The indigenous peoples of the Caribbean are the forgotten natives of The Americas. The much-documented civilisations of the Inca, Mayans, and the Puebloans dominate the common perception of the New World’s first peoples in a similar way to which the Latino and Afro-Caribbean communities dominate the common perception of today’s inhabitants and culture of the Caribbean islands. Often lost in this paradigm are the diverse peoples who existed on these islands prior to European contact, and who despite conflict, displacement, and disease remain an intrinsic part of Caribbean culture.
Go to Google, search for a map of the world, and take a look at north-western Africa. Wedged between Morocco and Mauritania on the Atlantic coastline, you’re likely to see a country labelled Western Sahara. This is peculiar, because if you travelled to that area and asked the locals where they are from, they are unlikely to reply with anything other than Morocco or the Sahrawi Democratic Arab Republic. Continue reading Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony
Nestled in Italy’s scenic north-east, amongst the Dolomite mountain range, lies the autonomous province of Alto Adige. While such a description may encourage the intrusion of any number of stereotypically Italian images into one’s mind, thoughts of pizza, pasta and wine would be misplaced here. Continue reading Ist Südtirol Italien? A Brief Explanation of The South-Tyrol Problem
The relocation of the United States Marine Corps Base at Futenma, Okinawa, has long-been a controversial subject within Japanese politics. Plans to relocate the base to Camp Schwab, in the island’s far north, have stagnated in recent years as a result of prolonged local protest. Now, following the election of the pro-Tokyo mayoral candidate Taketoyo Toguchi in Okinawa’s Nago City, PM Abe has expressed intention to press ahead with the American relocation. This does not however reveal the full story of Okinawa, former independent Kingdom turned Japan’s poorest prefecture, and their century of subjugation. Continue reading The United States, Japan, and the Subjugation of Okinawa
We are living in the Chinese century. This is what economic forecasters would have you believe. With economic pre-eminence often comes cultural hegemony, evidenced by the Americanisation of global society. Jeans, burgers, hip hop – America is everywhere. Conservative forecasters estimate that the Chinese economy will surpass that of the US by 1930 . Could this result in a proliferation of Chinese cultural influence around the world? Contrary to the historical isolationism prevalent in Chinese culture, evidence of such an emergence is already apparent. Originally manifest in Han encroachment into traditional Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongol lands within the boundary of what we would now define as China, Beijing’s reach is now going global. Continue reading Pax Sinica: China Goes Global
The Bolivian Navy boasts around 5,000 sailors. In some indexes it ranks 13th in the world in terms of commissioned naval craft, between the military powers of Turkey and South Korea. Día del Mar, or ‘Day of the Sea’, is held annually on the 23rd of March and is one of Bolivia’s largest national celebrations. Such a fixation with the sea may seem bizarre for a country without a coastline, however Bolivia was not always landlocked, and this was rather the result of territorial losses during a late nineteenth-century war. The reclamation of the nation’s lost coastal lands remain a key political issue, as well as a defining principle of Bolivian national identity. Continue reading Landlocked in Latin America: Bolivia’s Fight to Regain A Coastline
In November 2016, a community of people based in Crawley, West Sussex, travelled to Whitehall in order to protest a government decision which would have extend the now fifty year exile from their homeland. Almost unheard of within the country they now predominantly reside, Chagossians are a people without a home. Hailing from a group of islands in the geographical centre of the Indian Ocean, they are the enduring reminder of a 1966 land-grab, whereby the British government authorised the expulsion of the inhabitants of the Diego Garcia island group in order to facilitate the construction of an enormous US military base. Their story ever since has been one of abuse, neglect, and an overriding fight for preservation and recognition.
The political decisions behind the expulsion of the native Chagos Islanders were heavily influenced by the decline of empire, the Cold War, and late twentieth century US hegemony. Throughout the 1960s, as the winds of change swept through the old world order and colonialism gave way in the face of rising worldwide national consciousness, the need for the west to preserve some sort of military presence east of Suez was stark. This was exacerbated by the perceived threat of both the Soviet Union and a rising China. To counteract this, the ‘island chain strategy’ was developed. The strategy perceived the containment of communist expansion via the fortification of islands throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans. To this end, prior to the UK’s granting of Mauritian independence, the US requested that the Chagos Archipelago be annexed, reconstituted as a separate colony labelled the British Indian Ocean Territory, and leased to the United States Navy. The British, assuming their junior role in the special relationship with vigour, accepted. The decision would anger the newly independent Mauritian government. The UN immediately passed a resolution which condemned the detachment. Protests were ignored and the resident islanders, the Chagossians, were removed to prevent any resistance to the military presence.
