The depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago: guardians of culture, tradition and the stability of the home

The islands were ‘swept and sanitised’. An albatross/ was spared, and the order given: ‘…a few man fridays...must go’.

Saradha Soobrayen
12 December 2016

Chagossian protesters outside 10 Downing Street (Photo: Saradha Soobrayen)

Extract from Sounds Like Root Shock’: a poetic inquiry into the depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago.


Guardians of culture, tradition and the stability of the home


'Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby.’


In her deepest sleep, Madam Lisette Talate returns to Chagos,

leaving the Mauritian slums, where so many continue to follow


her example, standing in protest against the lies and chaos                            

orchestrated by the officials, who claimed there were no


indigenous people on Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos,

none on the sibling islands of Salomon, Egmont, and so


the islands were  ‘swept and sanitised’. An albatross

was spared, and the order given: ‘…a few man fridays...must go’.


The slave ancestors who fished, loved and prayed across

the centuries, the generations who dried the copra, coco,


extracting oil from the kernel of the nut, even the boss

of the copra plantation struggled to see over the rainbow.


On the main island of Diego Garcia, the US base, Camp Justice

squats. The Chagossians are still chanting, ‘Rann nu Diego’


thirty, forty years later, fighting for the right to return. Their loss

is unimaginable, these guardians of the Chagos Archipelago


Their homecoming is not yet out of reach, not yet out of sight


‘Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home, a long way from home ’


The Archipelago is not where one man lived but is where

they all remember living. Remembering is like that.


Memory—a sliding door between adjoining rooms,

old and young Chagos hearts, co-habiting.


What were the last things you remember?

The man appears wide-eyed. Only 4 or 5 years old.


Every time he slides out a memory, a child slips back,

and boards the boat. The man considers what the child


knew then—the forced removal—the longing to return.

The Archipelago remembers him as a boy and each generation


is charged to remember the Archipelago. The past is tidal

in their minds or shall I say in their souls while the land waits


to recover the older selves, tonton, tantinn, gran-per, gran-mer,

a dying community, separated by unseen things, spirit from sea,


hope from land and yet united by wishful thinking, mouth

by mouth, their communal truths told in one continuous breath.


‘UK ambassador lobbied senators to hide Diego Garcia role in rendition’


What gives Diego Garcia its unique identity is not where it is situated

geographically – south of the equator, 2200 miles east of the coast


of Africa and 1000 miles south-west of the southern tip of India––

but how it is situated in the minds of the politicians who tell it slant,


circumnavigating the facts and the fiction: ‘embarrassed Miliband

admits two US rendition flights refueled on British soil’––the legal minds


finding joy in metaphor and irony: ‘the land where human rights

hardly ever happened’, Richard Gifford, lawyer for the Chagossians.


Clive Stafford Smith, human rights campaigner: ‘on Diego Garcia

you may be arrested for violating the rights of a Warty Sea Slug…


but no-one will object if you land a plane with a kidnapped, shackled,

hooded man trapped in a coffin shaped box’. Legal expert, Peter H Sands:


‘a legal black hole’—Political Scientist, Peter Harris: ‘reforming Diego Garcia

is entirely within the grasp of those in London. It is high time that action


was taken to do the right thing’—his paper ‘America's Other Guantánamo:

British Foreign Policy and the US Base on Diego Garcia’ telling it simply.



Over the Rainbow, music by Harold Arlen and Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg (1939)

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child from American Negro Spirituals by J. W. Johnson, J. R. Johnson, (1926)

‘UK ambassador lobbied senators to hide Diego Garcia role in rendition’ The Observer, (16 August 2014)

‘Embarrassed Miliband admits two US rendition flights refueled on British soil’ Guardian, (22 February 2008)

Peter Harris. America's Other Guantánamo: British Foreign Policy and the US Base on Diego Garcia’© The Author 2015.

The Political Quarterly © The Political Quarterly Publishing Co. Ltd. 2015 Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA

Extract of ‘Sounds Like Root Shock’ originally published in the Long Poem Magazine Issue 14, Autumn 2015


See website for more information about forthcoming Chagos Support activities including a protest at the Foreign Office in London which will take place from 10am-5pm on 16 December 2016. 

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