The Legacy of Indentured Labor

Reference work entry


This chapter will present and discuss the system of indentured labor established by the British Empire during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a new form of labor acquisition for the colonies. The indentured labor system was created in response to the British Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833. This chapter will outline the nature of the indentured labor system, why it was started, and how it functioned. It will then examine how such a migrant labor system impacted upon both the migrants and receiving colonies, paying particular attention to the notion of ethnicity and the development of multiethnic communities. Mauritius is one such host society that dramatically changed due to the impact of indentured labor migrants arriving on its shores; it will therefore serve as a useful case study to examine the significant role indentured labor has played in the formation of Mauritian society today.


Indentured labor Indo-Mauritian Plural society Multiethnic Ethnicity and diversity Indian ancestry Labor migration 


  1. Addison J, Hazareesingh K (1984) A new history of Mauritius. Editions de l'Ocean Indien, StanleyGoogle Scholar
  2. Allen RB (1999) Slaves, Freedmen, and indentured laborers in colonial Mauritius. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  3. Allen RB (2002) Maroonage and its legacy in Mauritius and in the colonial plantation world. Outre-Mers. Revue d'histoire 336(/337):131–152Google Scholar
  4. Anderson C (2009) Convicts and coolies: rethinking indentured labour in the nineteenth century. Slavery Abolition 30(1):93–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boswell R (2005) Unravelling Le malaise creole: hybridity and marginalisation in Mauritius. Identities 12(2):195–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boswell R (2006) Le malaise creole: ethnic identity in Mauritius. Berghahn, New York, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Bunwaree S (2002) Economics, conflicts and interculturality in a small island state: the case of Mauritius. Polis 9(1):1–19Google Scholar
  8. Carter M (1992) The family under indenture: a mauritian case study. J Mauritian Stud 4(1):1–21Google Scholar
  9. Carter M (1995) Servants, sirdars and settlers, Indians in Mauritius 1834/1874. Oxford University Press, DelhiGoogle Scholar
  10. Carter M (1996) Voices from Indenture: experiences of Indian migrants in the British Empire. Leicester University Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  11. Chowriamah M (2010) Preserving a multidimensional heritage in a plural society. J Mauritian Stud 5(Special Edition):91–101Google Scholar
  12. Christopher AJ (2005) Race and the census in the commonwealth. Population, Space and Place. 11:103–118Google Scholar
  13. Claveyrolas M (2016) The land of the Vaish? Caste Structure and Ideology in Mauritius. South Asian Multidisciplinary Academic Journal (online) (Free-Standing Articles)Google Scholar
  14. Couacaud L (2013) Recognising Mauritius's unique heritage: the relevance of estate temples and shrines. Angage: Post Independence Mauritius 3:135–155Google Scholar
  15. Eisenlohr P (2004) Temporalities of community: ancestral language, pilgrimage, and diasporic belonging in Mauritius. J Linguist Anthropol 14(1):81–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Eisenlohr P (2006) Little India. Diaspora, time, and ethnolinguistic belonging in Hindu Mauritius, 1st edn. Los Angeles. University Of California Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. Eisenlohr P (2011) Religious media, devotional Islam, and the morality of ethnic pluralism in Mauritius. World Dev 39(2):261–269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Erikson TH (1993) Us and them in modern societies: ethnicity and nationalism in Mauritius Trinidad and beyond. Scandinavian University Press, OsloGoogle Scholar
  19. Erikson TH (1997) Tensions between the ethnic and the post-ethnic. In: Vermeulen H, Govers C (eds) The politics of ethnic consciousness. Macmillan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  20. Erikson TH (1998) Common denominators: ethnicity, nation building and compromise in Mauritius. Berg, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  21. Erikson (2001) Small places large issues: an introduction to social and cultural anthropology. London, Virginia: Pluto PressGoogle Scholar
