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Nienke Boer. The Briny South: Displacement and Sentiment in the Indian Ocean World

Jonathan Koshy Varghese
Bibliographical reference

Nienke Boer. 2023. The Briny South: Displacement and Sentiment in the Indian Ocean World. Durham and London: Duke University Press. 224 pages.

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“Regimes of official documentation […] are inert remnants, iconic roadmaps to regimes of domination that warp the integrity of the best of men. Such closed-circuited regimes of impoverished testimony produce their experts who in turn produce them.” (Stoler 2009:19)

1All colonial enterprises were regimes of official documentation. Even as colonial enterprises disintegrated, such regimes and the knowledge generated by them came to be fortified through archival practices. To the historian-anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler, such “fortifications” were inherently flawed. The archive, she contends, invariably failed to conceal the contradictions that typified archival practices. Stoler conceptualized her ideas by studying the archives of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC).

  • 1 Both Toer and Stoler are engaging with the official archives of the Dutch colonial state. Nonethele (...)

2In Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (2009), she inaugurates her critique of the archive by referencing the Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s well-known novel, the House of Glass (1988). Toer’s novel was arguably conceived of as a critique of Suharto-ruled Indonesia, but Stoler converges on the novelist’s discernible condemnation of colonial “regimes of official documentation.”1 After a momentary rebuke of the novelist for his inattentiveness to archival practices, Stoler (2009:20) submits her idea—to trace the “colonial order of things as seen through the record of archival productions.” Unlike Toer, who focused on the “written,” Stoler concentrates on the “unwritten.” She aims to prove that the historian’s treatment of the Dutch archives is at variance with that of the novelist.

  • 2 According to her profile on the website of the University of Sydney, Nienke Boer is a Lecturer in W (...)

3Stoler draws our attention to an important aspect of her engagement with colonial remnants—archival form. She examines not only the contents of the colonial archive, but rather the “principles and practices of governance lodged in particular archival forms” (Stoler 2009:20). In Stoler’s conception, archival form accommodates a range of things—“prose style, repetitive refrain, the arts of persuasion, affective strains that shape ‘rational’ response, categories of confidentiality and classification, and not least, genres of documentation” (2009:20)—all of which attest to archives as “condensed sites of epistemological and political anxiety.” Such a reading strategy, what Stoler alludes to as “reading along the archival grain,” is one of the founding influences that has come to shape Nienke Boer’s conception of The Briny South: Displacement and Sentiment in the Indian Ocean World.2

4Like Stoler, Boer approaches archival sources with skepticism, seeking out knowledge previously rendered insubstantial, knowledge which had so far lain dormant and ignored between recorded and recognized knowledge. She is presumably inspired by what Stoler succinctly words as “archiving-as-process” rather than “archives-as-things.” Both authors demonstrate a shared interest in the legacies of the Dutch colonial enterprise.

  • 3 Boer works with the premise that accurate access to emotions is impossible. Therefore, she focuses (...)

5However, Boer’s engagement with the archive is premised on a prominent motif—sentiments as mediated representations of emotions.3 She specifically addresses the sentiments of the marginalized—the enslaved and the indentured—as they came to be recorded in legal, political, and personal writings. In the process, she discloses the forms of “imperial violence” (p. 1) that remain concealed by such depictions.

6In other words, Boer’s reading of the archive is motivated by a desire to plot the imperial context of subaltern sentiments that otherwise remain obscured by the constructed-ness and constraints of the archive. Boer’s engagement with the VOC archives is but an opening to the larger design that structures her book. Stoler is an apparent influence, but by Boer’s admission, the intimate reading of the archival sources and the narrative design of her book are determined by two recent trends in the humanities—Global South Studies and Ocean Studies.

7The Briny South, the title of Boer’s book, is a clever synthesis of these two approaches. Boer has intended to combine the racialized experiences of globalization with a historical examination of the oceans as sites of subaltern persecution. The book “imagines the Indian Ocean as a specifically briny South site: a site of subalternization and solidarity, of violence and care, with a long history of transnational exploitation and connection.” (p. 6)

Archives and Lateral thinking

  • 4 It is important to read Nile Green’s article (2018) “The Waves of Heterotopia: Toward a Vernacular (...)