The Chagossians can trace their roots back to East African slave labourers transported to islands by the French. The defeat of France during the Napoleonic Wars saw the islands handed over to the British, who imported labourers from India. Over generations, the peoples on the island integrated and a distinct Chagossian culture emerged. The islanders persisted on the islands for generations, uninterrupted until men in distant lands decided their slice of paradise was a prime location for a military base. These same men decided that the presence of the islanders would inhibit the functionality of that island base. In order to facilitate their expulsion, the British government endeavoured to deface the Chagossian culture and any generational attachment to the islands. This came despite the fact that the islands had been populated around the same time the white man arrived in Australia, and in similar circumstances. To claim the Chagossians have no rights or connection to the islands is also to deny such rights to those populating the Falklands – rights which Britain went to war to protect in the 1980s.
After a blockade of imported goods, as well as intimidation by UK and US military personnel, the Chagossians were compelled to leave to the neighbouring Seychelles and Mauritius. UK aid packages were far from adequate, and islanders often lived as refugees in conditions of abject poverty. More recently, lacklustre efforts have been made by the government to provide islanders with British passports, and many have settled in Crawley, where an exiled community has emerged. Many Chagossians remain separated from family members as a result of complex British citizenship laws. This does not mean however that a reversal of the expulsion has been likely, and any concessions are rather an admittance of guilt. A guilt which has always been overridden by the dependence of the UK upon its cousins in Washington.
Public pressure has come close to trumping realpolitik in the past. In 2000 the British High Court judged the eviction of Chagossians as illegal. While this decision was celebrated amongst campaigners, it proved inconsequential. The government used a Royal Prerogative to reverse the decision, using an obscure law to bypass Parliament in a manner very rarely seen within 21st century British politics. While Foreign Secretary in 2010, David Miliband created a Marine Protected Area around the archipelago. Leaked memos subsequently revealed that this was heavily influenced by the need to undermine the repatriation campaign. The practicality of such a reserve was immediately called into question, and the decision gathered criticism from high profile members of the Green Party and Greenpeace.
Heading into 2016 there was hope, as the US lease over the islands was up for renewal. Under Obama, the US had often hinted at its desire to step back from its extensive overseas commitments. Moreover, the return of the islanders would have reflected well upon the Conservative government, both within the eyes of the British public and the international community. However, in November 2016 the Government announced that the US lease would be extended by twenty years, and all requests for the islander’s return were rejected. Some suggested that Chagossians could live on the islands and support the US military presence, supplanting the Filipino workers imported to conduct low-level maintenance tasks. Standing in the way of this however is the reality that native populations often hinder operations at a number of the 909 overseas facilities administered as part of the US military empire. Local grievances have limited the effectiveness of bases in the Philippines, Japan, and Turkey. As such, Chagossian exile suits American military aims in the Indian Ocean perfectly. The islanders fight on.
One of the main problems facing the islanders, particularly following the November 2016 decision, is the lack of publicity that the struggle gets within the mainstream media. Significant public pressure might be the key to precipitating a reversal of the British Government’s decision, however exposure is needed in order to achieve this. This is well known by the exiles, who endeavour through social media, protests and other mediums to promote their cause. The participation of a Chagos Islands Football Team within the 2016 Confederation of Independent Football Associations (Conifa) World Cup in Abkhazia, Georgia, is testament to this. While the Chagossians were knocked out in the group stages, their real success was the raising of the island’s profile and with it their struggle to return home. The islanders undoubtedly face a significant challenge, as the special relationship shows no signs of strain, even with Donald Trump in the White House. Wider public pressure remains the key to their return to paradise.
