Cover image for Coolie woman : the odyssey of indenture
Title:
Coolie woman : the odyssey of indenture
Author:
Bahadur, Gaiutra, 1975- , author.
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2014]
Physical Description:
xxi, 274 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Summary:
"In 1903, a young woman sailed from India to Guiana as a 'coolie'--the British name for indentured laborers who replaced the newly emancipated slaves on sugar plantations all around the world. Pregnant and traveling alone, this woman, like so many coolies, disappeared into history. Now, in Coolie Woman, her great-granddaughter Gaiutra Bahadur embarks on a journey into the past to find her. Traversing three continents and trawling through countless colonial archives, Bahadur excavates not only her great-grandmother's story but also the repressed history of some quarter of a million other coolie women, shining a light on their complex lives. Shunned by society, and sometimes in mortal danger, many coolie women were either runaways, widows, or outcasts. Many of them left husbands and families behind to migrate alone in epic sea voyages--traumatic 'middle passages'--only to face a life of hard labor, dismal living conditions, and, especially, sexual exploitation. As Bahadur explains, however, it is precisely their sexuality that makes coolie women stand out as figures in history. Greatly outnumbered by men, they were able to use sex with their overseers to gain various advantages, an act that often incited fatal retaliations from coolie men and sometimes larger uprisings of laborers against their overlords. Complex and unpredictable, sex was nevertheless a powerful tool. Examining this and many other facets of these remarkable women's lives, Coolie Woman is a meditation on survival, a gripping story of a double diaspora--from India to the West Indies in one century, Guyana to the United States in the next--that is at once a search for one's roots and an exploration of gender and power, peril and opportunity"--Publisher description.
General Note:
"Published by arrangement with C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) London"--Title page verso.
Language:
English
Contents:
The magician's box -- Ancestral memory -- The women's quarters -- Into dark waters -- Her middle passage -- A new world -- Beautiful woman without a nose -- Gone but not forgotten -- The dream of return -- Every ancestor -- Surviving history.
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780226034423

9780226211381
Format :
Book

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HD4875.G95 B34 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

In 1903, a young woman sailed from India to Guiana as a "coolie"--the British name for indentured laborers who replaced the newly emancipated slaves on sugar plantations all around the world. Pregnant and traveling alone, this woman, like so many coolies, disappeared into history. In Coolie Woman --shortlisted for the 2014 Orwell Prize--her great-granddaughter Gaiutra Bahadur embarks on a journey into the past to find her. Traversing three continents and trawling through countless colonial archives, Bahadur excavates not only her great-grandmother's story but also the repressed history of some quarter of a million other coolie women, shining a light on their complex lives.
Shunned by society, and sometimes in mortal danger, many coolie women were either runaways, widows, or outcasts. Many of them left husbands and families behind to migrate alone in epic sea voyages--traumatic "middle passages"--only to face a life of hard labor, dismal living conditions, and, especially, sexual exploitation. As Bahadur explains, however, it is precisely their sexuality that makes coolie women stand out as figures in history. Greatly outnumbered by men, they were able to use sex with their overseers to gain various advantages, an act that often incited fatal retaliations from coolie men and sometimes larger uprisings of laborers against their overlords. Complex and unpredictable, sex was nevertheless a powerful tool.

Examining this and many other facets of these remarkable women's lives, Coolie Woman is a meditation on survival, a gripping story of a double diaspora--from India to the West Indies in one century, Guyana to the United States in the next--that is at once a search for one's roots and an exploration of gender and power, peril and opportunity.


Author Notes

Gaiutra Bahadur is a journalist and book critic whose work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review , the Washington Post , Ms. , and the Nation , among other publications.


Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Guyana-born U.S. journalist Bahadur has written a masterly chronicle of the lives of "coolie women" (and also "coolie men"), indentured laborers who were transported from India to the Caribbean from 1838 (i.e., after slavery was outlawed in the British Empire) to 1920, by which time such indentures had ceased. The work focuses on the author's great-grandmother, who, pregnant and alone, sailed from Calcutta to Georgetown, Guyana (formerly British Guiana), in 1903. Bahadur sheds light on the subaltern lives of these women: their recruitment in India, their middle passages, their struggles to survive in the new world. The stories are both poignant and horrific: abuse, promiscuity, rape, mutilation, cuckoldry, and murder abound (according to Bahadur, this legacy still survives in Guyana), owing to the shortage of women and the double struggle between "men and women, colonizer and colonized." The author investigates the lives of the Scottish supervisors on the sugar plantations and their complicated relationships with the coolie women. Bahadur's extensive research draws from archival material, historical records, primary and oral sources, family history, fiction, and poetry. VERDICT This spellbinding account of a story that needed to be told is highly recommended.-Ravi Shenoy, Naperville, IL (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.