8Such a conceptualization is embedded in a network of approaches already prevalent in the social sciences. One immediately recalls Isabel Hofmeyr’s influential essay “The Complicating Sea: The Indian Ocean as Method” (2012) and how it drew attention to the Indian Ocean as a site of critical scrutiny.4 Hofmeyr stressed how the Indian Ocean complicated our perceptions of slavery, as research on this issue has largely been restricted to the Atlantic experience. In her own words:

The Indian Ocean became a zone of penal experiment with a range of colonial powers trying out different forms and types of penal settlement. Indeed, the Indian Ocean constitutes a necklace of island prisons stretching from Robben Island in the Atlantic to the Andamans. (Hofmeyr 2012:488)

9The history of the Indian Ocean compels an engagement with the question of unfree labor, one of the defining themes of Boer’s book. Hofmeyr’s argument visibilizes lateral networks of subaltern experiences and consequent affiliations that shaped third-world imaginaries. Lateral networks stir lateral thinking strategies, fostering an engagement with Édouard Glissant’s works and his theories on the concept of the archipelago. Characterized by a rejection of systemic thinking, Glissant’s “archipelagic thought” was revolutionary to some (Wiedorn 2021), while it unsettled others (Bongie 2009). To paraphrase Michael Wiedorn (2021:9), Glissant’s archipelagic imaginary supposes tentatively and concludes nothing.

10However archipelagic thought and the accompanying strategy of lateral thinking is part of a prior conception—the Deleuzian “rhizome.” To Rosi Braidotti, Glissant’s poetics of relations upheld the need to attend to the specific forms of knowledge and subjectivization generated by something as devastating as slavery (2006:84). Glissant adjusted Deleuze’s adoption of the botanical metaphor of the rhizome to formulate ideas of interconnectedness. Glissant’s focus was the Africans and the West Indians caught in the transatlantic slave trade. As for Boer (2023:6), she deliberately transfers attention to the Indian Ocean. This, she states, is because:

The story of Indian Ocean involuntary displacement is one of recorded legal speech and autobiographical silence, as opposed to the anglophone Atlantic world, which produced autobiographical narratives but legal silence.

  • 5 Rhizomatic thinking which attended to lateral networks of minority subjects and experiences is what (...)

11Despite this, one should not underestimate the imprint of Deleuzian rhizomatic thinking on Boer’s methods. This is understandable if one were to consider the range of archival sources used by Boer—detailed accounts documenting the everyday lives of the enslaved as they were tried in Dutch, French, and British courts in locations as varied as Ceylon, Batavia, the Malabar and Coromandel coasts, Mascarenhas and the Cape of Good Hope.5

  • 6 In the words of Françoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih (2005:2): “Globalization increasingly favors lat (...)

12Boer’s approach to the archive also resonates with Deleuzian rhizomatic thinking because her approach to displaced sentiments aligns with the “minor transnationalism” model articulated by Françoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih (2005), which is one of the key influences of her work. Lionnet and Shih, whose ideas are rooted in Deleuzian philosophy, argue that the impacts of globalization necessitate the adoption of lateral (rhizomatic) thinking.6 As a result, they urge us towards a transversal engagement with “minority” experiences, cutting across national, ethnic, and cultural boundaries (Lionnet and Shih 2005:8). In addition to this, Boer’s thinking (2023:10) is influenced by Laura Doyle’s concept of “inter-imperiality” (2020), which emphasizes the interconnectedness of empires and their subjects within a network of relationships that encompass language and aesthetics.