- David Vine and Laura Jeffery, “Give Us Back Diego Garcia”: Unity and Division among Activists in the Indian Ocean
- Fred Pearce, Trouble in Paradise
- Peter Sand, The United States and Britain in Diego Garcia: The Future of a Controversial Base
- Photos; Cover Photo: www.chagossupport.org.uk
There is little in British colonial history that casts as dark a shadow as what some have labelled the Aboriginal Tasmanian genocide. At the time of British settlement in 1803 there were an estimated four to seven thousand Indigenous Tasmanians, by 1847 there were just 147. While some mixed-race communities endured, the last full-blooded Tasmanian, Truganini, died in Hobart in 1876.
Intense debate has raged amongst historians over how the demise of the Tasmanian people should be defined. Niall Ferguson calls it ‘one of the most shocking of all the chapters in the history of the British Empire’, and states that it truly warrants labelling as genocide. Others, such as Henry Reynolds, argue that demographic decline was due to losses sustained in conflict with the colonists, rather than a direct policy of genocide on the part of the government. More controversially, some outright deny the culpability of the colonial government. Keith Windschuttles’ infamous work The Fabrication of Aboriginal History challenges the general view. Windschuttle argues that Aboriginal society collapsed due to susceptibility to disease and its cultural mistreatment of women, perhaps overlooking the fact that Tasmanian culture had endured for around ten thousand years in isolation.
How could it transpire that a country championing liberty and the abolition of slavery could oversee the extinction of an entire peoples? The Tasmanian population, which had survived ten-thousand years in isolation, would cease to exist after just seventy-three years of colonial settlement.
The colonial history of Tasmania was from its beginning synonymous with brutality. Originally a distant outpost administered from Sydney, the island became home to Australia’s most hardened convicts. Penal settlements such as Macquarie Harbour were said to have been some of the harshest in the Empire. Struggles with the Aboriginal population started almost immediately following the arrival of the British in 1803. Various initial confrontations with native communities culminated in a skirmish at the Risdon Cove penal settlement in May 1804, when two Aboriginal men were killed by soldiers.
Initial skirmishes ushered in a period from which horrific stories of indigenous butchery at the hands of sealers, escaped convicts and bushrangers permeate. Accounts tell of native men being hunted for sport, and used as live targets during firing practices. Bushrangers were said to use indigenous men as a food source for their hounds. There are tales of sealers capturing Aboriginal women and chaining them in captivity as sex-slaves, as well as an infamous account of a wife being made to wear the decapitated head of her husband in a bag around her neck. Such encounters served to stiffen Aboriginal resistance as they began an early form of guerrilla warfare against the settlers during what became known as the ‘Black Wars.’
In 1825 George Arthur became Lieutenant-Governor as Van Diemen’s Land achieved independence from Sydney. He began working with an established Committee for Aboriginal Affairs in an attempt to remedy the quickly worsening situation. In October 1831 the Committee wrote to Arthur listing ‘Atrocities committed by the Natives since the 19th of March 1830.’ The three-page-long list includes an account during which, on the 28th of September 1830, a Mr G. Scott’s house was ‘attacked by a mob of natives, they speared one man and killed another, the body of whom they threw into the river.’
There had, since 1828, been measures in place to displace the natives from their traditional lands in order to facilitate the expansion of the British settlements. Arthur came to the conclusion that resettlement of the indigenous population to one of Tasmania’s outlying islands was the best option, and felt justified in doing so. The Committee wrote that:
‘what to some may appear the removal of these unfortunate beings from their native land cannot appear harsh; as men, as Christians they can have but one feeling, that of compassion towards their benighted fellow-creatures; and it is the persuasion that such measures alone will have the effect of preventing the calamities which His Majesty’s subjects have for so long a period suffered, and of preventing the entire destruction of the Aborigines themselves.’
This account clearly demonstrates that, forty-five years before Truganini’s death, the British were conscious of the fact that the Tasmanian peoples were at risk of extinction.
Great Island (soon to become Flinders Island) was chosen by the Committee as a suitable location, owing to its inaccessibi. Arthur considered that ‘escape is quite impossible, as is kidnapping by sealers…there is plenty of game, it is possible that the natives may also here pine to return to their native land, but it is imagined that the amusement of hunting would occupy their minds.’ So it transpired that the last home of a homogeneous Tasmanian community was what Robert Hughes called ‘a benign concentration camp’ on Flinders Island. A ten-thousand-year-old culture was sacrificed to accommodate settlers who had arrived just under thirty years ago.
