Settlers in one place, not settlers in another: Karin Elizabeth Speedy, ‘Transformative Mobilities and the Non-dit: Constructing Whiteness Across Two French Colonial Spaces’, Open Library of Humanities, 3, 2, 2017


Abstract: Between 1860 and 1890, several thousand migrants from Reunion Island settled in New Caledonia. Most were fleeing poverty after the collapse of the sugar industry. While local legend has it that these settlers comprised a handful of rich, white planters and a contingent of Indian coolies, recent research into this group has demonstrated that the migration was on a far greater scale and was racially and socially diverse. Indeed, most Reunionese migrants, both indentured and free, were of African, Malagasy or Creole ancestry. They had either been slaves themselves or were the descendants of slaves in Reunion. Welcomed by a new colony that was desperate for settlers and workers, the racial and social characteristics of these new French citizens were erased as was their presence in the New Caledonian historical narrative. The tradition of the non-dit (the unsaid or unspoken) teamed with French social structures and the needs of a settler colonial society facilitated this disappearing act as descendants melded into the local white settler population. Yet, there were cracks in this colonial whitewash (photographs, recipes, language, songs), traces of a hidden black migration to the Pacific. With reference to these traces and artefacts, and drawing on oral histories of descendants, I highlight in this article some of the voices, faces and stories of these settlers, while reflecting on their social transformation and the extent of their agency in constructing their whiteness in New Caledonia.

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