G – Patterns of integration and transregional dynamics in and across empires

Confronting empire: Indigenous biographies and the global

Event Details

  • Date

    Thursday, 25 June - 13:00 – 15:00

    Thursday, 25 June - 15:30 – 17:30

  • Venue
    tba
  • Theme
    G – Patterns of integration and transregional dynamics in and across empires
Convenor
  • Stephanie Mawson (University of Cambridge)
  • James Wilson (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)
Chair
  • Hatice Yildiz (University of Oxford)
Commentator
  • Sujit Sivasundaram (University of Cambridge)
Panelists
  • Stephanie Mawson (University of Cambridge)
  • Alicia Schrikker (Leiden University)
  • James Wilson (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)
  • Meg Foster (University of New South Wales)
  • Louise Moschetta (University of Cambridge)
  • Martin Dusinberre (University of Zurich)
  • Katherine Roscoe (University of Liverpool)

Papers

  • Stephanie Mawson
    Don Juan and the Subversion of Colonial Hierarchies in Seventeenth Century Manila

    Don Juan and the Subversion of Colonial Hierarchies in Seventeenth Century Manila

    In 1606, the Spanish invaded the Moluccan islands of Ternate and Tidore with the intention of conquering their populations and seizing control of the spice trade. At the end of a long battle, the Ternatens finally sued for peace. As a way of demolishing local power structures, the Spanish took 24 Ternaten nobles captive, including Sultan Saide Burey. These captives were taken back to Manila where they were kept as hostages for the next several decades. Until recently very little was known about their lives in captivity. However, inquisition records reveal that these Ternaten nobles developed a thriving business as herbolarios and hechiceras, providing the Spanish community with many of its love and luck charms as well as other, more sinister occult needs. One Ternaten noble in particular, known as ‘Don Juan’, became the most infamous of all of Manila’s herbalists and sorcerers. This paper will use his story as a framework for examining the role of knowledge hybridity and cultural mestizaje in early seventeenth century Manila. In his role as herbolario, Don Juan found a new manifestation of power which he used effectively for three decades to subvert colonial racial hierarchies and overcome the limitations of his life in captivity.
  • Alicia Schrikker
    Eighteenth century lives, from the fringes of the Dutch East India Company

    Eighteenth century lives, from the fringes of the Dutch East India Company

    During the near-two hundred years of its operation, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) set up a great number of legal and religious institutions in various regions across the Indian Ocean. These institutions, carrying typical Dutch names such as Kerkenraad (church council) or Schepenbank (bench of aldermen) in practice these were hybrid institutions as were the laws and norms that guided their operation. These kind of institutions were set up by the Dutch to exert social control and to facilitate revenue and labor extraction, however the local population also made active use of these institutions. It sought, for example, mediation in family feuds or conflicts over business transactions. Who were these people, and what were their concerns? The VOC archives, scattered over various archival institutions in Asia and The Netherlands, contain a wealth of information about individuals and families who were involved in such conflicts. In this paper I will present the project “colonialism inside out”, in which Dutch legal, parish and census records generated by the VOC stand central. I will explain how we shift the focus on the users of the institutions, mostly women and men of local origin, and try to reconstruct eighteenth century life in the region from the fringes of the VOC empire. The emphasis will be on Sri Lanka, but examples from the Indonesian Archipelago will be used alongside it.
  • James Wilson
    Abolition and indigeneity in Sri Lanka’s age of reforms, c.1810-40

