Book Review: Chagos: A History – Exploration, Exploitation and Expulsion

Chagos: A History – Exploration, Exploitation and Expulsion

This is an essential read for everyone who calls themselves Chagossian (or Ilois) and their collaborators in the fight for them to return home. It provides the definitive history of human discovery and habitation of the Chagos archipelago up to the point of de facto possession by the USA’s military. It has been meticulously researched and, although academically rigorous, it is a compelling read because its vivid narrative transports us back in time to a land far removed from our experience of modernday civilisation.
What started as hazards to be avoided, became welcome anchorage for replenishing ships’ supplies and then plantations that reduced Mauritius’ dependence on imported coconut oil. At first leased by the Crown and then sold to and owned by a succession of Franco-Mauritian companies, the archipelago’s strategic location was, from the beginning, recognised by military powers and utilised by them during clashes of empires, especially World War Two. It was not long before even a small human presence led to the overexploitation of marine life for food, notably sea cows and green turtles.
Imported slaves, originally from Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius, were liberated by the British, who struggled to ensure that their Franco-Mauritian masters treated them with dignity. At their companies’ expense, magistrates were sent to the islands and eventually missionaries, teachers, nurses and midwives. Depending on the character of their overseers, life could be delightfully simple or simply desperate, but always remained incredibly rudimentary.
The workers remained utterly dependent on the companies for almost every necessity, including clothing, shelter and a major part of their food supply. Even the pittance of a pay could only be spent in company shops or on rare trips to Mauritius aboard company ships. It is unsurprising that some voluntarily left the islands to be replaced by contract workers from Mauritius and later the Seychelles. Indeed it was only the objections of the Franco-Mauritian owners that prevented the administration being transferred to the Seychelles, which were both geographically closer and economically similar, in terms of coconut exploitation.
Mismanagement and lack of investment periodically plagued the plantations. The situation became critical just as the American military signalled its interest in the islands. They were willingly sold to the British government and leased back until the US was ready to move in. By then Mauritius had been granted independence at a price: the loss of sovereignty over the archipelago. The book ends in 1973 with the removal of the last Chagossians and readers are directed to other sources that catalogue their ongoing legal battles for the right to return to the place they call home.
Would coconut oil production have remained viable once vegetable oils replaced it in Mauritian cuisine? Would economics have forced the plantations to close and the Chagossians to leave anyway?
Diego Garcia remains the only militarised island in the archipelago. It is hard to imagine a civilian settlement there without significant income generation or subsidy to provide adequate housing, schooling and the other amenities of modern civilisation, even assuming the Americans allowed access to their port, airport and medical facilities. An alternative would be to exploit the other islands for their fishing and tourism potential, which would require major investment and development. This would inevitably devastate the pristine state that the corals surrounding them have returned to during the prolonged hiatus of human disturbance.
Does righting a wrong against a people justify a crime against nature? Where do corals have a better chance to adapt to climate change, free from other anthropogenic threats? And if they do, could we learn how to save some of the most productive ecosystems on our planet that countless coastal communities around the world depend upon for their own existence?

by  of We Love Mauritius website.

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Jean Marie Le Clézio: «On ne peut soupçonner les Chagossiens d’être des terroristes»

Jean Marie Le Clézio: «On ne peut soupçonner les Chagossiens d’être des terroristes»

Jean Marie Le Clézio, prix Nobel de littérature

Sa «déclaration liminaire» au sujet de la situation des Chagossiens sera lue avant d’être envoyée à la presse étrangère. Samedi après-midi, après avoir partagé des moments de complicité avec des enfants au Morne, dans le cadre du projet «Livres pour tous» de la Fondation pour l’interculturel et la paix (FIP), l’écrivain nous a expliqué le sens de sa démarche en faveur des Chagossiens. Nos vifs remerciements à Sarojini Bissessur-Asgarally, responsable de la FIP, qui a rendu cet entretien possible.

Donner des livres aux enfants qui n’y ont pas accès, c’est aller vers l’île Maurice authentique ?

