Thursday, June 17, 2021

Sujit Sivasundaram's "Waves Across the South"

Sujit Sivasundaram is professor of world history and fellow of Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge. He is the author of Islanded: Britain, Sri Lanka and the Bounds of an Indian Ocean Colony.

Sivasundaram applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire, and reported the following:
In writing Waves Across the South, I became engrossed in the history of Mauritius. How could a small island in the southwest Indian ocean be so central and yet so forgotten in the ‘age of revolutions’? Fittingly, page 99 takes you to Mauritius. The year is 1790 and the news of the French Revolution has just arrived. Comte de Conway, the governor of this French colony, summons the commander of the ship on which the news arrived and criticises him for creating tumult. He orders those men who had posted advertisements asking citizens to form themselves into assemblies to be taken into custody. But it is the reverse which occurs: de Conway’s power is hemmed by these so-called citizens, who insist that the governor sports the revolutionary cockade.

In the following pages, I place this upsurge of revolutionary sentiment within an Indian Ocean context, showing that it was fundamentally maritime and also that it had repercussions as far away as in South India, from where Tipu Sultan of Mysore sent an embassy to Mauritius. I also attend to the internal divisions in the revolution of Mauritius: the exclusion of free people of colour from membership of assemblies; the opposition to the abolition of slavery demonstrated by these republicans and, the division between the Jacobin Club and the Colonial Assembly. In a counter-revolutionary act, the British invaded in 1810 and saw Mauritius to be a bastion of piracy and republicanism.

Page 99 gives a good sense of what the events of the age of revolution looked like in a particular place in the global oceanic south. The book ranges across a large number of other sites which are like Mauritius. They too have been lost in the history of the age of revolutions and it is critical to make space for them now. Page 102 has this quotation from the abolitionist John Jeremie: ‘Mauritius from its isolated position, has always cherished false ideas of importance and independence; and its inhabitants succeeded … in setting at defiance the whole power of France.’ In fact he was right, but it is true not only for Mauritius. This was the case for many sea-facing and sea-faring communities in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, who feature in my book and who have not featured in the historical literature of the age of revolutions until now.
Learn more about Waves Across the South at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue