The Archaeology of Mauritian Indentured Labor: Social Life and Death

Author(s): Julia Haines

Year: 2018


This paper provides a comparative case study for archaeological studies of slavery and indenture. I investigate the 19th century landscape and material culture of indentured laborers on the Bras d'Eau sugar estate in northeastern Mauritius, Indian Ocean. After emancipation, indentured laborers lived and worked within the same physical plantation landscapes as the enslaved individuals who came before them. However, Asian indentured laborers in Mauritius were immigrants and migrants: one-third returned to their homeland at the end of their five-year contracts and the other two-thirds remained on the island and eventually became the demographic majority. In spite of the relatively shallow period of occupation in Bras d’Eau, indentured laborers left a material imprint on the landscape. Mapping and excavations of industrial building, laborers’ barracks, houses, and courtyards revealed possible Southeast Asian roots in the spatial organization of the living quarter and artifacts of mixed Asian, Indian and European origins. To better understand this particular context of unfree labor, I bring Patterson's conception of "slavery as social death" into conversation with literatures on transnational identities and migrations. These two theoretical perspectives frame indentured laborers’ material practices as the processes of social life that emerge out of processes of social death.

Cite this Record

The Archaeology of Mauritian Indentured Labor: Social Life and Death. Julia Haines. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 445267)

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Abstract Id(s): 20514