C’est une partie du vrai Maurice. Le pays a plusieurs visages. Il y a un visage très gracieux et plein d’harmonie et puis un visage plus difficile et plus secret qu’on trouve aussi dans la littérature. Je pense par exemple à Eve de ses décombres d’Ananda Devi. C’est pour une grande part l’héritage colonial, mais aussi la pauvreté, la crise économique mondiale.

Quand je parle de ça, je me souviens de ma tante, Alice Le Clézio. Elle n’avait pas beaucoup de revenus. Cette partie de la famille Le Clézio avait été ruinée, elle vivait de ce que ses frères et soeurs lui donnaient. Elle habitait à Vacoas. Voyant que les enfants étaient livrés à eux-mêmes, elle les réunissait une fois par mois pour chanter et réciter de la poésie au Plaza. Elle était écrivain elle-même et avait adapté des contes, mais n’a jamais publié. J’ai publié des extraits de ses romans sans dire que c’était elle. Elle me les avait envoyés, j’ai jugé que je pouvais me permettre d’en publier de petits extraits.

«Cinquante ans après, il serait temps de faire progresser la cause des Chagossiens.»

Où peut-on lire ces extraits ?

Dans Révolutions, il y en a certains.

Mais vous n’avez pas dit que c’était d’elle ?

Elle avait aussi écrit un roman qui s’appelle Ceux qui n’ont pas d’étoile. Elle disait que dans la vie, il y a ceux qui ont le loisir d’admirer les étoiles et il y a des gens qui ont une vie tellement difficile que la nuit ils dorment et ne voient pas les étoiles. Au village du Morne, les gens ont la beauté devant les yeux. Mais ils sont défavorisés dans beaucoup d’autres domaines : l’accès à la culture, l’accès au langage.

Quand vous donnez «Mondo et autres histoires » à une petite fille au Morne, c’est pour donner de l’espoir ?

C’est une façon d’inviter ces enfants à considérer que la littérature n’est pas un monde qui leur est étranger. J’ai eu la grande joie de rencontrer Keithlyn Bissessur, qui est un futur écrivain de Maurice (voir hors texte). Il faut l’encourager. Elle a des dispositions, le sérieux et l’application qu’il faut pour ça. C’est un grand don que Maurice m’a fait.

C’est Maurice qui vous donne plus que vous ne donnez à Maurice ?

Je veux bien échanger, mais comme je ne suis pas là très souvent, l’échange est limité. En revanche, c’est encourageant de voir qu’un enfant, à dix ans déjà, malgré la vie difficile qu’elle connaît, prend le temps d’écrire très proprement dans un cahier, une histoire à laquelle elle a réfléchi, qui a un début et une fin, qui est bien construite. Personne ne lui a dicté quoi que ce soit. Cela sort de son esprit et me rend très confiant dans l’avenir de Maurice.

Le trait d’union entre vous et ces enfants, c’est la Fondation pour l’Interculturel et la Paix.

Nous avons eu l’idée de cette fondation, Issa Asgarally, Sarojini Asgarally et moi, pour permettre la rencontre des communautés. Mais cette rencontre, nous l’avons très rapidement compris, ne peut se faire que si on la prépare au niveau de l’enfance. C’est un travail de fourmi.

C’est par petites touches que l’on peut influer sur le monde ?

C’est à la mesure de ce que je suis capable de faire. Moi j’écris des livres, je n’ai pas d’influence politique, je ne connais personne, je n’ai pas de relations privilégiées avec de grands groupes financiers.

Vous dites que vous n’avez pas d’influence politique, mais vous serez publiquement aux côtés des Chagossiens, cette semaine.

C’est un vieux combat. Je vais reparler de ma tante Alice. Dans les années 1980, je marchais avec elle, à Port-Louis. Elle m’avait montré des abris anticyclone. Elle m’avait dit : Tu es au courant qu’on a mis là les gens des Chagos ? C’était des abris en tôle de forme arrondie, construits autour de Port-Louis. Quand ils ont été déportés, on ne savait pas où les loger et donc on les a mis dans les abris anticyclone. Depuis, ces abris ont disparu. J’ai été sensibilisé assez tôt à ce drame que vivent les Chagossiens.

