Conducting Research on the Scope and Extent of Indenture

Conducting research is a prerequisite at World Heritage Property to further document and sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the Aapravasi Ghat as per the Convention concerning the protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. 

Since 2003, the AGTF has undertaken research as per its mandate defined in AGTF Act (2001 amended 2006, 2011):

  • To encourage and support projects and publications related to the indentured labour;
  • To encourage and support interdisciplinary scientific research related to indentured labour and to the sites specified in the schedule.

Research has been an on-going process with the primary objective to document the experience of immigrants at the Depot. Most research results were presented in the Nomination Dossier submitted to UNESCO in 2005. At the time of inscription of the Site in 2006, the World Heritage Committee recommended to:

“Undertake research on indentured labour to consider the extent, scope and impact of the indentured labour Diaspora around the world”.(WHC-06/30 COM/19, p.145)”

This includes the development of research in various scientific disciplines including history, anthropology and archaeology. The objective is to develop our knowledge of the indentured experience through interdisciplinary research.

The AGTF’s research scope responds to its mandate focusing on research on indentured labour.

The prime objective is to document and appreciate the significance of the Aapravasi Ghat former Immigration depot now World Heritage Property, within the local, regional and international system of indenture. This is considered to be the base for understanding the scope and extent of the indenture system in Mauritius, and appreciate the experience of immigrants on a global scale.

Research undertaken on other indentured heritage sites aim at offering a deeper insight in the indenture system and sustain the cultural significance of the World Heritage Property as a symbol of the international system of indenture in the 19th century.

Guiding Principles and Objectives

Since 2003, a research unit was established at AGTF to conduct research documenting the history and significance of the World Heritage Property. The research programme was devised upon the need to document further the history of the Aapravasi Ghat Immigration Depot and its role within the indenture system in Mauritius and in the world.

The research undertaken so far responded to the following principles and objectives:

  • Conduct research to document and further appreciate the extent and scope of indenture;
  • Relate the Mauritian indentured experience within the perspective of indenture in the world;
  • Encourage multi-disciplinary approach to better appreciate Mauritian experience;
  • Continue documenting the World Heritage Property as the symbol of indenture in the 19th and the early 20th century;
  • Document the modalities and dynamics that led the British colonial power to choose Mauritius as a test case for the implementation of the indentured system; and
  • The impact of the indentured system set up in Mauritius on Mauritian society and on indenture in the Indian Ocean region and in the world

The Research Themes​

Considering these principles, research themes were identified:

  • Commercial interactions
  • Immigration in Mauritius
  • Labour
  • Life in the port
  • Health
  • Incarceration
  • Tangible heritage
  • Intangible heritage

Research Plan​

The AGTF’s research on indentured is guided by a Research Plan elaborated with the technical support of Dr Richard Allen, Historian, and adopted in 2016. The plan is reviewed every 5 years.

The AGTF is currently focusing on the following objectives:

Objective 1: Research on the origins of indenture;

Objective 2: Multidisciplinary research including Bras d’Eau (former sugar estate) and Flat Island (former quarantine station)

Objective 3: Research on memory and heritage

Historical Research​

Capacity in historical studies is available at AGTF which has led research projects on the history of indenture. Since 2003, historical research has focused on the creation, functioning and role of the Aapravasi Ghat Immigration Depot, and on the indenture experience in Mauritius.

Intangible Cultural Heritage​

The World Heritage Property was inscribed under criterion (vi) stressing the importance of intangible cultural heritage. The definition of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) is in line with the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO that Mauritius signed in 2003.

The research methodology on intangible cultural heritage will abide by the principles addressed in the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO and its operational directives.

Research on the ICH will be guided by the following limitations:

  • The ICH studied is related to the indenture experience in Mauritius and elsewhere; and
  • The research on ICH focuses on the interaction existing between the World Heritage Property and its physical and spiritual environment.

Archaeological Research

Archaeological research pertaining to the documentation and identification of features of the Immigration Depot from 2003 to 2009 was led by a holistic approach aiming at restoring the authenticity and integrity of the Aapravasi Ghat and also, documenting further its functioning at the time of indenture. The research allowed the identification of key authentic features forming the former Immigration Depot and their conservation.

On completion of archaeological campaigns at WHP, most information relevant to the immigration depot and its functioning was gathered. Today, Professionals who assessed the archaeological potential at World Heritage Property feel that further archaeological research would not be justified considering that accessible parts were already documented through archaeological methodology.

Regarding other indentured sites, the strategy is to document the life of the immigrants after their stay at the depot as a continuous process. The documentation of the life of the immigrants on sugar estates brings further significance to the role and function of the Immigration Depot as the initial process of indentured labour in the country and elsewhere.

The interaction between the immigration depot and the sugar estates is therefore the current subject of investigation to substantiate further the cultural significance of the World Heritage Property.

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