13While lateral thinking is a key methodological framework, Boer’s work distinguishes itself through its intimate engagement with “sentiments” precipitated by the transoceanic displacement of three groups of unfree migrants. First, she delves into the conditions of the slaves forcibly transported to the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch East India Company from their Indian Ocean outposts in South and Southeast Asia and East Africa. She then proceeds to the narratives generated by and about South Asian indentured laborers who were sent to the British colony of Natal between 1860 and 1911 before turning to the writings of South African war prisoners sent to camps in British India and Ceylon during the second South African War (1899-1902). Boer’s study is determined by transoceanic archives that progress through seventeenth century Batavia, nineteenth century Natal (on the southeastern coast of Africa) and twentieth century British India. While European imperial designs provoked the displacements, the Indian Ocean is the setting that bears testimony to the sentiments of these subaltern transversal subjects. Retrieving such subaltern sentiments is at the heart of her research.

  • 7 The influence of Ann Laura Stoler, Stephanie E. Smallwood and Stephen Best are most illustrative in (...)

14Boer’s training as a comparatist is most apparent as she sifts through a diverse range of documents that constitute the archive. In the early chapters Boer delineates the formal and legal prerequisites that enable the recording of speech (that of the enslaved). Following this, she concentrates on attending to the discarded and disregarded voices that inhabit the margins of the archives.7

Legal documents and Private sentiments

  • 8 Boer focuses on the personal records of inmates such as Cupido van Mallebaar, Jephta van Batavia, R (...)

15In chapter one, titled “Representing Speech in Bondage in the Court Records of the Dutch Cabo de Goede Hoop, 1652–1795,” Boer analyzes the use of direct speech, particularly expressions of strong emotion, by enslaved individuals in eighteenth-century Cape court cases. She retrieves the recorded speech of otherwise unremarkable subjects tried by the Dutch imperial courts in order to study and even reconstruct the conditions that determined the recording of the enslaved speech. The chapter is organized around a diverse set of migrants, including slaves, indentured laborers, and prisoners of war, whose presence at the Cabo de Goede Hoop (Cape of Good Hope) left an imprint of their private thoughts in the Dutch archives. Boer guides the reader through the social and political organization of the eighteenth-century Dutch station through the recorded trials of people who were sentenced either to death or a life of hard labor at the conclusion of their respective trials. The intimate reflections of prisoners facing imminent death imbued a sense of urgency to these preserved fragments of their innermost thoughts.8

16Through a scrutinization of witness statements, interrogations, sentences, and confessions in the court cases, Boer concludes that such fragments—actions, speech, untranslated exclamations, and visual description—were included in the legal records to fabricate a sense of legal verisimilitude. Rather than testifying to the humanity of the enslaved, these fragments were used, she argues, to establish the credibility of the legal machinations operating in the Cape of Good Hope. Boer takes it upon herself to counter this historical injustice. She achieves this by attending to such enslaved voices in a manner unanticipated by the original authors of the legal records. Drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of heteroglossia and partially influenced by Saidiya Hartman’s notions of textual friction, Boer maps out patterns of ambiguity and untranslatability infiltrating such records in order to fashion alternate ways of reading the archive.

17A similar approach characterizes the second chapter, “Silencing the Enslaved: The Aesthetics of Abolitionism in the British Cape Colony, 1795–1834.” Boer focuses on different characters—abolitionist Thomas Pringle, slaveholder Samuel E. Hudson, and anonymous civil servants working at the Office of the Registrar and Guardian of Slaves. Thomas Pringle’s anti-slavery writings not only drew attention to the conditions of the enslaved in Cape Colony, but also launched his career as an abolitionist. Boer focuses on the seeming co-occurrence of his abolitionist writings and his Romantic poetry. One of the outcomes of the British Romantic movement was “the abstraction of bondage as a universal state of humanity” (p. 58). Romantic figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth were known for their active participation in the abolitionist movement, and Pringle appears to fit into this tradition by exploring the concepts of bondage and freedom. However, Boer takes issue with how Pringle translated his experience (of living in a society that condoned slavery) into tangible descriptions of alleged interactions and conversations with enslaved individuals while still conveying larger abstract ideas about the importance of freedom. Boer recognizes a comparable strategy in the writings of the slaveholder Samuel E. Hudson, whose 1806 essay on “Slaves” is the focal point of her study. Boer contends that Hudson’s sentimental descriptions of slavery infantilized the enslaved, identifying them as childlike, dependent, and ultimately silent. Such silence, Boer argues, legitimized the “paternalistic” care bestowed by the slaveholder. The figure of the silent slave, integral to the writings of both Pringle and Hudson, becomes the point of convergence for the benevolent, paternalistic slaveholder and the benevolent, paternalistic abolitionist. Such sentimentalism is, however, offset by what Boer identifies as the “aesthetics of the ledger” (p. 79). She directs attention to the official ledgers documented in the Office of the Registrar and Guardian of Slaves by the anonymous civil servants who constituted the slave enterprise. The drafted reports effaced the individual linguistic nuances of the slave, replacing them with dull and often neutral officialese, thereby reducing them into mere symbolic expressions. Such symbolic expressions, which Boer refers to as the “aesthetics of the ledger,” make visible what was rendered invisible. Every absence (of the enslaved) is resoundingly loud, generating what Boer calls a “textual friction” that compels the contemporary viewer to reverse the injustices perpetrated by archival (mis)representation.

