Tag Archives: Guyana

What I’ve been reading and listening to: February

I didn’t read much this month, but I did listen to more podcast series than usual.

Gaiutra Bahadur is an American journalist, born in Guyana. Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture revolves around the story of Bahadur’s great-grandmother (Sujaria) who travelled from India to Guyana in 1903 as an indentured labourer. Bahadur acknowledges that the book’s title may offend some, but she explains that the word (which originated from the Tamil word kuli, meaning wages or hire) is ‘true to her subject’. Sujaria left India as a high-caste Hindu, but being swept up in a mass movement of people, the power of her colonizers to name and misname her formed a key part of her story. According to Bahadur, the word coolie ‘carries the baggage of colonialism on its back.’

Bahadur’s research is exemplary, but the book suffers from her desire to include what seems like all of her findings, rather than to pick out a few examples. This makes the book a ‘dense’ read. I found myself skipping over sections, trying to pick out the memoir aspects (I was fascinated by the author’s own story of emigration from Guyana to New York), and Sujaria’s storyline. The reality is that Sujaria left little trace in her village in India, or even on the journey and in her new life in the Caribbean. So Bahadur does what any good historian would do, and researches around the life that Sujaria lived to permit some educated speculation. The result is a brilliant history of indenture-era Guyana and late nineteenth-century India, with a focus on women’s lives in both places. I was interested in the history of Guyana post-slavery, and was also fascinated in the more modern-day insights into relations between different elements of the Indian diaspora.

I read the latest John le CarrĂ© novel in a day. I love a good spy novel – this one is set in contemporary London, with forays into Eastern Europe. I highly recommend it.

I still haven’t read Kate Fullagar’s The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist in full yet, but I went to the launch this month, which was very exciting. I’m mentioned in the acknowledgments, and I feel as though I’ve read a lot of it, having seen Kate talk about the book at various points of its development. but I’m looking forward to putting it all together in March.

In addition to my regular podcasts*, I enjoyed these series:

  • The Catch and Kill Podcast – Great series which covers shocking material in relation to Ronan Farrow’s investigation into Harvey Weinstein, published in the New Yorker in 2017. The podcast is a great companion to She Said, the book written about a parallel investigation by two New York Times journalists.
  • A Podcast of One’s Own – Julia Gillard’s round-up of the first year of her podcast with the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London… the interviews are always fascinating, I’m so pleased to hear it will continue through 2020.
  • WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork – shocking/hilarious/unbelievable – even if you know nothing about this outrageous story from the business world, this podcast is well worth a listen!
  • Broken: Jeffrey Epstein. Another shocking account of an utterly despicable person and the people around him. Like Catch and Kill and She Said, the podcast details the process of researching and breaking the news about Epstein. This is probably the strongest element of this particular podcast. Maybe I’m cynical, but I honestly didn’t find the extent to which people like Epstein are embedded in our society shocking in itself.

And to end on a high note – my favourite thing this month was watching Cheer on Netflix 🙂

*My regulars include: Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Happier in Hollywood, the Daily and Satellite Sisters.

“The Paradise of the World:” conflict and society in the Caribbean

While doing some background research on the indigenous people of St.Vincent, I came across a great online exhibition on the King’s College London website. “The Paradise of the World:” conflict and society in the Caribbean” was originally held at KCL in 2011, but is now available as an online exhibition. This is such a great way to share resources and information—I love seeing exhibitions migrate from the real world to the online arena so that researchers can make use of the content for years afterwards.

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‘Chatoyer, the Chief of the Black Charaibes in St Vincent with his five wives,’ from Bryan Edwards, The history, civil and commercial, of the British colonies in the West Indies (London, 1807).

The exhibition drew largely upon the holdings of the historical library collection of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and explored the history of the Caribbean region from the sixteenth century to 1900. Because the exhibition is based on British documentation and literature, the exhibition clearly approaches the Caribbean form the perspective of British interaction with the region. The exhibition provides an overview of Britain’s relationship with Spain as it relates to the Caribbean, international rivalry, the sugar trade and revolts and revolution in Jamaica and Haiti. and the development of the sugar industry and trade. In relation to indigenous peoples in the Caribbean (which is how I stumbled across the exhibition), there is a very good overview of indigenous peoples of Guyana and St.Vincent as well as some material on Jacques Du Tetre’s interaction with indigenous people in the region and his writings. Finally, the exhibition covers emancipation, and nineteenth century Caribbean colonial life.

This exhibition would be very useful for introductory research on the Caribbean (particularly the British Caribbean), and it includes a number of primary sources such as books, artwork and documentation which are available online. Click here to go to the KCL exhibition.

 

Carceral Archipelago: Mazaruni Prison, Guyana, by Dr Clare Anderson

Professor Clare Anderson is the director of a European Research Council funded project: “The Carceral Archipelago.” The project analyses the relationships and circulations between and across convict transportation, penal colonies and labour, migration, coercion and confinement, across a wide geographical area, and a chronology which stretches from 1415 to 1960. Dr Anderson recently travelled to Guyana to follow up on her research on the history of HM Penal Settlement Mazaruni. This settlement was established in British Guiana in 1842, remained open until 1930-9 when it closed briefly, reopened in 1940, and changed its name to Mazaruni Prison in 1950. Since Guyana’s independence in 1966 it has remained in use as a jail.

Dr Anderson’s interest in Mazaruni was piqued by stories of French convicts escaping into British jurisdictions in the Caribbean.  Click this link to read her recent blogpost about her trip to Guyana.

For more on the Carceral Archipelago – visit the project’s homepage here. Dr Anderson can be found on twitter here