Ensuite, j’ai suivi cela pas à pas. Je suis même allé consulter les archives du Sénat américain pour voir s’il y avait des échos de ce drame. Et il y en a. Des sénateurs ont demandé au gouvernement américain de vérifier ce qui s’était passé, pourquoi on avait déporté les gens. Mais cela a été bloqué par le gouvernement américain, qui a des intérêts stratégiques aux Chagos. Cinquante ans après, il serait temps de faire progresser la cause des Chagossiens.

Quel est le sens de votre démarche ?

L’important, c’est que les Chagossiens aient le droit de retourner chez eux. Pas seulement pour fleurir les tombes de leurs ancêtres, mais pour recommencer à y vivre. Au besoin, au service de la base américaine. Pourquoi ne peuvent-ils pas y travailler ? Ce ne sont pas des espions. On ne peut pas les soupçonner d’être des terroristes. Il y a quelque chose de profondément injuste dans cette situation. Ce point de vue n’est pas politique, il est humaniste. Que les Chagos soient partie prenante de l’administration mauricienne ou qu’ils restent sous protectorat britannique, c’est pour moi, secondaire.

Qu’est-ce qui vous pousse à agir maintenant ?

Ce n’est pas politique. Je ne sais pas s’il y aura des discours politiques qui seront tenus, mais ce ne sont pas les miens. L’important, c’est que la population chagossienne ait un droit de retour.

Oui, mais y a-t- il quelque chose qui a causé un déclic chez vous ?

J’ai souvent écrit dans la presse à propos des Chagossiens. J’ai même adressé une lettre au président Obama quand il a été élu. L’administration m’a répondu qu’elle prenait acte de ma lettre mais qu’elle n’avait pas le temps de s’occuper de cette situation. Chaque fois que je peux, je manifeste mon souhait d’aider le peuple chagossien.

Vous comptez écrire à l’administration Trump ?

Elle n’est pas pire dans beaucoup de domaines que l’administration Obama. Il ne faut pas oublier que l’administration Obama a été la championne des déportations des immigrés clandestins. Voyons ce que Trump va faire. De toute façon, cela ne devrait pas dépendre d’une administration. Le droit de retour est affirmé par les Nations unies.

Préoccupations Spirituelles
Le livre de Sarojini Bissessur-Asgarally, «Discovering your true self in Sadhana», publié aux Éditions de l’océan Indien, sera lancé jeudi. Il est préfacé par Jean Marie Le Clézio. L’écrivain dit y avoir trouvé l’écho de ses préoccupations de jeunesse. «Dans son explication de la Bhagavad Gita, Sarojini Asgarally le rend quotidien, on peut sentir la vérité du texte. Comment conduire sa vie, comme on conduit un char attelé à des chevaux. La métaphore de la Bhagavad Gita, c’est comment être maître de soi-même, comment être maître de son char.»

L’écrivain confie qu’à la lecture de cette analyse, «j’ai retrouvé l’enthousiasme de mes jeunes années». Il se dit aussi «touché» parce que Sarojini Asgarally met ces enseignements en pratique. «Ces textes ont une résonance dans la vie contemporaine. Le besoin que nous avons de l’équilibre par la Nature, c’est déjà dans tous ces textes anciens.» Jean Marie Le Clézio précise qu’il n’est pas, «un être de religion. Je considère que je n’appartiens à aucune religion. Mais je suis capable d’être ému et sensibilisé à tout ce que donnent les religions d’harmonieux et de positif. Après, les religions sont très souvent, malheureusement, des lieux d’exclusion où l’on cultive une identité agressive, qui est contraire à l’esprit des religions».

La naissance d’un écrivain

Quand on demande à Keithlyn Bissessur, dix ans et élève en «Grade 5» à l’école primaire de Bambous, si elle sait comment s’appelle celui qui lui a dédicacé «Mondo et autres histoires», elle hoche la tête. Kouma li apélé ? Elle montre le nom écrit sur la couverture. Elle articule : «Le Clézio.» Pourquoi lui a-t-il donné ce livre ? «Parski monn ekrir enn zistwar.» Que raconte son histoire ? «Enn tifi ti al dan laforé li ti perdi.» D’accord. Après ? «Après, elle rencontre un garçon et sa mère. Kan li ti resorti, li trouv laforé enn lot fason. Quand elle est entrée dans la cabane, elle s’est transformée en maison. Tou inn vinn prop, inn vinn nef.» D’où vient l’histoire ? Keithlyn Bissessur sourit. «Invanté.»