  • 9 The agreement remained in place until 1911, some contracts concluding as late as 1915.

18In the third chapter, “‘Grievances More Sentimental than Material’: Representing Indentured Labor in Natal, 1860–1915,” Boer shifts focus to Natal, a British colony in South Africa, to chart the depiction of indentured laborers, specifically the patterns of their speech, across political and legal archives. In the nineteenth century, Cape Colony transitioned from slavery to contracted labor, leading to alterations in the types of speech recognized as valid for laborers. This transformed the very procedures by which the indentured laborer came to be imagined. In 1860, the colonial government of Natal entered into an agreement with British India to recruit indentured laborers to work in the sugarcane plantations in Natal, provoking large-scale displacement of South Asians from the Indian subcontinent.9 Drawing on this historical context, Boer focuses in on the particularly “briny south” term coolie. The conception and circulation of “coolie” across diverse maritime contexts and languages allow for exploring the intersections between different types of coerced labor, making it ideal for Boer’s scrutiny. Boer draws attention to Gandhi’s assessment of the term “coolie,” which led to the elaboration of the Green Pamphlet, a highly influential work in which he distinguished between “material” and “sentimental” grievances. Gandhi differentiated between traders and indentured laborers in order to establish the authenticity of the “material” sufferings of British Indians in South Africa. The pamphlet aimed to elicit outrage and potential reform by reporting the mistreatment of British Indians in South Africa. Boer compares Gandhi’s reflections on grievances with actual grievances reported by indentured laborers. She isolates the legal complaints of three indentured laborers—Hureebhukut, Bhagoo, and Bundhoo, whose very presence in the archive was prompted by their grievances against their respective owners. What becomes apparent in such complaints is the systematic erasure of sentiments attributed to the laborers. She then compares it with another contemporaneous source, the form of the folk song generated during the initial days of indenture in Natal. Boer chooses one particular bhajan that was preserved by the linguist Rajend Mesthrie because it evokes the complicated legacy of the idea of the coolie. Though the song’s authorship remains unknown, Mesthrie identified the South African dialect of Bhojpuri, infused with the South African dialect of Tamil. Boer holds that the song’s structure and lexicon evidence an intentional muzzling of indentured sentiments. In all three genres thus examined—pamphlets, legal complaints, and the bhajan—Boer recognizes a similar tendency to suppress sentiments. It is a tendency, Boer asserts, that persists even in the twentieth-century discourses concerning indentured labor.

19In the first three chapters, Boer addresses the absence of conventional autobiographical material generated by slaves and indentured laborers in the Indian Ocean region. She guides us through early documentation of enslaved sentiments in the Dutch court records before mapping the characterization of such sentiments in abolitionist writings and the concomitant erasure of these sentiments in official records. She finally examines the complicated relationship between the indentured and their sentiments in nineteenth century Natal.

Political articulation in Personal Genres

20In the fourth and fifth chapters, Boer moves away from “public” genres (such as grievances, court records, and pamphlets) toward the “private” rendering of sentiments in personal genres such as autobiography.

