Accepted Paper:

"It remains alive": Wood, Paper, and Lakaz Kreol  


Mairi O'Gorman (The University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

In Seychelles, Creole identity is represented not as hybrid and modern, but as fixed and oriented towards tradition. This conservative morality is produced through materiality of the "traditional Creole house", which, as a wooden artefact, is both fixed and capable of regeneration.

Paper long abstract:

Discourses of indigeneity would appear to have little relevance to the ethnically heterogeneous population of the Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles. Yet despite the fact that the islands were uninhabited until the arrival of European settlers and enslaved Africans in the 18th century, many present-day Seychellois do not represent Creole identity as hybrid or fluid. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in 2016, I argue that being Creole is represented by Seychellois as geographically and materially fixed, located in a particular relationship with the natural world, plants and trees. At the centre of this relationship is the idealised "traditional house" which, being wooden, contains both fixity and the potential for regeneration. It is on the basis of this fixity that Seychellois are able to participate in broader global discourses of indigenous and traditional knowledge.

In Seychelles, lakaz Kreol (the Creole house) is rendered a cultural artefact by state actors working within the field of national heritage. The house is reproduced in large-scale reconstructions, in miniature, and in art. It was characterised by interlocutors as a better and healthier dwelling for human inhabitants than a modern building, generative of "Creole values" and morality, because wood is a "living" material. The grann kaz (plantation house) was upheld as the apotheosis of this form, despite its centrality to processes of violence, coercion and domination. This paper will argue that the aestheticization of the past, and Creole values, is made possible through the simultaneous durability and mutability of wood and paper.

Panel P028
Mutable Materialities of Indigenous Ways of Life