Prix Jean Fanchette 2017, verdict aujourd’hui
C’est ce soir qu’a lieu la remise du prix Jean Fanchette 2017. Le jury, présidé par Jean Marie Le Clézio, a pour membre Patryck Froissart et coordinateur Issa Asgarally. «Nous avons reçu une profusion de textes, à la fois des récits, des poèmes, des essais, même des textes que l’on ne peut pas identifier. La littérature à Maurice est très originale», explique le président du jury.

Jean Marie Le Clézio affirme qu’il parle du prix Jean Fanchette, «partout où je vais». Il ajoute que chaque année, il donne des cours en Chine. «Je leur dis à chaque fois qu’il ne faut pas oublier qu’un petit pays peut aussi produire beaucoup intellectuellement. Il faut encourager cette production et ne pas faire de hiérarchie économique. Je suis un grand admirateur d’Amartya Sen, (NdlR : prix Nobel d’économie). Je pense qu’il faut absolument observer sa classification des États. Entre ceux qui consacrent beaucoup d’efforts à la production de la culture et ceux qui consacrent tous leurs efforts à la production d’armements.»

Source: Article and pictures from L’Express, 19.06.2017

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Book: Chagos: A History – Exploration, Exploitation, Expulsion

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SAJ sur Chagos: «Mo napa bluffé kouma ansien Premié minis»

SAJ sur Chagos: «Mo napa bluffé kouma ansien Premié minis»

Le Premier ministre n’a pas manqué de fustiger le leader du Parti travailliste, ce jeudi 3 novembre à une cérémonie de commémoration de la déportation du peuple chagossien au Quay C. Selon sir Anerood Jugnauth, Navin Ramgoolam a bluffé sur le dossier Chagos.

Source: L’Express, 03.11.2016

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James de Montille interviewed the late lamented Fernand Mandarin on behalf of the authors of the recently published book, Chagos A History.

James de Montille interviewed the late lamented Fernand Mandarin on behalf of the authors of the recently published book, Chagos A History.

 

Watching the video, we are made very aware of all the cultural and social history that has been lost to us through his passing and that of other Chagossians recently. Thankfully, Fernand was very generous with his knowledge and experiences. At 30:40 on the youtube clip Fernand sings the ‘séga zavirons’ – lyrics below.
 
Blanc, blanc, blanc,
Mo dire toi Bernard ki’allé 
Blanc, blanc, blanc
Mo dire toi Bernard ki’allé 
[Other rowers sing in unison at this point]
Blanc, blanc, blanc,
Mo dire toi  Bernard ki’allé calçon blanc
Mo dire toi Bernard ki’allé . . . 
[White, white, white,
There goes Bernard,
White, white, white,
[Other rowers sing in unison at this point]
There goes Bernard with his white trousers
There goes Bernard . . .]. 
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The RAF on Diego Garcia in World War Two

The RAF on Diego Garcia in World War Two

In August 1945 a number of British newspapers published accounts of the ‘secret’ air base established on Diego Garcia. They reported that during the preceding four years “relays of ‘Robinson Crusoes’ of the RAF have been living in six month spells the life of the beachcomber, far from civilisation”. The Chagos archipelago, located halfway between Ceylon and Madagascar, served in World War Two as “one of a chain of forward flying-boat bases spread across Japanese submarine routes through the Indian Ocean”. Diego Garcia, the largest island of the group, was considered “one of the most strategically placed air bases to launch flying-boat strikes against the U-boats which might try to escape to Japan.”


In the summer of 1945, a couple of journalists flew in to Diego Garcia aboard a Sunderland flying boat carrying out the weekly mail and supply run from Ceylon. The pilot was 34 year old Flight Lieutenant Arthur White, of Petersfield, Hampshire. He had been a store manager at Bexley Heath before the war. His co-pilot was Flight Lieutenant George Chilvers of Forest Hill, London, and the navigator was Flight Sergeant Andrew Muir, of Glasgow. The Sunderland carried a crew of ten and eight passengers, including the island’s commanding officer, a Congregational padre, who was to hold the first RAF service on the station since VE night, a doctor, a catering officer, an Air Ministry official, an RAF newsreel cameraman, a Public Relations Officer, and another journalist – a war correspondent.

