May 25th, 2007

“Cultural genocide” is a term that gets tossed around the international adoption world like a hacky-sack, often with little regard for what culture actually is, but loving the impact the word ‘genocide’ imparts.

We know genocide, and since many international adoptive parents have children with roots in mighty bloody ground, we may be especially sensitive to not only the word, but the long-term effects.

“Culture to an anthropologist means a way of life for a group of people, including their beliefs, their customs, their practices, their possessions.” So says Professor of Anthropology Lanny Hertzberg.

So, is there such a thing as “cultural genocide”?

Yes, and here’s a recent example …


Beginning in 1966 and systematically continuing for the five years following, the British government clandestinely removed the entire population of the Indian Ocean islands of Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Salomon in the Chagos archipelago, telling the people they were being taken on ‘trips’ to Mauritius and Seychelles.

They brought little with them, usually only a bit of hand luggage, and were then basically abandoned with no means of support and no way to get home.


Because the British government had leased the biggest of the islands, Diego Garcia, to the US military and it was to be turned into a crucial hub for bombers and spy planes.

Existing structures were torn down, dogs were gassed, and much of the island was paved over into runways. Because of its shape, it’s been dubbed the “Footprint of Freedom” … ironic since no one outside the US military, especially not the people whose home it was, is allowed anywhere near it.

More than 2000 people were removed. About 500 are still living. Some are here in Seychelles, some in Mauritius, and some are in the UK. All are hopeful at the moment.

Earlier this week, London’s Court of Appeal found the British Government guilty of “abuse of power” for, “… trying to prevent the Chagos Islanders from reclaiming land leased from under their feet by Britain to the US …”.

Lord Justice Sedley wrote: “Few things are more important to a social group than its sense of belonging, not only to each other but to a place. What has sustained peoples in exile, from Babylon onwards, has been the possibility of one day returning home.

“The barring of that door, however remote or inaccessible it may be for the present, is an act requiring overwhelming justification.”

Two hundred Chagossians have died since the original case was won in 2000 and the government took it to the appeal stage … one they have drawn out so long many suspect intentional delaying tactics designed to put off a resolution until all the claimants were dead. Seventeen have died just in the three months it’s taken for the Court of Appeal to reach its judgement.

Although life hasn’t been terrible for Chagossians in Seychelles, their assimilation has almost completely destroyed whatever was left that made them Chagossians. Those who were plopped in Mauritius have had it much worse. Even those who ended up in England and have done all right for themselves are none too thrilled about having had their homeland sold … leased, really, but same/same to the Chagossians … out from under them.

If you’re looking for cultural genocide, this is how it works.

One Response to “Cultural Genocide: The real thing”

  1. Angela says:

    What a heart breaking story.

    Stalin tried a variation of this with the Crimean Tatars 63 years ago. Stalin claimed they had collaborated with the Nazis.

    He orderd 70% of the Crimean population (the Tatars) to be deported to Sibera. This was over 200,000 people.

    Besides sending them off to die, he also made them non-people. They were citizens of no country.

    And Stalin then gave the “empty” Crimea properties to trusted Russians. This is how many of the Soviet Era politicians got their dacha (country vacation home) on the Black Sea.

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