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.