Among the many stateless nations to which the British Isles are home—Scots, Welsh, Manx, Orcadians, Cornish, even modern separatists who regard themselves as members of the ancient Kingdom of Mercia—is one unexpected group: the Chagossians. About half the global populations of this ethnic group, also called Îlois, live in the town of Crawley, in England’s County Sussex. The rest live in Mauritius and elsewhere. This is because their homeland, the Chagos Archipelago, smack dab in the middle of the Indian Ocean, was ethnically cleansed by the United Kingdom government in the late 1960s and early 1970s to make way for a massive joint British–U.S. military presence, especially on the largest island, Diego Garcia. But the Chagossian exiles, having long despaired that the British government would ever notice them, let alone resettle them on the islands as they have long wanted, were encouraged this week by an announcement from the government’s Foreign Office to the effect that there would be a ministry study on the feasibility of resettlement—the necessary first step.
The announcement was made by Mark Simmonds, a Conservative Party M.P. for Lincolnshire, who is also an Under-Secretary-of-State whose portfolio includes the British Overseas Territories. The B.O.T. includes Gibraltar, the Falklands, some bases on Cyprus, a bunch of Caribbean islands, a pie-slice of Antarctica, and the British Indian Ocean Territory. The B.I.O.T., which is simply the Chagos Islands, was created in 1965 when it was hived off of the colony of Mauritius off the African coast, so that the strategic archipelago would not become part of an independent Commonwealth of Mauritius, which came into being three years later.
|Airstrip visible at upper left|
|Chagossian activists in exile|
|The annual village fair in Crawley, Sussex, is unlike that of any other in England.|
|What could be more British? Two quasi-nations face each other on the field.|
... in favor of the Chagossian nation’s own jaunty, ultra-hip tricolor ...
... or even a blend of the two ...
... but would be encouraged to keep at least some components of the current charmingly-Lewis-Carroll-esque territorial coat-of-arms ...
... and will probably have to discuss whether to retain the current territorial motto, “In tutela nostra Limuria,” which is Latin for “Lemuria is in our charge.” The name Lemuria, originally referring to the lemurs of Madagascar, was first coined by the 19th-century German biologist Ernst Haeckel to label a proposed proto-continent. The term was embraced not only by geologists but by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, founder of the partly-Hinduism-based religion Theosophy, who said that it was a lost continent with a lost civilization—the Indian Ocean’s answer to Atlantis—and more recently by the Bengali anthropologist Sarat Chandra Roy, who bent the idea to nationalist ends. Roy suggested that, since Lemuria possibly bridged what are now southern India and East Africa (hundreds of millions of years ago, but never mind that), this was a way to directly link the Dravidian-speaking peoples of southern India such as the Tamils and Telugus with the very origins of humanity. So Lemuria is pined for not only by Western occultists but by Tamil nationalists in northern Sri Lanka and India’s Tamil Nadu state as an antediluvian paradise, supposedly called in Proto-Dravidian Kumarināṭu. For them Lemuria is not just their own Atlantis, but humanity’s Rift Valley and Mt. Ararat, rolled into one.
|Lemuria in the Tamil nationalist imagination—|
reflected, too, in the British Indian Ocean Territory’s official colonial motto
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar. (That is shorter than the previous working title.) The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]