AFRASO Lecture by John C. Hawley: "Moving Cultures: Going to and from Mauritius, and Staying Put"

24. June 2015
Cas. 1.811, Campus Westend

4 p.m. - 6 p.m.


The system of indenture became a useful substitute for the slavery that was officially abolished by the British in 1838, and by the French in 1848.  In this presentation I would like to implicitly compare the Anglophone Sea of Poppies, the first book in Amitav Ghosh’s recently completed “Ibis trilogy,” to the francophone Bénarés, by Mauritian novelist Barlen Pyamootoo.  In the process I will describe the parallactic view of the kala pani (the “black water”) upon which the texts in question serve as companion doorways.  Ghosh sets his novel in 1838 India, with all eyes facing the challenge of the voyage to Mauritius.  Pyamootoo sets his in the late twentieth century, focusing on the descendants of the sorts of journey that Ghosh’s characters are about to make.  If Ghosh’s characters cannot foresee their future, Pyamootoo’s are even less capable of retrieving their past.  What do such imaginations tell us about the Indian Ocean world, and how Mauritius and environs continue to play their parts as intermediaries between India and Africa and the worlds of commerce that connect the Atlantic to the Arabian Sea and beyond?



John C. Hawley is Professor of English and former chair of the department at Santa Clara University in northern California.  He is currently a Fulbright Fellow at Humboldt University in Berlin.  He is the author of a book on Amitav Ghosh and is currently co-editing a collection of essays on teaching methodologies for Ghosh.  He is also editor of 14 books, including India in Africa, Africa in India: Indian Ocean Cosmopolitanisms, and has written many articles on African and South Asian literatures, among others.