This commentary on Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture contextualizes its themes and contribution through engagement with its creative nonfiction form. It places the text within the intellectual trajectory of Indo-Caribbean feminist historiography, highlighting how this literature has long drawn on matrilineal genealogies to examine indentureship, its afterlife, and its significance for contemporary Caribbean feminisms. Critically seen, a focus on mutilated womanhood as individually experienced overshadows decades of Indo-Caribbean women’s empowerment through education and their involvement in associational politics, theater, and publishing. Tracing narratives of Indo-Muslim womanhood also emphasizes significant religious and class differences in participation in public life, suggesting the limitations of Hindu-centered interpretative devices. Coolie Woman exemplifies postindenture or “coolietude” aesthetics otherwise documented in art, performance, and photography. Taking this up, the commentary’s letter form is counterarchival, an imaginative and intergenerational object that cites Bahadur’s techniques of memory work and her provocation to a Western world of publication and criticism.
A Letter to My Great-Grandmother
Gabrielle Jamela Hosein is the head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. Her publications include “No Pure Place for Resistance: Reflections on Being Ms. Mastana Bahar 2000” (2011) and “Modern Navigations: Indo-Trinidadian Girlhood and Gender Differential Creolisation” (2012). She is the coeditor of the anthology Indo-Caribbean Feminist Thought: Genealogies, Theories, Enactments (2016) and is the executive editor of Caribbean Review of Gender Studies.
Gabrielle Jamela Hosein; A Letter to My Great-Grandmother. Small Axe 1 July 2018; 22 (2 (56)): 232–243. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-6985947
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