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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Jeffery L (2019) Creative engagement with migration in Crossings: Journal of Migration & Culture

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Jeffery, Laura (2019) Creative engagement with migration in Crossings: Journal of Migration and Culture

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Soobrayen, Saradha (2019) Out of Place, Out of Language, Out of Home in Crossings: Journal of Migration and Culture

 
Title CHAGOS: Cultural Heritage Across Generations exhibition 
Description The CHAGOS project promoted Chagossian heritage to politicians, policy makers and members of the public via an international touring exhibition of images, films, objects and texts generated through the heritage workshops. In Mauritius, the exhibition attracted extensive media coverage, reaching hundreds of thousands of people, and extremely high-profile guests of honour including the acting President of the Republic of Mauritius (Paramasivum Pillay Vyapoory), a former President of the Republic of Mauritius (Cassam Uteem), and a Mauritian Government Minister (Nando Bodha). In the UK, the exhibition received nearly 500 visitors and guests of honour including the Mayor of Crawley (Brian Quinn) and the Crawley MP (Henry Smith). In La Réunion, the exhibition was sponsored by Air Mauritius, which pledged to feature Chagossian music and cuisine on Air Mauritius flights from 2019. The exhibition thus informed large numbers of the public and high level decision makers about Chagossian intangible cultural heritage. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The CHAGOS project team contributed to the Mauritian government's nomination of Chagossian sega to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, and installed an exhibition about Chagossian sega music at the 13th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Mauritius in 2018. The nomination file will be considered in 2019 for possible inscription in 2020. It is hoped that the inscription of Chagossian sega would elicit financial and infrastructural support for the community to continue practicing sega, alongside greater international exposure of its plight, which could boost the struggle for compensation and resettlement. 
URL https://chagos.online/exhibits
 
Title CHAGOS: Cultural Heritage Across Generations website 
Description In 2017, the CHAGOS project delivered heritage transmission workshops in Mauritius and the UK on the themes of sega music, coconut preparation, cuisine, coconut handicrafts, and medicinal plants. Chagos islanders led demonstrations and younger generations developed new skills and a deeper knowledge of Chagossian history, cultural traditions, and collective identification. Community efforts to preserve and transmit their heritage are enhanced by a dual-language digital archive, https://chagos.online/, featuring instructive films, photographs, recipe cards, and contextual information produced through the project. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The CHAGOS project team contributed to the Mauritian government's nomination of Chagossian sega to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, and installed an exhibition about Chagossian sega music at the 13th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Mauritius in 2018. The nomination file will be considered in 2019 for possible inscription in 2020. It is hoped that the inscription of Chagossian sega would elicit financial and infrastructural support for the community to continue practicing sega, alongside greater international exposure of its plight, which could boost the struggle for compensation and resettlement. 
URL https://chagos.online/exhibits
 
Title Leritaz Kiltir Chagossien 
Description The CHAGOS project supported the production of a new album by the Chagos Tambour Group, led by Mimose Furcy. It was recorded and produced by Philippe de Magnée and his team. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The CHAGOS project team contributed to the Mauritian government's nomination of Chagossian sega to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, and installed an exhibition about Chagossian sega music at the 13th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Mauritius in 2018. The nomination file will be considered in 2019 for possible inscription in 2020. It is hoped that the inscription of Chagossian sega would elicit financial and infrastructural support for the community to continue practicing sega, alongside greater international exposure of its plight, which could boost the struggle for compensation and resettlement. 
URL https://chagos.online/exhibits/show/ctgexhibit/ctgalbumintro
 
