CHAGOS: Cultural Heritage Across Generations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Social and Political Science

Abstract

CHAGOS is an urgent, innovative cultural heritage and community engagement project co-designed with members of the displaced Chagossian community. Between 1968 and 1973 the UK Government depopulated the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia, and sent over 1,500 islanders to Mauritius and Seychelles, where the displaced community has faced ethnic discrimination and chronic impoverishment. In 2002, the UK Government awarded UK citizenship to Chagos islanders and their second-generation descendants, since when over two thousand members of the extended community have resettled in the UK (predominantly in Crawley and Manchester). Dispersed Chagossian families are making increasing use of digital communication technologies. Meanwhile, the number of native islanders has halved over the past forty years, with an average of two deaths per month over the past decade. There is great concern about the inevitable decline of elderly Chagos islanders who are the repositories of cultural knowledge about Chagos. Geographical dispersal, the dying elder generation, and a lack of cultural, social, and economic capital pose major challenges for the intergenerational transmission of cultural knowledge and artisanal skills in exile, which in turn poses challenges for collective identification amongst the dispersed community.

This project was designed in collaboration with Chagossian groups and members of the extended Chagossian community with a view to overcoming these challenges. Working with a Consultant Linguist, a Poet-in-Residence, a Curator, and a Web Developer we will: co-organise and record intergenerational cultural heritage transmission workshops at which elders/experts will pass on cultural knowledge and artisanal skills to younger members of the community; co-curate exhibitions in Mauritius and the UK to showcase co-produced artefacts; design a community heritage website on which digital outputs will be made accessible to the dispersed community and others and preserved for future generations; deliver creative literacy workshops; produce dual-language (Kreol/English) publications to enhance Chagossians' literacy and creative expression; and contribute to the Mauritian Ministry of Arts and Culture's preparation of a dossier for the nomination of Chagossian sega music as UNESCO World Intangible Heritage.

The project has the capacity to provide a range of impacts for our Project Partners (Chagos Refugees Group Mauritius, Chagos Refugees Group UK, and Crawley Museum), the wider Chagossian community, and the Mauritian Government, such as: addressing a history of marginalisation through recognition of past injustices; facilitating learning and capacity building for community members; enhancing community cohesion and interconnectedness; celebrating diversity and generating pride in cultural identity; promoting the value of engaging marginalised communities in museums; supporting the recognition of marginalised practices as UNESCO World Intangible Heritage; and contributing to debates on heritage as a living process and the application of Intellectual Property concepts to intangible cultural heritage.

Innovative methods for assessing the extent to which the project achieves these impacts are embedded in project activities and include techniques such as creative literacy workshops run by our Poet-in-Residence in which Chagossians will reflect creatively on their engagement with Chagossian cultural heritage via this project, 'before and after' recorded interviews with participants to gauge the extent to which the workshops have met their expectations and fulfilled objectives regarding cultural heritage, questionnaires with exhibition attendees to generate visitor feedback, and web analytics to record the extent and content of engagement with online exhibitions via the websit

Planned Impact

This project aims to bring a range of benefits to project partners and participants:

1. Community beneficiaries: the project has developed in response to requests from the Chagossian community for support in the preservation, documentation, and transmission of cultural heritage. Our activities and outputs have been developed in conversation with Chagossians via focus groups, thus ensuring their relevance for the community. As such, our primary beneficiaries are members of the extended Chagossian community in the UK and Mauritius, where our work will have multi-sited and intergenerational impacts as follows:

a) Chagossian groups: our intergenerational cultural heritage transmission workshops, organised in collaboration with Chagossian groups (Project Partners) in the UK and Mauritius, will raise the profile and enhance the organisational capacity of these groups.

b) Chagossian descendants: through participation in the workshops younger generations will have the opportunity to develop culturally valued skills and knowledge and to develop deeper connections with their cultural heritage. Knowledge gained through the workshops - particularly pertaining to life on the islands - could also be applied in the event that the UK government permits Chagossians to resettle Chagos (an option currently under active consideration).

c) Chagossian community profile: museum and online cultural heritage exhibitions will raise the profile of the Chagossian community and channel wider interest in and knowledge of the community and its (and the UK's) history and struggles.