The newspaper described the lifestyle of the fifty airmen who resided on Diego Garcia at this time as follows:

Shorts and sandals are all the uniform they need. Every day, when their routine work is done, they bathe from the jetty in the crystal water of the lagoon. They also spend languorous hours fishing at 40 feet depth for grotesque multi-coloured tropical fish. In this malaria-free paradise they harpoon squids, keep watch for six-foot sharks and stinging rays, overturn turtles or their eggs, and gather the plentiful fruit. Then they watch giant land crabs scuttling up palm trees and cracking coconuts with their pincers. They wander on the strand in search of coral fragments and bizarre shells to make necklaces for their girls at home. In the evenings they see gorgeous tropical sunsets flame across the sky behind the ever-green palm tree belt.

The RAF beachcombing on Diego – courtesy of www.zianet.com

At this time, the commanding officer on Diego Garcia was 29-year old Squadron Leader George Huxford, of Ashford, Middlesex. He was the Catalina pilot who, in July 1944, first sighted the survivors of a torpedoed ship after they had been afloat in open boats for more than five days. Navy frigates were called to the spot, and the people in six of the seven boats launched were picked up. On the wall of the RAF mess some of the 137 survivors, two of them women, scrawled their signatures when they were celebrating being rescued.

Huxford was succeeded in command of Diego Garcia by Flying Officer Hayward Hodgman of Liverpool, who was assisted by Flying Officer George Forrest of East Sheen, to run the maintenance force.

We would love to hear from anyone who served on Chagos in World War Two and who can add photographs or anecdotes to this page. Please write to us at info@chagos.info.

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(c) www.chagos.info

 

 

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Chagos Archipelago: Welcome to Our Website!

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The Seabees and Diego Garcia in 1971

The Early Days of Diego Garcia Construction

Cdr. Daniel W. Urish CEC USN (ret)

Commander Dan Urish

Commander Dan Urish was Commanding Officer of the first Seabee Battalion, NMCB Forty, deployed to Diego Garcia and Island Commander, having relieved Commander Robert K. White on island in May, 1971. In October, in a ceremony with the plantation manager, Marcel Moulinie, he officiated the closure of the copra plantation, and the transfer of the British flag from the plantation where it had flown since the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s to the newly constructed naval base to fly alongside the American flag. He was relieved at the first island Change of Command ceremony by Commander Phillip Oliver of NMCB One in November, 1971.

As described by Commander Urish the construction of an island naval base literally ”from scratch ” in the middle of the Indian Ocean in 1971 was a unique challenge for the United States Navy Seabees involving highly complex planning and logistics requirements. It was an operation that in many respects was a “deju vu” of the many operations in which the Seabees built advance bases in the Pacific Ocean “island hopping” campaigns during World War II.

From 1971 to 1987 there would be 14 more Seabee deployments to accomplish extensive permanent construction on Diego Garcia. An article written by Commander Urish and published by the U. S. Naval Institute in 1973 further describing the early days of construction is attached. At that time the base was viewed as an austere, but highly important military facility and checkpoint against Soviet expansion in the “Cold War” era, with a primary function as a joint United States/British Communication Station, not as the major military operational and support base that exists in 2011.


The landing ship USS Graham County (LST 1176), offloading supplies on Admiral Pratt Beach, Diego Garcia 1971 (water color painting by Thomas J. Viet).

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© Dan Urish

 

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The 1969 Recordings

THE 1969 RECORDINGS

In March 1969, Kirby Crawford, a geodetic surveyor working on Diego Garcia, taped a convivial evening he and a few fellow Americans shared with a group of Chagos islanders. The equipment he used was an Akai tape recorder [pictured below] which he had acquired in Khartoum, Sudan, while working there in 1966-7.  When he moved on it was shipped with a few other possessions to Wisconsin. Posted to Diego Garcia, Kirby later asked his brother to ship the recorder and some music tapes to him. The equipment somehow made it through Mombasa to the Seychelles and from there onto one of the Nordvaer cargo ships that made occasional trips to Diego Garcia. Little did Kirby imagine, on that balmy Saturday evening, that his recordings of the songs of the islanders and the administrator’s speech would provide posterity with a unique cultural record of a moment and a place which has become historically significant and shrouded in controversy. Luckily the recorder still works as well today as it did then, which has enabled Kirby to transfer the recordings to his computer from where their dissemination on the website of Ted Morris has gifted us one of the few authentic cultural souvenirs of Chagos in the late 1960s. A number of the songs and the speech have been transcribed by a native creole speaker, Chris Cuniah. We are very grateful to these individuals for their work in conserving and rendering more accessible this unique cultural record.