Description Between 1965 and 1973, the entire population of around 1,500 Chagos islanders from the Chagos Archipelago were expelled by the UK Government to make way for a US military base on the largest island, Diego Garcia, and have been prevented from resettling. In 2002, Chagos Islanders and most of their second-generation descendants were awarded UK citizenship, since when several thousand members of the extended Chagossian community have migrated to the UK, most to Crawley in West Sussex. The islands of the Chagos Archipelago had been inhabited since the late 18th century by enslaved, and later indentured, labourers who developed their own ways of life and cultural practices over several generations prior to their displacement. Our research demonstrated that these cultural practices have become central to ongoing political and legal struggles for compensation and the right of return, and documented the contradictions inherent in the compulsion to demonstrate cultural continuity and cultural loss simultaneously: on the one hand, to show that they remain a distinctive group, Chagossians must emphasise the endurance and distinctiveness of their culture vis-à-vis their Mauritian counterparts; on the other hand, to show that they are victims, they must demonstrate the losses they have suffered in the struggle to sustain their traditions in contexts of ethnic discrimination and socio-economic marginalisation. Our research highlights the challenges of transmitting cultural knowledge and practices across generations when a community faces dislocation from the homeland, geographical dispersal, and chronic social, political, and economic marginalisation. The CHAGOS: Cultural Heritage Across Generations project sought to overcome some of these challenges and to support the safeguarding, transmission, and promotion of Chagossian cultural heritage. Safeguarding Chagossian cultural heritage offers the possibility of political, social, and financial benefits such as increased legitimacy, strengthened collective identification, and funding for cultural activities, but also risks loss of control over community knowledge and products. We found that efforts to transmit and inscribe do not necessarily 'freeze cultural change' into a 'static element', not least because there are limits to the extent to which people use a list, an inventory, or a recording as a guide to 'living' cultural practice.
Exploitation Route Chagos Islanders have suffered multiple historical injustices, ongoing marginalisation, and challenges to transmitting their cultural heritage since their forced displacement from the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Research with the extended Chagossian community in Mauritius and the UK has addressed these issues by working to safeguard, transmit, and promote cultural identity and practices at risk of loss. We facilitated intergenerational heritage transmission, raised the profile of the community through physical and online exhibitions, and enhanced a legal case for the Chagossians' right of return, and significantly contributed to the Mauritian Government's successful nomination of Chagossian sega music to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13527258.2018.1555671
 
Description Impact on policy: Safeguarding Chagossian sega. The researchers contributed significantly to the Mauritian government's successful nomination of Chagossian sega tambour music, for inscription on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. In 2017, to support this nomination the research team provided evidence and assistance to the Mauritian National Heritage Fund (NHF) in the form of consultative meetings, written contributions to the UNESCO dossier, and professional films of sega performances, which the NHF requested permission to submit to UNESCO. In 2018, the NHF's nomination file cited Jeffery's publications (2007; 2011) and the AHRC-funded CHAGOS: Cultural Heritage Across Generations project (2017-18). The NHF confirmed that the researchers "provided evidence and advice which was instrumental to the development of the [UNESCO] nomination file" and "significantly strengthened the nomination file by demonstrating that the Chagossian community is organised and seriously committed to sustaining and safeguarding Chagossian Sega, but requires support in doing so". Chagossian sega tambour music was inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding on Human Rights Day 10 December 2019. Air Mauritius made the Chagos Tambour Group album available on its inflight entertainment systems in January 2020.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description CHAGOS showcase on AHRC Heritage Priority Area website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The AHRC Heritage Priority Area website Case Studies section profiles current and recent completed AHRC funded research projects and to show the breadth and range of research currently being undertaken on the priority area, particularly aiming to showcase projects which take innovative and creative approaches to heritage and which engage with areas identified as priorities within the AHRC Heritage Research Strategy. The AHRC Heritage Priority Area Leadership team works with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the heritage research community, and heritage partner organisations, to draw together and stimulate the development of a wide range of research across the arts and humanities that makes an important contribution to understanding heritage and key global challenges, and aims to support the interconnections between research, policy and practice, both in the UK and internationally. CHAGOS: Cultural Heritage Across Generations was showcased on the AHRC Heritage Priority Area website Case Studies section in February 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://heritage-research.org/case-studies/
 
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 The Chagossian sega music workshop in Crawley inspired cultural revivals: community leaders secured charitable funding to run further heritage workshops, and musicians and dancers formed a new intergenerational sega group, Chagos Tambour Junior UK, which has performed at local events.
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 The Chagossian sega music workshop in Mauritius provided the impetus for the Chagos Tambour Group to record a new album using traditional instruments and methods.
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 The CHAGOS project team contributed to the Mauritian government's nomination of Chagossian sega to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, and installed an exhibition about Chagossian sega music at the 13th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Mauritius in 2018. The nomination file will be considered in 2019 for possible inscription in 2020. It is hoped that the inscription of Chagossian sega would elicit financial and infrastructural support for the community to continue practicing sega, alongside greater international exposure of its plight, which could boost the struggle for compensation and resettlement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018