21Divided into two sections, chapter four focuses on the manifestation of sentiments in “less explicitly political forms of writing” (p. 110), such as family letters, camp news sheets, and memoirs. Firstly, the author examines the camp news sheets from the Diyatalawa camp (Ceylon) for Boer prisoners of war and then proceeds to examine the personal reflections of three such Boer prisoners.

22The acrimonious relationship between the Boer (farmers), who descended from the Dutch settlers, and the English-speaking British settlers plunged into frequent political skirmishes until the animosity gave way to the South African war, first in 1880-1881 and the succeeding war of 1899-1902. Characterized largely by guerilla-style tactics, the second war involved the British colonial powers, settled in Natal and the Cape Colony, and the Boer republics of the Orange Free State (Oranje Vrijstaat) and the South African Republic (Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek). The captured Boer fighters were deported to war internment camps across Bermuda, Ceylon, St. Helena, and the Indian subcontinent. During the 1930s and 1940s, the National Party came to power in South Africa by drumming up sympathy for supposed Afrikaner martyrdom during the wars, culminating, as it did, in the legitimization of the apartheid regime.

  • 10 A News-sheet is a form of newspaper. Boer examines the poems that were published in three such news (...)
  • 11 The full titles of the memoirs are, J. N. Brink’s Recollections of a Boer Prisoner of War in Cey­lo (...)

23Boer’s analysis begins with a close reading of the poems published in the camp news sheets from the Diyatalawa camp, namely De Prikkeldraad (Barbed Wire), the Diyatalawa Dum­Dum/the Camp Lyre, and De Krijgsgevangene (The War Prisoner).10 The anti-British sentiments expressed in the poems, and the subsequent “management” of said sentiments by officials in the camps, exemplified British strategies of censorship and indoctrination. Subsequently, Boer turns her attention to the memoirs of three war interns—J.N. Brink, J.L. de Villiers, and A.P. Burger—to map the emergence of an exclusive myth of the Afrikaans “volk,” an idea that was foundational to Afrikaner nationalism of the twentieth century.11

24The texts examined in the final chapter of Boer’s book map the evolution of the Afrikaans volk mythology into Afrikaner nationalism, which laid the foundations of the Apartheid regime. Chapter 5, titled “Sentiment and the Law in Early South African Indian Writing, 1893–1960,” presents a critical analysis of how sentiments played a crucial role in the political strategy of claim-making in South Africa. Boer examines two prominent texts of South Asian authorship—Ansuyah R. Singh’s novel Behold the Earth Mourns (1960) and M.K. Gandhi’s An Autobiography, or the Story of My Experiments with Truth (1927)—and juxtaposes them with Geoffrey Cronjé’s Africa without the Asiatic: The Lasting Solution to South Africa’s Asiatic Question (1946).

  • 12 Boer directs the reader’s attention to Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed’s The South African Gandhi: St (...)
  • 13 In order to distinguish the South Asians from the Afrikaners, Cronjé insisted that the former were (...)

25Ansuyah Singh’s Behold the Earth Mourns (1960) centered around the Nirvani family and their daily negotiations with discriminatory strategies, particularly the Group Areas Act (1950), which emerged following the National Party’s electoral triumph in 1948. South African lawmakers failed to maintain the facade of impartiality because the presence of Asians disrupted their (imagined) settler narratives. The sociologist and theorist of apartheid Geoffrey Cronjé hoped to tackle this by advocating the theory of Afrikaners as “volk,” differentiating them from the South Asian “settlers.” Cronjé’s argument, rooted in impassioned condemnation of British imperialism, dismissed the history of indenture displacement as a remnant of the British imperial project. He contended that the presence of nonwhite inhabitants in South Africa was a historical anomaly that could only be rectified through total racial segregation. Almost as if in response, in Singh’s novel, South African Indian descent is traced to transoceanic trade rather than indentured displacements. Although Singh addressed the enduring legacy of segregation in South African history, she did so by disregarding the historical trail of identities shaped by transoceanic indenture contracts. Singh’s strategy, Boer remarks, invoked Gandhi’s own efforts at rescuing Indian identity from the derisive overtones of “coolie.”12 Singh’s reluctance to address the legacy of indentured displacement, and her adoption of sentimentalist tropes, essentially failed to challenge the specious logic of the settler “sentimentalism” that was the foundation of Cronjé’s apartheid theory.13

