The author of Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture, a narrative history about indentured women, discusses researching and narrating the lives of subjects missing, at least in their own words, from the archives. She reflects on the possibilities of the personal and the present, along with alternative oral and visual sources, as strategies for navigating elisions and biases in the written records of the past. She also argues for the present as justification for working with incomplete and biased archives. The essay draws parallels between African storytelling in the Americas and Indo-Caribbean storytelling and claims the twin tropes of the violence of archive and the fictions of the archive, already elaborated in the historiography of slavery, for the context of indenture.
Conjure Women and Coolie Women
Gaiutra Bahadur is a critic, an essayist, and a journalist who has written for the New York Times, Dissent, VQR, the Nation, Ms., Lapham’s Quarterly, the Guardian, and the LARB, among other publications. She is the author of Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture (2013). Her short story “The Stained Veil” appears in the literary collection Go Home! (2018). A preview of her current project, which explores the idea of America through its twentieth-century entanglements with her home country, Guyana, appears in the Australian literary magazine the Griffith Review.