    Abolition and indigeneity in Sri Lanka’s age of reforms, c.1810-40

    In 1816, the British abolished chattel slavery in the coastal provinces of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The move was supported by Lankans including local officials and high-ranking community figures, who were largely slave owners. For colonists, the motivations of these Lankans were seemingly obvious: seeking respectability in an age of reforms, the Lankans were said to have supported anti-slavery because they desired advancement as members of colonial society. Their actions contrast with those of a group of adigars (governors) from the Kandyan provinces, in the island’s interior, twenty years later. The British sought the abolition of rajakariya – a form of forced labour derived from Kandyan kings – while the disavas chose resistance. Read as commentaries on empire, these events reflect varied responses to imperial encroachment, with slavery and forced labour a theatre of conflict between proponents of colonial modernity and their detractors. They also fit into a common narrative of the rise of abolition, in which indigenous people are cast as slavery’s obsolescent sponsors. Conversely, this paper uses the biographies of two key figures in these events – the coastal administrator Joseph Rodrigo and the Kandyan adigar Mulligama – to show how debates over slavery and labour became fertile ground for people to subvert power structures and exploit rivalries among the British, Dutch, and French empires through the global exchange and uptake of knowledge. In so doing, this paper argues for a narrative of the rise of abolition that upsets colonial paradigms and brings indigenous politics and practices into view.
  • Meg Foster
    Indigeneity in Fact and Legend: Colonial mythmaking and the case of Mary Ann Bugg

    Indigeneity in Fact and Legend: Colonial mythmaking and the case of Mary Ann Bugg

    In colonial Australia, race was the dominant lens through which Aboriginal people were viewed by British settlers. Colonial preconceptions about Aboriginal people’s ‘primordial traits’, ‘inherent backwardness’ and ‘savage nature’ were used to interpret their actions and create policy that structured Aboriginal people’s lives. For colonial understandings about race to be maintained, colonists blatantly disregarded evidence that conflicted with their views, however, they did not have a monopoly on public representation. From the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, Aboriginal people were increasingly aware of colonial prejudices and expectations, and used them to their own ends. This can be seen nowhere more clearly than in the case of Worimi Aboriginal woman Mary Ann Bugg. Mary Ann was born in 1834 to a Worimi Aboriginal mother and white convict father, although it was not until the 1860s the she became infamous as the partner of a white bandit named Frederick Ward, alias Captain Thunderbolt. From 1863-67, Mary Ann accompanied Ward throughout New South Wales, acting as his scout, informer, lover and confidante. There is also evidence to suggest that she took part in the robberies herself. This paper examines the tension between myth and reality in Mary Ann’s vagrancy trial in 1866, as well as her cultivation of her own mythos later in life. In so doing, it not only examines how race, gender and criminality intersected in Mary Ann’s life, but her strident attempts to shape her public persona for her own ends. It brings into stark relief the fact that colonial representations of Aboriginal people’s lives were not beholden to the views of the colonisers, but could be shaped and cultivated by Aboriginal people themselves.
  • Louise Moschetta
    Amerindian slave catchers and “Hill Coolies”: intersecting indigeneity in British Guiana during the age of abolition

    Amerindian slave catchers and “Hill Coolies”: intersecting indigeneity in British Guiana during the age of abolition

    On the 5th May 1838, just as the last vestige of slavery came to an end in British Guiana, the privately-funded Whitby and Hesperus docked at Georgetown with 396 migrants from the Chotanagpur plateau in Eastern India. These migrants, identified by merchants and recruiters as ‘Hill Coolies’, were destined to be labourers on the sugar plantations of John, father of William, Gladstone, as well as other planters with commercial interests and ties to South Asia and sugar plantations in British Guiana. The emphasis on the regional provenance of these future sugar workers, as migrants from remote indigenous communities in present-day Jharkhand, cast them within the colonial taxonomy of primitiveness and ignorance, characteristics particularly useful for domination and subjugation. This migration coincided with a grappling in British Guiana of its own indigenous communities, identified with similar characteristics, and the loss with abolition of their role as runaway slave catchers. This paper will juxtapose simultaneous indigenous biographies, from both ‘Hill Coolies’ and Amerinidian peoples, and their relationship to colonial domination on and around the plantation during the age of abolition in British Guiana. In doing so, it will move beyond questions of creolisation to that of competing colonial subjectivities and political solidarity among subject communities in oppressive labour systems.
  • Martin Dusinberre
    Japanese Fishermen as Colonial Agents in late-nineteenth century Queensland