26In “Coda,” the book’s concluding chapter, Boer points to the ongoing legal battle between the United Kingdom and Mauritius. At the heart of this trial is the Chagossians’ demand to transfer jurisdiction of the Chagos archipelagos to Mauritius, while the United Kingdom contends that the islands should remain part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The protracted legal conflict, which began in 1973, highlights the enduring legacy of the empire in the Indian Ocean ecosystem and underscores the importance of Boer’s project.

27Boer is, however, not alone in this endeavor. It is a campaign that can be traced back to Renisa Mawani’s Across Oceans of Law: The Komagata Maru and Jurisdiction in the Time of Empire (2018). Mawani’s sophisticated theorization of Indian maritime experiences conjured a historical imaginary that fostered dialogues among the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean worlds. In essence, both Mawani and Boer are aligned in their efforts to strategize novel methods of confronting the notorious maritime legacies of British imperial power and their contemporary manifestations. Having said that, Boer’s book is remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, it evidences the author’s intuitive reading of a range of archival material as part of an effort to excavate subaltern sentiments that were otherwise relegated to the margins of the empire’s archives. Secondly, through an intimate reading of public and private “sentiments,” Boer enables the reader to navigate the numerous anonymous lived experiences spanning four centuries. In spite of the enormity of the task, she achieves both feats with admirable ease in a language that is sensitive to the present as much as it is to the past.

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Best, Stephen M. 2013. The Fugitive’s Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Best, Stephen M. 2018. None Like Us: Blackness, Belonging, Aesthetic Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Boer, Nienke. 2019. “Exploring British India: South African Prisoners of War as Imperial Travel Writers, 1899–1902.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 54(3):429–443.

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Braidotti, Rosi. 2006. “The Becoming-Minoritarian of Europe.” Pp. 79-94 in Deleuze and the Contemporary World, edited by Ian Buchanan, and Adrian Parr. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Desai, Ashwin and Goolam Vahed. 2016. The South African Gandhi: Stretcher­Bearer of Empire. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Doyle, Laura. 2020. Inter-imperiality: Vying Empires, Gendered Labor, and the Literary Arts of Alliance. Durham, London: Duke University Press.

Glissant, Édouard. 1997. The Poetics of Relation. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Green, Nile. 2018. “The Waves of Heterotopia: Toward a Vernacular Intellectual History of the Indian Ocean.” The American Historical Review 123(3):846–74.

Hartman, Saidiya V. 1997. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self­Making in Nineteenth­Century America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hofmeyr, Isabel. 2012. “The Complicating Sea: The Indian Ocean as Method.” Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 32(3):584-590.

Lionnet, Françoise, and Shu-mei Shih. 2005. “Introduction: Thinking Through the Minor, Transnationally.” Pp. 1-23 in Minor Transnationalism, edited by F. Lionnet, and S. Shih. Durham, London: Duke University Press.

Mawani, Renisa. 2018. Across Oceans of Law: The Komagata Maru and Jurisdiction in the Time of Empire. Durham, London: Duke University Press.

Menon, Dilip, Saarah Jappie, Nishat Zaidi, and Simi Malhotra. 2022. Ocean as Method: Thinking With the Maritime. London: Routledge.

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1 Both Toer and Stoler are engaging with the official archives of the Dutch colonial state. Nonetheless, Stoler emphasizes that her methodology for utilizing these archives is different from Toer’s approach to the archive.

2 According to her profile on the website of the University of Sydney, Nienke Boer is a Lecturer in World Literature. Before joining USYD in January 2023, she was an Assistant Professor of Humanities (Literature) at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. She is trained in Comparative Literature, and her areas of specialization include Global South Studies, Ocean Studies, Postcolonial Studies, and Law and Literature, among others.