The first song transcribed below, and also featured in the accompanying video is of particular interest because it offers a poignant testimony to the reaction of the islanders to the unfamiliar and frightening sound and sight of military aircraft, their fears for their future, the desire to voice those anxieties, stifled by nervousness about possible reprisal, and the strong belief that the British would protect them. The reference to King George VI [who died in 1952] together with the fact that the airstrip on Diego would not be built until 1971, suggest that the song may have been recounting events that occurred in World War Two. The reference to Raphael, is possibly connected to the island of that name [St Brandon shoals]. However, it seems clear that the islanders are projecting past fears onto the present in 1969, and articulating their uncertainties and fears at that time. A point of interest is the reference to the barking of the dogs, warning the islanders of the approaching planes. Elsewhere in the recordings the barking of the dogs is also heard. The dogs were later all destroyed, so the ‘last bark’ is another aspect of life on Chagos that the recordings have captured.

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PA PLORER – CREOLE LYRICS

Pa plorer, pa sagrin marmail, na pa sagrin le roi George VI finn envoy so zom vey nu.

Mo le cozer, mo le cozer mo pa kapav, mo le cozer mo per tensyon mo gagn enn mari pa larguer

Lundi bo-matin mo tan lisyen kriye, ki li kriye, guet avion la ape fer letur Rafael

Pa plorer, pa sagrin zenfans, na pa sagrin le roi George 6 finn envoy so zom vey nu.

La lahe le le, lehe lehe le le ela la la la la la la…

Lundi bo-matin mo tan lisyen kriye, ki li kriye, guet avion la ape fer letur Rafael

Pa plorer, pa sagrin zenfans, na pa sagrin le roi George 6 fine envoy so zom vey nu.

(Male voice singing: ‘ki li pe roder, ki li pe roder avion la? Li ape fer letur Rafael.’

Ki li pe roder, ki li pe roder avion la, ki li pe roder, le roi George 6 finn avoy so zom vey nu.

Lundi bo-matin mo tan lisyen kriye, ki li kriye, guet avion la ape fer letur Rafael

Mo le cozer, mo le cozer mo pa kapav, mo le cozer mo per tensyon mo gagn enn mari pa larguer

Mo ti le cozer, mo ti le cozer azordi, mo ti le cozer mo per tensyon mo gagn enn mari pa larguer.

Ti le le le la la la, ti le le le la la la

Don mwa la main, don mwa la main charli oh, don mwa la main charli o pas laisse amene la mort lor Diego.

(Male voice: ‘Don mwa la mort Charli, pa laisse nu mort dan Diego’

PA PLORER – ‘DON’T CRY’ – ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Don’t cry, don’t be sad little ones, don’t be sad King George VI has sent his men to look after us.

I’d like to talk, I’d like to talk but I can’t, I’d like to talk but I fear in case I get into trouble.

Monday morning I heard the dogs barking, what are they barking for, look at the planes flying over Raphael.

Don’t cry, don’t be sad children, don’t be sad, King George VI has sent his men to look after us.

La lahe le le, lehe lehe le le ela la la la la la la…

Monday morning I heard the dogs barking, what are they barking for, look at the planes flying over Raphael.

(male voice: ‘what is it looking for, what is it looking for this plane, it is flying over Raphael’)

What it’s looking, what it’s looking for  that plane, King George VI has sent his men to look after us.

Monday morning I heard the dogs barking, what are they barking for, look at the planes flying over Raphael.

I’d like to talk, I’d like to talk but I can’t, I’d like to talk but I fear in case I get into trouble.