    Japanese Fishermen as Colonial Agents in late-nineteenth century Queensland

    In his 2003 essay on ‘Globalising Aboriginal Reconciliation’, the late Minoru Hokari called for more research to be conducted on the issue of Asian (particularly Japanese) migrants who acted as ‘colonial agents’ in late-nineteenth century Australia. This paper takes up Hokari’s provocation by studying a little-known murder-massacre from northern Queensland in the 1890s. The first victims were a couple of Japanese beche-de-mer fishermen, two individuals whose brief lives my paper attempts to reconstruct. Their names survive in the Tokyo and Brisbane archives; but their killers, who were in turn massacred by the British colonial police, are unnamed. By interrogating which aspects of this story survive in the archives and which do not—or equally: who counted as an ‘individual’ and who did not—my paper will examine the embedded imperial practices of Britain, Japan and Germany in northern Queensland on the eve of the Sino-Japanese war (1894-95). What ‘empire’ did Aboriginal peoples imagine they were confronting in the British colony’s coastal waters? To what extent were the Japanese themselves ‘indigenous’ actors in this story? And what might it mean for the writing of global history to narrate this particular case on indigenous terms?
  • Katherine Roscoe
    Criminalizing Indigeneity: Telling Aboriginal Life-Stories using Colonial Prison Records

    Criminalizing Indigeneity: Telling Aboriginal Life-Stories using Colonial Prison Records

    Aboriginal people are vastly overrepresented in custody: though they make up just 2% of the general population in Australia, they constitute 25% of prisoners. This is a legacy of colonial policies which created exceptional, discriminatory legislation that rendered Aboriginal people’s resistance to the invasion of their lands into ‘crimes’. Yet, rarely have the prison records generated by such government interventions been used to analyse the ‘life-courses’ of Aboriginal prisoners, in the same way we have for European convicts in Australia (Johnston, Cox & Godfrey, 2016; Maxwell-Stewart, 2016). This paper asks how we can ‘decolonise’ the criminal-judicial archive, using records relating to Wadjemup/Rottnest Island (Western Australia), the first colonial prison solely for Aboriginal men which operated between 1839-1931. It discusses three ways in which state archives enacted violence and erased ‘Indigeneity’ in the Western Australian context: (1) misnaming and misidentification of the ‘country’ of Aboriginal prisoners (2) criminalisation of ways of life as Aboriginal people were convicted as ‘subjects’ under British law, without being offered protections of ‘citizenship’; (3) the mass-sentencing of Aboriginal community members, through exceptional legislation. In the second half, I argue that these recordsets can be used to create prisoners’ life-stories, contextualising ‘crimes’ within the context of dispossession and racial discrimination through settler-colonialism. Witness statements, in particular, offer a rare opportunity to hear first-hand testimony by Aboriginal people. These accounts demonstrate how Indigenous people caught up in the criminal-justice system both resisted and adapted to it, using a combination of customary and colonial law to mediate disputes and performing as ‘civilised natives’ to seek mercy from the colonial state. These life-stories offer nuanced perspectives on how the settler-colonial state marginalised Indigenous people and how these strategies of exclusion shaped individual lives in ways that reverberated out to historical communities and continues to do so today.

Abstract

This double panel determinedly foregrounds Indigenous peoples in global history at a time where the global turn is often critiqued for displacing the individual and for focussing on agent-less processes of transformation such as capitalism, industrialisation or imperialism. If individuals are often lost from view, this is even more acute for the stories of indigenous peoples, given that their voices do not easily reside in colonial documents and imagery and are not easily revealed to the historian trained in empiricist Western historiography. The double panel moves across a wide range of regions and across the early modern and the modern. It does not take ‘indigeneity’ as strictly defined: the concept isn’t applied only and primarily to the indigenous peoples who faced settlement colonialism. At the same time, the speakers don’t take ‘indigeneity’ as a flat concept but rather one that was creatively reinvented for use by those who resisted, faced and responded to empire. While individuals are in the foreground, the double panel takes up some of the most innovative theoretical approaches on empire today, by working from these biographies to the violence, silencing acts and power dynamics of a series of imperial annexations and encounters. At the same time, the double panel approaches the key word of ‘global’ as a space which was experienced and contemplated by indigenous peoples even as colonists sought to cast it as central to imperial definitions. In all of these ways, the double panel opens up a discussion of methods, sources and approaches for a vibrant area of criticism and debate in wider world historiography today. In all of this, it moves from biography and the micro to empire and the global as macro.