Academic articles take forever to come out. I have one due to be published shortly (touch wood) based on the oral histories of the Aymard and Elphège families, descendants of mixed race migrants from Reunion Island (Indian Ocean French sugar colony) who settled in New Caledonia in the 1870s. The Reunionese had been enticed to New Caledonia to help set up the fledgling sugar industry that local administrators hoped would supply sugar to the region. They were mostly former slaves or free people of colour (of mixed African, Malagasy and French origin) who had become impoverished after the sugar industry collapse in Reunion. Most entered New Caledonia as French citizens, a status bestowed upon them on emancipation
Despite their freedom and citizenship, many of the formerly enslaved Reunionese remained on the outer limits of society in Reunion. Facing increasing destitution as the sugar industry went bust, a move to a new colony was an opportunity to start afresh for them. The division of New Caledonian society into free settlers, convicts, indentured labourers and indigenous people (free, unfree, and indigenous), allowed all Reunionese, somewhat serendipitously, as French citizens, to enjoy their social status as part of the white settler population. In New Caledonia, the blacks were the indigenous Kanak. They were assigned inferior social status and were subject to extreme prejudice born of 19th-century scientific racism and the exigencies of settler colonialism. In this climate, the tradition of the non-dit (the unsaid) in New Caledonia assisted the Reunionese to negotiate their new settler whiteness while enabling the colonial administration to populate/occupy the land with French citizens; the silence and silencing allowing for the emergence of a settler colonial narrative centring on the white settler/black Indigenous binary.
Despite the deliberate masking of the past, cultural practices, family stories and artefacts were passed on even if this was done behind closed doors. This poem imagines the journeys of those who transitioned from the oppressed in one colonial space to a position more akin to oppressor in a new one.
a certain coziness
west to east
north to south
black to almost
in shackled flesh
the frothy skirts
of settler society
served with kari
A new beginning
a second chance
a new family
© Karin Speedy 2016
My dear friend and colleague Alice Te Punga Somerville and I coined the phrase “all roads lead to Joubert” after almost every research project I undertook seemed to involve in some way, shape or form Didier Numa Joubert. Whether he was obtaining land from the New Caledonian governor for sugar plantations (land seized/stolen from local Kanak after they fled from colonial persecution following the killing of the settler Berard), organising a blackbirding expedition to the Pacific to furnish Reunionese sugar planters with slave labour or bringing Pacific Islanders into Sydney to work for the Marists, Didier was seemingly everywhere in and across the Pacific and Indian Oceans and Sydney in the second half of the 19th century.*
My research has mostly focused on the stories of those silenced or subdued by the exploits of men like Joubert and, while I am loathe to thrust yet another white colonial male into the limelight, I admit that he, the person, has intrigued me. I wondered what this trans-imperial man with his fingers in so many commercial pies, a man who seemed to be at the forefront of every opportunity for capitalist exploitation in the region, could have been like.
The Joubert file in the State Archives in Sydney contains information on the property speculation the Joubert family undertook in Hunters Hill and financial documents ad infinitum. It tells us very little about Didier and his family save they were very interested in the accumulation of money. The Joubert file in the Hunters Hill Museum, however, includes much more family history. Perhaps the most striking finds for me were the images, the portraits of this man. They seemed to speak, to reveal something of the character of this person who was part of Sydney high society despite the numerous scandals that he apparently shook off without too much trouble. On the way home from the archive, his pictures stored on my phone, a poem began to take shape. And this is what eventually emerged…
serious, rather dour
that you sat for
eyes averted and comfortably bourgeois
or the stouter
Speedy, Karin. 2008. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire: Reunionese immigrants and the sugar industry in nineteenth-century New Caledonia”, New Zealand Journal of French Studies, 29.2, 5-19.
Speedy, Karin. 2015. “The Sutton Case: the First Franco-Australian Foray into Blackbirding”, The Journal of Pacific History, 50, no. 3, 344-364.
Speedy, Karin. 2016. “Constructing Subaltern Silence in the Colonial Archive”, Journal of Australian Colonial History, 18, 95-114.
Call for Abstracts for a Special Issue of Francosphères
Interconnections and Mobilities: the Pacific Francosphere
Within nationalist, border-focused frameworks, the Francophone Pacific has been painted as isolated and cut-off from its neighbours due to its linguistic difference. However, French-speaking islands have long established Indigenous connections with other sites and peoples both outside of and within the Pacific. These ancestral and historical connections, often linked to widespread ocean-going mobilities, continued throughout the colonial era and were important in the shaping of populations, cultures, languages and relationships in the region. While these links have been somewhat eroded by the uncompromising imperatives of nation-building, there has been increasing interest in rediscovering and reviving these connections and creating new pathways of exchange between linguistically diverse Pacific spaces.
This special issue of Francosphères invites contributions that reflect critically on the Pacific Francosphere as part of a dynamic, interconnected, transcultural space of moving bodies, ideas and texts. How do Francophone islands connect/intersect with each other, with other Indigenous, Anglophone or Hispanophone spaces in the region or with other Francospheres beyond the Pacific?
In the first instance, we are calling for 250-300 word abstracts for papers in English or French that engage with the theme of this special issue. Please email your abstract and brief bio to the Guest Editor, Associate Professor Karin Speedy, Macquarie University, Sydney: firstname.lastname@example.org by 30 June 2016.
If your abstract is selected, you will need to submit a completed 5,000 word article (including bibliography and footnotes) by 30 September 2016. The articles will then proceed to peer review. The special issue will be published in December 2017.
For more information about Francospères, please visit the journal’s website.