Intimate Spaces and Plantation Landscapes in Nineteenth-Century Mauritius: Archaeology of Indentured Laborers in the Western Indian Ocean.

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Haines, Julia, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
LAVIOLETTE, ADRIA, AS-Anthropology, University of Virginia

In this dissertation I examine the archaeology of Bras d’Eau National Park, Mauritius, which contains the ruins of a 430 ha plantation estate (1786 to 1868). After abolition of slavery in the nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of Indian and Chinese indentured labors moved across the world to replace enslaved men, women and children in plantation colonies. Using the varied methods of historical archaeology, I argue that indenture as a system of labor was a new kind of capitalist exploitation that requires us to reconsider the nature of power dynamics, social relationships, exchange networks, and cultural practices on plantations in the post-slavery eras. In partnership with Mauritius’s National Parks and Conservation Services (NPCS), the Mauritius Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (MACH) and Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund (AGTF), a UNESCO world heritage site in Mauritius, and a team of Mauritian archaeologists, I conducted 17 months of research at Bras d’Eau. I employed a broad methodological approach, examining both the landscape and the intimate spaces and artifacts of indentured laborers. I explore whether and how issues of power and identity are relevant to archaeological studies of the interactions between African, South and East Asian, and European populations who were exploited and/or in positions of authority in the Indian Ocean. More specifically, I expand on existing plantation literature by incorporating conceptions of disease and wellness in the analysis of the landscape and artifacts found in domestic contexts. Situated within the anthropology and archaeology of plantations, households, spatial practices and migration and diaspora studies, my study of the landscape and intimate living spaces on this vast sugar plantation is a window on how the material culture left by diaspora communities reflects the global movement of objects, people, and ideas in the nineteenth century, and how this Mauritian archaeology compares to others in Africa and the Indian Ocean. Bras d’Eau is an archaeological site that encapsulates a labor regime in an understudied region of the world. This plantation archaeology is significant to those impacted by the legacies of coercive systems such as slavery and indenture, which continue to shape the experiences of descendants today.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
archaeology, indentured labor, Indian Ocean, South Asian Diaspora, slavery, plantation, sugar
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