I’d like to talk, I’d like to talk today, I’d like to talk but I fear in case I get into trouble.

Ti le le le la la la, ti le le le la la la

Give me a hand, give me a hand oh Charlie, give me a hand  Charlie, don’t let death come on Diego.

(male voice: ‘Kill me Charlie, don’t let us die on Diego.’

THE ADMINISTRATOR’s SPEECH

On the tape recorded by Kirby is the following speech by the local manager of the copra workers.  His jovial exhortation that all at the gathering should enjoy themselves is punctated by a verbal  attack on a group present whom, he suggests, have attempted to question his authority. The speech is incoherent in parts, probably as a result of the quantity of alcohol imbibed by the speaker!

CREOLE TRANSCRIPTION

Nu pa vinn la zis pou tap tanbur, pu ceci pu cela. Alor nu tu nu’ne vinn la pu amizer, pu fer ninport ki sen’la amizer, pa vre, ki foder dimoun pu fer kamarad amizer, saken a son tur, n’est-ce pas ? Nu pa bizin dimoun pu vini pu di sa li ceci sa li cela. Alor nu byen kontan zot inn vini, sirtu sa ban gogo*, sa ban gogo* ki zot krwar ki zot kapav bat l’administrateur, mo byen kontan mwa, sa ban boug ki di sa. Mo tuzur silencieux mwa, mo tuzur doucement. Nu byen kontan ki manyer zot’inn fer tanto,   Ki tu kitsoz ki zot partu pardonner, pu zot ein… Mersi bucu ein… Don nu ban zoli sanson… si ena enkor enn ti pe… si ena bwar… selma li a zoli pu nu ein.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

We are not here only to beat the drum, for this and that… Well, we are all gathered here to enjoy ourselves and to make sure everybody here has fun, are we not? We need people to have fun, one and all, do we not? We do not need people to come to say this and that. Well, we are very happy you have come, especially those bastards, those bastards who believe they can beat up the administrator. I am happy, I am, that these men say this. I am always quiet, I am always slow. We are happy the way you have behaved this evening. That you have forgiven all. Thank you. Give us some beautiful sega songs…we have drinks… well, it is very good for us, isn’t it?!!

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SEGA SONG:  “Missié Payet”

The following song about the administrator, Mr Payet, is particularly interesting because it indicates how the workers on Diego Garcia made up their own lyrics to describe incidents in their lives, and their feelings about them. A literal transcription is given below, followed by an English translation.  The song appears to praise Payet’s intervention in sorting out domestic disputes among the workers as well as relating to an incident which seems to involve a fishing trip to one of the shoals that may have been dangerous [not all of the words can be clearly interpreted]. This song, describing as it does, the daily tribulations of the labourers on Chagos, provides an insight into the mindset of the workers, although it must be borne in mind that the song was sung in the presence of the administrator,  presumably as a tribute to him, and may not be an entirely accurate reflection of attitudes towards him. If any residents of Diego Garcia who listen to Kirby’s recording can help to identify ‘M Greller’ and ‘beautiful Adele’, or have any anecdotes of their own, we hope they will add their comments below.

‘Missié Payet’ – CREOLE TRANSCRIPTION

Missié Payet li enn bon regisser, manyer ki nu’a pe fer, mo krwar nu pu fer li move.

Missié Payet pran pesser posson lor banc, la manyer nu pe aler mw’asirer nu pu perdi nu la vi.

U le kozer, mo le kozer,  kot mo la caz mo ti le kozer mo pena rezon pu mwa kozer. Si mwa kozer mwa pe travail kot mo burzoi, mwa pe travail kot mo burzoi, l’inn met la pe kot mo la caz.

Missié Payet li’enn bon regisser, la manyer ki nu pe fer nu mem ki pu fer li move.

Mo byen fupamal, letan mo kot sega mo pa kone ki pe passer kot mo la caz, mwa inosan pa kon nanye.

Ou le kozer, mwa galoup kot mo regisser, mo regisser vinn met la pe, vinn guetter kot mo la caz.

Zozo mo mari y’a inpe gro leker, nou met kuraz kot nu la caz, nu pa le sa gogoterie. Mo byen fupamal zot araze zot p’araze mw’asi mo parey kuma zot. Di tou din tou di.