The remaining Aboriginal communities in Van Diemen’s Land still had to be persuaded, or forced, to ‘come-in’ and resettle. The Black Line military campaign, during which armed men sought out any resistant indigenous communities, has been interpreted by some as an attempt at extermination comparable to the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. George Augustus Robinson, a missionary dubbed the ‘evangelical pied piper’ by Robert Hughes, was successful in ‘bringing-in’ some of the most resistant groups. By January 1832 Arthur had written to London that ‘the most sanguinary of the tribes, under the chiefs “Montpeilliatter” and “Tonger Longter”, who have always acted in unison, have at length been conciliated by the friendly mission under Mr.Robinson.’ While official government papers portray this roundup as a reluctant policy carried out with Aboriginal interests in mind, many of the settlers saw it as a license to kill, and violence persisted.
In 1835, the last of the Tasmanians were resettled. On Flinders Island, disease and distress led to rapid population decline, and by 1847 the 47 who remained were resettled in Hobart. Truganini, the last full-blooded Aboriginal Tasmanian, died in 1876. Tasmanian remains became sought-after scientific property as their numbers fell, and were utilised in a number of eugenic studies. The body of the last Tasmanian male, William Lanne, was exhumed for study, while Truganini was displayed in the Hobart Museum until 1947.
Benjamin Madley calls Tasmania ‘probably the most terrifying place in the British Empire a white person could live’, and the settlers focused unapologetically on their own safety and protection of their livelihoods. British practice and policy had failed to provide this protection, and settlers were compelled to take their security into their own hands. This proved catastrophic for the Tasmanian population. Policy also failed, to a much more severe degree, to protect the Tasmanians, who by the time of George Arthur’s plans for resettlement had been galvanised in resistance to a force they felt was intent on the invasion of their land and the eradication of their people. As the extent of the problem revealed itself, attempts at solution were made in desperation, not to save the Tasmanian people as such but rather the reputation of the Empire. The solution would fail, and the memory of Tasmania served to erode any conceptions of the British Imperial benevolence.
The British reaction to this decimation in practice was fuelled largely by a complete misinterpretation of indigenous cultures with regards to connection to ancestral lands, as well as a prevalent sense of inferiority as determined by the imperial racial hierarchy. Moreover, the need from the British to gain from the colony – originally in terms of establishing successful penal settlements, and then to cultivate a self-sustaining white-outpost within the expanding British Empire – vastly outweighed the need for contemporary authorities to accommodate the original inhabitants of that land. What is perhaps most telling in the story is an ambivalence towards the horrors which indigenous Tasmanians were enduring. The overriding fact is that as long as the colony thrived, the British regarded Aboriginal plight as a matter of fact, and, overwhelmingly, simply did not care.
- Niall Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World
- Jared Diamond, ‘Ten Thousand Years of Solitude’
- Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore
- Benjamin Madley, ‘From Terror to Genocide: Britain’s Tasmanian Penal Colony and Australia’s History Wars’
- Runko Rashidi, ‘Black War: The Destruction of the Tasmanian Aborigines’
- Henry Reynolds, Fate of a Free People: A radical re-examination of the Tasmanian Wars
- Keith Windschuttle, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History
- Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre (WSHC), Papers, BB/51, fol. 157, List of Atrocities committed by the Natives since the 19th of March 1830, October 1831
- WSHC, Papers, BB/51, fol. 160, Extracts from the MINUTE of the Aborigines Committee, 28th September 1831
- WSHC, Papers, BB/51, fol. 162, Copy of a Despatch from Lieutenant-Governor Arthur to Viscount Goderich, 7th January 1832
- Photos; Cover Image: http://nla.gov.au/; John Glover Painting: http://nationalunitygovernment.org
In February 2018 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India made headlines following an apparent snub from the Indian Government. The cold-shoulder shown by Modi and his ministers is understood to have stemmed from a long-standing belief that the Canadian Government sympathises with India’s Sikh separatist movement. The ‘Khalistan’ movement, which sees significant support within the international and Canadian Sikh diaspora, is a simmering issue in India. While the widespread unrest of the 1980s has waned in recent years, its discussion within the international media may cause a reawakening. But what exactly is the Khalistan movement, how significant a part has it played in post-independence India, and what future do the separatists have? Continue reading Khalistan: Sikh Separatism in Punjab