Academic journal article Romance Notes

Disarticulating Indianite: Re-Imagining the Motherland in Ernest Moutoussamy's Chacha et Sosso

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Disarticulating Indianite: Re-Imagining the Motherland in Ernest Moutoussamy's Chacha et Sosso

Article excerpt


INDIANITE or Indianness, a term first introduced during the early 1970s by the Martinican researcher, Gilbert Francis Ponaman, is a cultural project that seeks to valorize the East Indian diaspora who came as indentured laborers to the French West Indies during the post-slavery era. The inception of this concept stems principally from the lack of attention accorded to the Francophone Indo-Caribbeans in critical discourses, despite the fact that they comprise approximately 15% and 3% of the Guadeloupean and Martinican populations, respectively, and have contributed to the mosaic of material and immaterial cultures of these islands. This theoretical disengagement seemingly harks back to the initial arrival of the East Indian indentured laborers, who came as a cheap source of labor to work on the sugarcane plantations. These laborers arrived into a society where a hierarchized social fabric had already been established: the white planter class occupied the upper echelon, below which were the middle classes, and the former African slaves positioned at the bottom. The East Indians were then placed, by default, at the bottom of these social class rankings, and were further marginalized because of their religious and cultural practices, which were quite different from those practiced and cultivated on the islands at the time. This culture of marginalization was further perpetuated since the East Indians represented an obstacle to the former African slaves' effort to bargain with French plantation owners because the indentured laborers were willing to accept lower wages. Their social isolation bled into their non-recognition in literary and critical discourses, which the concept of Indianite seeks to amend.

Preliminary thoughts on what would eventually be conceptualized as Indianite made their debut in the journal, Soleil indien, launched in March 1974 by Ponaman, which aimed to give a voice to the often-sidelined East Indian presence in Martinique, in particular, and in the French Caribbean, in general. One of the earliest definitions of Indianite comes from Laurent Farrugia in his Les Indiens de Guadeloupe et de Martinique (1975). Farrugia considers Indianite as an inaugural concept essential to the creation of East Indian subjectivity in the French West indies:

L'Indianite n'est pas une fin en soi. Pas plus que la negritude n'etait une fin en soi. Mais il est necessaire que s'ouvre une ere d'Indianite, comme il etait necessaire que s'accomplissent des temps de negritude. Pour n'etre qu'une etape historique, l'Indianite n'en est pas moins une etape absolument indispensable. Au-dela? au-dela, il y a l'antillanite, concept ouvert, englobant a la fois la negritude, l'Indianite et l'europeanite ... (160)

Similar to Farrugia's insights, Jack corzani's definition locates Indianite in relation to Negritude. Corzani defines it as a movement that tends to valorize "la culture indienne (originaire de l'Inde) aux Antilles sur le modele de la negritude et parfois en reaction contre cette derniere" (1436). Analogous to the concept of Negritude advanced from the 1930s by Aime Cesaire, Leopald Sedar Senghor, and Leon Gontran Damas to promote the affirmation of a collective black identity that resisted French colonial systems of thought based on racial prejudices, Indianite is a necessary step forward to recognize the contributions of the East Indian diasporic community in the French Antilles, and to spark cross-cultural dialogues amongst the plural ethnicities in the French Caribbean.

But it is Ernest Moutoussamy, an Indo-Guadeloupean writer and politician, aspiring, like Ponaman, to put the Francophone Indo-Caribbeans on the map, who became the main defender and proponent of this concept. He develops his thoughts on Indianite in his critical work La Guadeloupe et son Indianite, published in 1987, and explains that Indianite is an articulation of East Indian cultural patrimony that must be acknowledged as an integral part of the racial and cultural diversity at work in the French Antilles. …

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