3 Boer works with the premise that accurate access to emotions is impossible. Therefore, she focuses on how emotion is conveyed or represented. According to her, sentiment represents how emotion is described and recorded in legal, political, and personal writings. In this regard, she is at variance for instance with the historian Margrit Pernau’s treatment of emotion (2019) in that Pernau does not distinguish sentiment and emotion explicitly. Additionally, Boer’s reading of the archive is influenced by what Stephen Best (2018) refers to as “impossible speech” or “gossamer writing” and Stephanie E. Smallwood’s conception of the “counterfact” (2016).

4 It is important to read Nile Green’s article (2018) “The Waves of Heterotopia: Toward a Vernacular Intellectual History of the Indian Ocean,” alongside Hofmeyr’s essay since it offers an alternate perspective on the discourses shaped by oceanic networks. Their contending views laid the foundation for many ensuing studies. The most recent is a collaborative project between the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa) and Jamia Millia Islamia (India), which culminated in the collective book entitled Ocean as Method: Thinking with the Maritime (Menon, 2022).

5 Rhizomatic thinking which attended to lateral networks of minority subjects and experiences is what I refer to as lateral thinking. Additionally, lateral thinking is an actualization of Glissant’s archipelagic thought. Together, they invoke a paradigm where geographically disparate minority experiences are read in conjunction with each other. I argue that Boer’s methodology is reminiscent of Deleuzian rhizomatic thinking because of her adoption of Francois Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih’s “minor transnationalism” model.

6 In the words of Françoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih (2005:2): “Globalization increasingly favors lateral and nonhierarchical network structures, or what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari call a rhizome. The figure of the rhizome suggests an uncontainable, invisible symbolic geography of relations that become the creative terrain on which minority subjects act and interact in fruitful, lateral ways.”

7 The influence of Ann Laura Stoler, Stephanie E. Smallwood and Stephen Best are most illustrative in these sections.

8 Boer focuses on the personal records of inmates such as Cupido van Mallebaar, Jephta van Batavia, Reijnier van Madagascar, Januarij van Boegies, and Alexander van Couchin.

9 The agreement remained in place until 1911, some contracts concluding as late as 1915.

10 A News-sheet is a form of newspaper. Boer examines the poems that were published in three such news-sheets in the Diyatalawa camp.

11 The full titles of the memoirs are, J. N. Brink’s Recollections of a Boer Prisoner of War in Cey­lon, J.L. de Villiers’s 1904 Hoe Ik Ontsnapte: Verhaal van een Merkwaardige Ontsnapping van een Boer uit Engelsch­Indie (How I Escaped: Tale of a Remarkable Escape of a Boer from British India) and A. P. Burger’s Worsteljare: Herinneringe van Ds. A. P. Burger, Veldprediker by die Republikeinse Magte tydens die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog (Years of Struggle: Memories of Rev. A.P. Burger, Chaplain of the Republican Forces during the Second Freedom War).

12 Boer directs the reader’s attention to Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed’s The South African Gandhi: Stretcher­Bearer of Empire (2016). Desai and Vahed conclude that Gandhi not only participated in the invisibilization of Africans, but also participated in their subjugation and racist stereotyping (Boer 2023:147).

13 In order to distinguish the South Asians from the Afrikaners, Cronjé insisted that the former were “settlers” while the latter were “volk.” In Boer’s own words, “Cronjé seems unaware of the irony of arguing for the repatriation of South African Indians because they are not indigenous to South Africa while at the same time taking for granted the position of white South Africans within South Africa.”

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Electronic reference

Jonathan Koshy Varghese, Nienke Boer. The Briny South: Displacement and Sentiment in the Indian Ocean WorldSouth Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal [Online], 31 | 2023, Online since 19 April 2024, connection on 18 July 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Jonathan Koshy Varghese

Assistant Professor, Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi; Research Associate, Centre de Sciences Humaines

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