Tree of knowledge, tree of life: materials, intimacy and being Creole in London and Seychelles
O'Gorman, Mairi Stella
This thesis interrogates discourses of kreolite (Creoleness) in the small island state of Seychelles, and among the Seychellois diaspora in London. While the literature on creolization often treats it as mobile and processual, transgressing the boundaries of the nation-state, for Seychellois in both places being Afro-Creole is underpinned by an idea of rootedness and tradition. Throughout the chapters, the thesis explores how relationships predicated on movement and variation can be accommodated within this understanding of kreolite, and how intersecting scales of national and familial intimacy are constituted by engagements with particular objects and materials. The chapters examine the arborescent imagery central to kreolite at the level of the nation-state, arguing that in Seychelles these must be understood in terms of plantation – as the central institution around which ‘traditional’ Creole life was historically centred, and as a process that implies the rooting of persons in the islands. The legacy of the plantation engenders particular relationships with land and property, the house and its contents, and inside and outside spaces that are understood by Seychellois in terms of a general tendency of living things to regenerate themselves. This regenerative capacity is extended by state actors – especially those working within cultural heritage and adjacent fields – beyond everyday objects, to include the nation. The Creole house, in particular, emerges as a central object of attention for cultural heritage practitioners, bringing together idealised notions of nation, family and gendered behaviour whilst, through its materiality, functioning as a point at which the negative aspects of intimacy (both mundane and occult) are operative. Through engaging the literature on material culture, the chapters show how the racialized notion of property on which the institution of the plantation was based informs present-day encounters with objects and artefacts among Seychellois artists, heritage practitioners, educators, and families. Treating these encounters as intimate ones, I show the ways that objects and materials are unruly, divergent, or accommodate meanings other than those endorsed by state-led conceptions of Seychellois heritage. Together, the chapters argue that it is the specific qualities of particular materials that constitute Creoleness at familial, national and transnational scales. It thus engages broader questions about the material qualities of national and racial imaginaries, and the role of historicity and culture concepts in naturalising them.