ibid.

37. Ibid.

38. BPP 1841 (427) Chapman & Barclay to Colville, Gilmore & Co., Calcutta, November 23, 1840.

39. Carter, Servants, Sirdars, and Settlers, 27.

40. MNA, PA 3, January 28, 1856, Emigration Agent at Calcutta to Protector of Immigrants.

41. Between 1840 and 1844, the value of sugar exported from Mauritius was £1,020,386 from “Table 2. Condition of the Mauritian Economy, 1812–1934,” Slaves, Freedmen, and Indentured Laborers, 29.

42. Slaves, Freedmen, and Indentured Laborers, 58.

43. Carter, Servants, Sirdars, and Settlers, 88.

44. Ibid.

45. BPP 1847 (325) Grey to Gomm September 29, 1846; PP 1848 (66) Grey to Gomm January 2, 1848, cited in Carter, Servants, Sirdars, and Settlers, 231.

46. Beier, A. L., “‘A New Serfdom’: Labor Laws, Vagrancy Statutes, and Labor Discipline in England, 1350–1800,” in Cast Out: Vagrancy and Homelessness in Global and Historical Perspective, ed. Beier, A. L. and Ocobock, Paul (Athens, OH, 2008), 3563 .

47. Frere, William Edward and Williamson, Victor Alexander, Report of the Royal Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the Treatment of Immigrants in Mauritius: Presented to Both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty, 6 February, 1875 (hereafter RRC) (London, 1875), 16, paragraph 16 under “Chapter II—The Petition of the Old Immigrants and the de Plévitz Pamphlet.”

48. For vagrancy in London, see Jones, Gareth Stedman, Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society (Oxford, 1984) 274276 .

49. RRC, paragraph 16, 16.

50. Ibid., 3.

51. RRC, 3

52. RRC, 4.

53. Major Pitcher's Report in the Royal Gazette of Saturday, January 13, 1883, cited in Rev. Bronkhurst, H. V. P., The Colony of British Guyana and Its Labouring Population: Containing a Short Account of the Colony, and Brief Descriptions of the Black Creole, Portuguese, East Indian, and Chinese Coolies, Their Manners, Customs, Religious Notions, And Other Interesting Particulars And Amusing Incidents Concerning Them Collected From Different Sources, As Newspapers, Etc., And From Sundry Articles Published In The English And Colonial Newspapers At Different Times (London, 1883), 20.

54. MGI, PL 21, Annual Report on Indian Immigration to, Indian Emigration From, and Indentured Indian Immigrants in the Colony [Fiji] For The Year 1906, July 12, 1907, 5. While this essay focuses on remigrants between the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, remigrants did travel from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. For example, out of 117 re-migrants to Fiji in 1906, 33 had “worked or lived previously” in Natal, South Africa; 4 in Mauritius, 3 in Rangoon, and 10 in Ceylon.

55. While there was much intramigration within the Caribbean, for this article we are focusing on British Guiana and Trinidad and do not cover French Guiana, Dutch Guiana, and other British West Indies colonies.

56. Slaves, Freedmen, and Indentured Laborers, 62.

57. Hurgobin, Yoshina, “Making of Medical Ideologies: Indentured Labour in Mauritius,” in Histories of Medicine in the Indian Ocean World, ed. Winterbottom, Anna and Tesfaye, Facil (New York, forthcoming), 911 .

58. Murdoch, T. W. C., Wood, C. Alexander, and Rogers, Frederic, Eighth General Report of The Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners (hereafter GRCLEC) (London, 1848), 20.

59. Carter, Marina, Voices from Indenture: Experiences of Indian Migrants in the British Empire. (New York, 1996), 21. To stave off labor needs during the temporary stop of the indentured system, Madeiran Portuguese immigrants streamed into British Guiana. See Sr. Menezes, M. Noel, RSMThe Madeiran Portuguese and the Establishment of the Catholic Church in British Guiana, 1837–98” in After the Crossing: Immigrants and Minorities in Caribbean Creole Society, ed. Johnson, Howard (London, 1988), 5778 .

60. Murdoch et al., GRCLEC, 20.

61. Murdoch et al., GRCLEC, 20.

62. Cohen, Robin, The Cambridge Survey of World Migration (Cambridge, England, 1995), 60. Contract lengths could differ among colonies within the Caribbean region.

63. Kiely, Ray, The Politics of Labour and Development in Trinidad (Kingston, Jamaica, 1996), 50.

64. Emmer, P. C., “The Importation of British Indians into Surinam (Dutch Guiana), 1873–1916,” in International Labour Migration: Historical Perspectives, ed. Marks, Shula and Richardson, Peter (Hounslow, Middlesex, 1984), 90111 cited in Cohen, Robin, The Cambridge Survey of World Migration (Cambridge, England, 1995), 60.

65. Calcutta was the port of embarkation through which most indentured workers left between 1845 and 1849.

66. 12th GRCLEC, 1852, Appendix No. 42, Extract of a Report from Mr. White to the Governor of British Guiana, November 8, 1850 cited in Carter, Voices from Indenture, 24.

67. Ibid.

68. BPP 1859 Session 2 (31) (31–1) West India Colonies and Mauritius (hereafter WICM). Part I British Guiana, Jamaica, Trinidad; Governor Walker to H. Labouchere, MP, 10th October 1857, para 6, 7. Ship “Hamilla Mitchell” was leaving for Calcutta with: 209 men, 40 women, 10 boys, 10 girls, 8 infants.