Ti le lehe le lehe, le lehe le lehe le le lehe.

Don mwa la me mo’nn pare, don mwa la me, la manyer ki nu pe fer nu sire nu pu perdi nu la vi.

Rod mari, mari mwa pe rod li, mo pe rod mari li pa ti la, mari dan la caz missié Grellé.

Repone mo la vwa, repone mo la vwa, Adele repone mo la vwa, Adele ma belle ti pu la vi.

Ti le lehe, le lehe, ti le lehe le lehe le le lehe… [2nd female voice]: la la la la la la lala.

Nu’ena enn bon regisser nu pa kone amene, anu chombo li de de la me,  si nu perdi nu perdi.

Li enn bon regisser, li enn bon regisser, nu mem ki pu fer li move.

‘Missié Payet’ – ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Mr. Payet he is a good manager, the way we are doing things I believe we will make him angry.

Mr. Payet takes fishermen fishing on the bank, the way we are behaving I can assure you we all going to lose our lives.

You want to talk, I want to talk, by my home I wanted to talk but I have no reason to talk.

And if I talk, I am working at my boss’s, I am working at my boss’s, who has brought peace to my home.

Mr Payet he’s a good manager, the manner in which we’re behaving we’re going to make him angry.

I don’t really care, while I am singing sega I don’t know what’s going on at my place, I’m innocent I know nothing.

You want to talk, I ran to my manager, my manager came to bring peace, come to see by my place.

Zozo my husband who’s a little jealous, nevertheless we take courage at home, for we don’t want any bullshit.

I don’t really care whether you’re angry or not, I’m also just like you, what has to be said has been said.

Ti le lehe le lehe, le lehe le lehe le le lehe.

Give me a hand I’m ready, give me a hand, the manner in which we’re behaving we surely will lose our lives.

Looking for my husband, I’m looking for my husband, I’m looking for my husband he wasn’t here, husband is in the house of Mr. Greller.

Answer my call, answer my call, Adele answer my call, beautiful Adele it was for life.

Ti le lehe, le lehe, le lehe le lehe le le lehe [2nd female voice]: la la la la la la la lala.

We have a good manager we don’t know how to keep him, hold him with both hands, if we lose we’ll lose.

He’s a good manager, he’s a good manager, and we are the ones who will turn him into a bad manager.

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This photograph, taken by Kirby Crawford, shows a perouge outrigger sail boat that belonged to Reginald Payet the plantation manager, who also features [foreground in black shorts].

FRENCH SONG:  “Auprès de Toi”

The labourers working on Diego Garcia in 1969 would all have understood the French-based creole language spoken – with some variations of vocabulary and pronounciation on the islands of Mauritius, Seychelles and Réunion, and imported from there to the Chagos archipelago. Many of them would also have been familiar with the French language and would have heard French songs playing on the radio in the Mascarenes and Seychelles islands. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that one of the songs recorded by Kirby Crawford and sung by the islanders is not in the creole tongue, but in French.

FRENCH TRANSCRIPTION

Auprès de toi,

Alice ma bien aimée

Me consoler

Tu me consoleras

Eh bien j’ai fait

Pour ta fête en famille

Moi j’ai su faire

Moi j’avais ni père ni mère

Moi j’ai su faire

Moi j’ai ni père ni mère

Auprès de toi

Tu me consoleras

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

By your side

My beloved Alice

To console me

You will console me

Well I did

For your family party

I knew what to do

I had neither father nor mother

I knew what to do

I have neither father nor mother

By your side

You will console me

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The Art of Chagos – Paintings of Clement Siatous

Born in 1947 to parents working at Peros Banhos, Clément spent most of his childhood on Diego Garcia.  After the establishment of BIOT led to the family’s displacement and resettlement on Mauritius, Clément began to use his artistic talents to depict life on the Chagos archipelago as he had known it.  His colourful paintings are today recognized as an important expression of Chagossian culture: work, cuisine, and leisure activities all feature in his art. Clement has also vividly depicted more recent events such as the return visits of the Chagossians.

Further Reading: Jeffery, L. & Johannessen, S. ‘Reflections on the Life and Art of the Chagossian Painter Clément Siatous’.

 

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