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Coolie cartography: crossing frontiers through coolitude

By Shivani Sivagurunathan


Following the abolition of Transatlantic slavery, the British introduced a new scheme of labour to replace the former. 'Indian indentureship', as it was referred to, affected nearly 2 million Indian coolies who defied the traditional ban against crossing the kala pani (dark waters) in order to work on plantations in countries such as British Guiana, Trinidad, Malaya, South Africa and Fiji. In effect, the Indian labour: diaspora emerged and established itself across the globe. Despite over 100 years of labouring and contributing to the development of their new homes, the coolies and their descendents still face political, social and cultural marginalization. The aim of this thesis is to explore the consequences of indentureship in various societies through a parallelization of inter-national coolie conditions as represented by writers of the diaspora. The three areas selected for this study are Guyana, Malaysia and Fiji. David Dabydeen (Guyana), K.S.Maniam (Malaysia) and Satendra Nandan (Fiji) all share the impetus to disclose the past as a portal into the present, thereby dismpting normative time, and by implication, a fixed sense of history. However; the most striking similarity between these writers, despite their geographical and social distance, is their literary method which centres on the theory of coolitude. Coolitude was coined by Khal Torabully as a means of recuperating the voiceless coolie, firstly, by re-membering the sea voyage across the kizla pani and secondly, by highlighting the coolie's place in the mosaic of multicultural societies. Chapter 1 details the historical, theoretical and methodical foundations of the thesis. Chapter 2 explores Dabydeen's novels The Counting House and Our Lady of Demerara while Chapter 3 is a detailed study of Maniam's novels The Return and In A Far Country. The final chapter considers Nandan's novel The Wounded Sea and collection of poetry Lines Across Black Waters. Each literary analysis seeks to understand how coolitude, as a means to historically and politically place the coolie in the current world,: links spaces between countries both through a shared colonial history and a common postcolonial condition

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