69. Spanish dollar is used here.

70. Spanish dollar is used here.

71. WICM, 9, September 30, 1857, C. Williams, Acting Immigration Agent to J. Gardiner Austin, Acting Government Secretary. Spanish dollar is used here.

72. Topik, Steven C. and Wells, Global Markets Transformed, 1870 – 1945 (Cambridge, MA, 2012), 193–5.

73. For British Guiana, sugar exports increased by 270 percent between 1852 and 1908, while for Trinidad, the increase was by 270 percent between 1850 and 1880, in Adamson, Alan H., Sugar without Slaves: The Political Economy of British Guiana, 1838–1904 (New Haven, CT, 1972), 106, 179; Nath, Dwarka, A History of Indians in Guyana (London, 1950), Tables 29–30; Brereton, Bridget, A History of Modern Trinidad, 1783–1962 (Kingston, Jamaica, 1981), 84; cited in Northrup, David, Indentured Labor In The Age of Imperialism, 1834–1922 (Cambridge, England, 1995), 33.

74. For beet sugar production in France, see Smith, Michael Stephen, The Emergence of Modern Business Enterprise in France, 1800–1930 (Cambridge, MA, 2006).

75. Northrup, David, Indentured Labor In The Age of Imperialism, 1834–1922 (Cambridge, England, 1995), 31.

76. Smith, Raymond T., “Economic Aspects of Rice Production in an East Indian Community in British Guiana,” Social and Economic Studies 6 (1957): 502–22; O'Loughlin, C., “The Rice Sector in the Economy of British Guiana,” Social and Economic Studies 7 (1958): 115–43.

77. Vatuk, Ved PrakashProtest Songs of East Indians in British Guiana,” The Journal of American Folklore 77 (1964): 220–35.

78. Alan H. Adamson, Sugar without Slaves, 106–109.

79. Kiely, The Politics of Labour, 55.

80. Raphael Sebastien, “The Development of Capitalism in Trinidad, 1845–1917.” (Ph.D. diss., Howard University, 1978), 408; cited in Kiely, The Politics of Labour, 55.

81. Laurence, K. O., “Indians as Permanent Settlers in Trinidad Before 1900,” in Calcutta to Caroni, ed. Guerre, John Gaffar La (St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, 1985), 101.

82. Ibid.

83. Laurence, Indians as Permanent Settlers in Trinidad Before 1900, 101.

84. Samaroo, Two Abolitions, 26.

85. Seecharan, Clem, Bechu: “Bound Coolie” Radical in British Guiana, 1894–1901 (Kingston, Jamaica, 1999), 1316 .

86. Seecharan, Bechu: “Bound Coolie,” 16–17. Bechu was apparently not from an agricultural class and seems to have “enlisted under an assumed name, and such particulars as he has stated with reference to his past history have been found on enquiry to be wholly fictitious.”

87. Ibid., 18.

88. Seecharan, Bechu: “Bound Coolie,” 33.

89. Ibid., 15.

90. Ibid., 7, 33.

91. BPP 1898 [C.8657] West India Royal Commission, Report of the West India Royal Commission (hereafter RWIRC) Appendix C., Part II, British Guiana, paragraph 1965.

92. BPP 1898 [C.8657] West India Royal Commission, RWIRC, Appendix C., Part II, British Guiana, paragraph 1978.

93. MNA, H.N.D. Beyts, Immigration of 1859, Report Thereupon by the Protector of Immigrants Presented to His Excellency The Governor on the 20 February 1860, 1.

94. It is estimated that out of the more than 450,000 indentured workers who arrived into Mauritius (excluding births and mortality rates), more than 22 percent returned to India. Carter, Servants, Sirdars, and Settlers, 46.

95. Major Pitcher's Report in the Royal Gazette of Saturday January 13, 1883, cited in Rev. Bronkhurst, H. V. P., The Colony of British Guyana and Its Labouring Population (London, 1883), 21.

96. Geoghegan, J., Note on Emigration from India (Calcutta, 1873), 15.

97. Ibid.

98. Carter, Voices from Indenture, 68.

99. McKeown, AdamGlobal Migration 1846–1940,” Journal of World History 15 (2004): 155–89.

100. RRC (Report of the Royal Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the Treatment of Immigrants in Mauritius, 1875). More commissions would be created to investigate the conditions of labor in Mauritius in 1885, 1909, and 1925.

101. Attridge, Derek, Bennington, Geoff, and Young, Robert, Post-Structuralism and the Question of History (Cambridge, 1989).

1. Archival records used for this essay were consulted at the: MNA (Mauritius National Archives) in Coromandel, Mauritius; MGI (Mahatma Gandhi Institute) in Moka, Mauritius, and BNA (British National Archives) in Kew, England. The abbreviations used in this essay are as follows: British Parliamentary Papers (BPP), Calcutta Commission Enquiry (CCE), RRC (Report of the Royal Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the Treatment of Immigrants in Mauritius, 1875), GRCLEC (General Report of The Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners), WICM (West India Colonies and Mauritius), and Report of the West India Royal Commission (hereafter RWIRC). Subho Basu has presented versions of this paper at the Indian Ocean World Centre, McGill University, Montréal, Canada (October 9, 2013) and at the Annual Conference on South Asia, Madison, Wisconsin, USA (October 17, 2014). The authors express our sincere thanks to Anna Winterbottom, Angela Tozer, Cindy Hahamovitch, Sandeep Banerjee, and Varun Sanadhya for their comments and help.

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