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Safeguarding sega: transmission, inscription, and appropriation of Chagossian intangible cultural heritage


 By:  Dr Laura Jeffrey (Senior Lecturer, Social Anthropology; Associate Dean (Research Ethics), College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences; Director, Arts and Humanities Research Council project “CHAGOS: Cultural Heritage Across Generations”, University of Edinburgh, UK)

Date: Wednesday 18 April 2018

Time: 14 00 – 15 00.

Venue: LT 1, New Academic Complex

Organised by: Research Group for IndianOceanic Studies in the Humanities (REGIOSH), FSSH, UoM

Contact Person: Dr F. Khoyratty (faksk@uom.ac.mu)

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Abstract: Throughout the four decades since forced displacement from the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius and Seychelles, the transmission of cultural knowledge and artisanal skills has been a challenge for the Chagossian community due to geographical dispersal and a chronic lack of cultural, social, and economic capital. This paper explores two related efforts to transmit and inscribe Chagossian knowledge and practices in the context of the challenges of displacement, focusing on sega, a genre of music and dance originating in Indian Ocean islands. The first is the nomination of Chagossian sega to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, a process supported by the Mauritian government. The second is a series of heritage transmission workshops in the UK and Mauritius involving elders and members of the younger generations, and an open access website hosting instructive materials from the workshops, facilitated by our AHRC project. We deploy a critical heritage studies approach which sees heritage as both a state-sanctioned version of history used to regulate present social tensions, and a resource for self-definition and validation used by subaltern groups. We show that safeguarding sega¹ is a mixed blessing: while it offers the possibility of political, social and financial gains such as increased legitimacy, strengthened communal identity, and funding for cultural activities, it also carries the risk of a loss of control over community knowledge and a compounded sense of disempowerment.