d) Chagossians and other Kreol-speakers: Our dual-language Kreol/English recipe flipbooks, songbooks, and poetry booklets produced in conversation with a Mauritian literacy movement, Ledikasyon Pu Travayer (Education For Workers), will help to enhance Chagossians' (and others') literacy skills in Kreol, which has only recently had an official orthography developed under the leadership of the Consultant Linguist and been introduced as a medium of instruction in primary schools in Mauritius. These materials will be available online, and printed copies will be distributed amongst members of the community without Internet and at exhibition launches.

e) Chagossian intergenerational relations: the dual-language website will aim to be sufficiently user-friendly as to be accessible to Chagossians across the generations regardless of educational background and computer literacy. The digitisation of cultural heritage on a widely accessible platform is intended to facilitate widespread online engagement and intergenerational communication between geographically-dispersed community members.

2. Government bodies: the project will also contribute to and strengthen the work programme of the Government of Mauritius. The Ministry of Arts and Culture has nominated Mauritian sega music and Bhojpuri folk songs to be recognised by UNESCO as World Intangible Cultural Heritage, and intends later to nominate Chagossian (and Rodriguan) sega music. The Consultant Linguist will liaise with the Director of Culture at the Ministry of Arts and Culture to assist in preparing the dossier, based on our documentary work.

3. Annual Meetings on Intangible Cultural Heritage (co-)organised by UNESCO: the project could be showcased as an example of best practice for preserving and promoting World Intangible Cultural Heritage in instances where communities and cultures are displaced and dispersed.

Publications

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Title CHAGOS: Cultural Heritage Across Generations website 
Description CHAGOS: Cultural Heritage Across Generations website including exhibitions showcasing coconut handicrafts, coconut preparation, cuisine, medicinal plants, and music, song, and dance. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding 
URL https://chagos.online/exhibits
 
Title Poems by Saradha Soobrayen 
Description Two poems written in English by Saradha Soobrayen and translated into Kreol by Vinesh Hookoomsing 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact N/A 
 
Description The Mauritius National Heritage Fund (NHF) dossier for the nomination of Chagossian sega music to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding draws directly on publications by the PI and Consultant Linguist, which are cited in the nomination file, and the NHF requested permission to submit "CHAGOS: Cultural Heritage Across Generations" project films as part of the dossier. The dossier is submitted in March 2018, with the outcome expected in 2019.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Chagossian Day in Crawley Library during Black History Month 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Chagossian Day at Crawley Library during Black History Month
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Chagossian coconut handicrafts workshop in Mauritius 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Chagossian coconut handicrafts workshop in Mauritius
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://chagos.online/exhibits/show/coconut-handicrafts
 
Description Chagossian cuisine and coconut preparation workshop in Crawley 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Chagossian cuisine and coconut preparation workshop in Crawley
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://chagos.online/exhibits/show/coconut-preparation
 
Description Chagossian cuisine and coconut preparation workshop in Mauritius 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Chagossian cuisine workshop in Mauritius
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://chagos.online/exhibits/show/cuisine
 
Description Chagossian cuisine demonstration at Diverse Crawley Cultural Kitchen event commemorating 70 years of Crawley 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Chagossian cuisine demonstration at Diverse Crawley's Cultural Kitchen event commemorating 70 years of Crawley
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Chagossian medicinal plants workshop in Mauritius 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Chagossian medicinal plants workshop in Mauritius
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://chagos.online/exhibits/show/medicinal_plants
 
Description Chagossian sega music workshop in Crawley 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Chagossian sega music workshop in Crawley
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://chagos.online/exhibits/show/music_song_dance/costume_and_dance
 
Description Chagossian sega music workshop in Mauritius 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Chagossian sega music workshop in Mauritius
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://chagos.online/exhibits/show/music_song_dance/chagossian_sega
 
Description Mauritius National Heritage Fund consultation for preparation of dossier for nomination of Chagossian sega music to UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Mauritius National Heritage Fund consultation for preparation of dossier for nomination of Chagossian sega music to UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018