  22. Erikson TH (2012) Ethnicity and nationalism: anthropological perspectives (anthropology, culture and society), 3rd edn. Pluto Press, London/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Grieco EM (1998) The effects of migration on the establishment of networks: caste disintegration and reformation among the Indians of Fiji. Int Migr Rev 32(3):704–736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hempel LM (2009) Power, wealth and common identity: access to resources and ethnic identification in a plural society. Ethn Racial Stud 32(3):460–489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hirsch M (1997) Family frames: photography narrative and postmemory. Harvard University Press, Cambridge/LondonGoogle Scholar
  26. Hollup O (1994) The disintegration of caste and changing concepts of Indian ethnic identity in Mauritius. Ethnology 33(4(Autumn)):297–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Knotter A (2015) Migration and ethnicity in coalfield history: global perspectives. IRSH 60(Special Issue):13–39Google Scholar
  28. Lal B (1998) Understanding the Indian indenture experience. South Asia J South Asian Stud 21(s1):215–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mauritian Government (2011) National Census. Statistics, ed, vol 2. Mauritian Government, MauritiusGoogle Scholar
  30. Mehta SR (1995) Power dynamics of Indian immigrants in Mauritius: a study in ethnic relations. Ind Anthropol 25(1):1–11Google Scholar
  31. Mintz SW (1985) Sweetness and power: the place of sugar in modern history. Penguin Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Mishra AK (2009) Indian indentured Labourers in Mauritius: reassessing the ‘new system of slavery’ vs free labour debate. Stud Hist 25(2):229–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nave A (2000) Marriage and the maintenance of ethnic group boundaries: the case of Mauritius. Ethn Racial Stud 23(2):329–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ng Tseung-Wong C, Verkuyten M (2015) Multiculturalism, Mauritian style: cultural diversity, belonging, and a secular state. Am Behav Sci 59(6):679–701CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Peerthum S (2012) A cheap reservoir of mankind for labour: the genesis of the indentured labour system in Mauritius,1826–1843. Angage: explorations into the history. Soc Cult Indentured Immigrants Descendents Mauritius 1:155–178Google Scholar
  36. Peerthum S, Peerthum S (2014) Incorrigible, defiant and determined: vagrants, vagrancy, worker resistance and the function of the Bagne prison during the late 1820’s and 1830’s. In: Hassankhan M, Lal B, Munro D (eds) Resistance and Indian indenture experience: comparative perspectives. Ajay Kumar Jain for Manohar Publishers, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  37. Salverda T (2015) (Dis)unity in diversity: how common beliefs about ethnicity benefit the white Mauritian elite. J Mod Afr Stud 54(4):533–555CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sayers M (2015) The Śrāddha: the development of ancestor worship in classical Hinduism. Religion Compass 9(6):182–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Seetah K (2016) Contextualizing complex social contact: Mauritius, a microcosm of global diaspora. Camb Archaeol J 26/2:265–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Selvam S (2003) Religion and ethnicity in the Indian diaspora: Murugan worship among Tamil-Hindus in Mauritius. J Mauritian Stud 2(1):1–29Google Scholar
  41. Sisisky C (2016) Mauritian Hinduisms and post-colonial religious pluralism in Mauritius. Committee on the study of religion, Harvard University,
  42. Teelock V (2009) Mauritian history: from its beginnings to modern times. Mahatma Gandhi Institute, Moka, Republic of MauritiusGoogle Scholar
  43. The Pluralism Project (2018) Harvard University.
  44. Throsby D (1999) Cultural capital. Journal of Cultural Economy 23:/1 Barc Conf Plenary Papers 23(1):3–12Google Scholar
  45. Tinker H (1974) A new system of slavery: the export of Indian labour overseas, 1830–1920. Oxford University Press, London/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  46. Tiroumalechetty P (2014) Tamil cultural identity in Mauritius: a sociolinguistic perspective. Printed and self published in MauritiusGoogle Scholar
  47. Vaughan M (2006) Creating the Creole Island: slavery in eighteenth-century Mauritius. Itinerario 30(1):109–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Yancey IL, Ericksen EP, Juliana RN (1976) Emergent ethnicity: a review and reformulation. Am Sociol Rev, 41:391–403Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.AnthropologyCanterbury UniversityChristchurchNew Zealand

Section editors and affiliations

  • Lyndon Fraser

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations